Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
This past Monday our Wisdom Council gathered together online for our semi-annual time of reflection, inspiration, and planning. We are extraordinarily blessed with a group of 14 members who are heart-centered, contemplative leaders committed to helping Abbey of the Arts continue to flourish and serve this community in challenging times.
We first created the Wisdom Council several years ago when John and I realized we wanted more support for what was emerging, we wanted it to be a truly collaborative vision. While we are not a registered charity or non-profit structure, primarily because we went that path when we first created the Abbey but found that the administrative burden was extraordinarily high, we are committed to being an ethical organization, operated with integrity and accountability, rooted in the principles we teach.
For the Wisdom Council we gather for three hours together with the first hour dedicated to setting a theme and then doing introductions and checking in around what emerged in our opening time of centering. (We also had the joy this time of welcoming our newest member Dena Ross Jennings). The second hour is facilitated by two or three members with various creative practices like movement, writing, or visual art to deepen the theme further followed by more sharing.
With this immersion in the theme, and embodied experience for each of us, only then do we turn to Abbey programs and begin a conversation that is part practical and part inspiration and exploring possibilities. We come to the planning from a place of aliveness and connection to how Abbey work is touching our own hearts.
The theme we were exploring this time was hospitality, one of my favorite of the Monk Manifesto principles and a foundation of all monastic traditions. We live in a world of such division, radical hospitality where we welcome the stranger as the very face of Christ, has such transformative potential. This stranger may be someone outside of us but may also be aspects of ourselves that have gone rejected, resisted, or abandoned for various reasons, often self-protection or messages of our unacceptability from others.
We invited in hospitality this time because we are looking at ways to better welcome people into this community of dancing monks and orient them to all we have to offer.
I always feel an incredible amount of joy when I am gathered in this way, because I have such love for Abbey of the Arts, for our holy disorder, for dancing monks, for each of you. And even though our cultural and global times can feel quite dark and foreboding, my conviction that the way of the monk and path of the artist is necessary and transformative never wanes. To live in such a way that cultivates the rest and spaciousness to be present to the beauty and sorrow of the world opens up the creative imagination and new possibilities. It does not happen in our rushed and productive mindset, it is thwarted when we focus on achievement, doing, and striving. We are living into a whole new way of being that is also very ancient, and witnesses to the possibility of a new world.
One thing I especially love about these online gathering with our wisdom council is allowing space for new things to emerge. For the third part of our time I always have a loose agenda of things we can discuss, but also love to leave room for how the energy is moving in response to our creative explorations. It is an awe-inspiring thing to witness Spirit at work moving between and within us to help create something bigger than any one of us could alone. And inevitably some new ideas arose that we will be exploring further.
Even though my health has been quite challenged in the last several months, my joy and commitment to this work has not wavered. I awaken with gratitude each morning for it and ask the Beloved and the saints and ancestors to help guide me. Because we have a wonderful team of people working together, it means I do not have to hold it all on my own. I can make time to rest and restore, I can show up as I am and that is more than enough.
One last update is that each year in December we donate some of our funds to local charities in Ireland as a way of giving thanks for welcoming us to this land (our living in Ireland has such an impact on what we offer and how we do it) and it is one way we can support those in need. These include organizations like Galway SPCA where we adopted our sweet Sourney and have fostered several of their dogs in the past, Galway Simon and St. Vincent de Paul who work tirelessly to serve the homeless and vulnerable in our communities, and in 2022 we partnered formally with Hometree, an organization based in County Clare dedicated to reforesting and rewilding Ireland, including created a renewed rainforest ecosystem in Connemara, a place we love dearly.
The Earth Monastery work we do is so close to my heart and so necessary right now. We have my book, a companion retreat, and a prayer cycle as resources to help you cultivate an earth-cherishing consciousness with more programs and resources coming in the future. Working with HomeTree is one very practical way of contributing to the flourishing of Earth systems.
Hope means acting for an unknown future, it means having conviction that you must do something even without seeing the full impact. As a contemplative organization we do this in the way we know how, through nourishment and support from ancient wisdom and in the case of our Lift Every Voice book club, we do it by centering contemporary contemplative writers of color to help expand our understanding of Christian mystical tradition.
Join me on Friday, February 3rd for our very first First Friday Tea with the Abbess. This will be a free informal event with a brief meditation and centering to begin and then I will share some of our upcoming programs for the month (see our list below). There will be time for questions and input from the community as well. You can register here. If you miss it there will be a recording posted on our website.
This week brings the Celtic feast of Imbolc and the feast of Brigid when the land begins to rumble deep beneath the surface and the very first signs of spring emerge here like snowdrops and sheep bellies growing heavier with lambs. Even though I adore autumn and winter energies, I do also love this threshold time of awaiting the holy moments of blossoming starting to emerge. I feel the spring energy flowing through the Abbey as well.
In Ireland, Monday, February 6th will be the first time we have a dedicated holiday for Brigid’s Day. We have long had March 17th for St. Patrick’s Day here off to celebrate. It is wonderful to see so many local events happening to honor this exciting new time. Simon and I will be offering our monthly contemplative prayer service on Monday as well to welcome you into the celebration wherever in the world you may be.
If you’d like to journey through the Celtic Virtual Pilgrimage we led last year starting with the feast of Brigid, you can register here for the on-demand/self-study version. We are offering a discount of 20% to celebrate Imbolc! Use code IMBOLC 20.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Dancing Monk Icon by Marcy Hall (prints available on Etsy)