Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
We continue this week with the release of our Day 3 Birthing the Holy video podcast that accompanies my book Birthing the Holy: Wisdom from Mary to Nurture Creativity and Renewal. Day 3 Morning and Evening Prayer take the themes of Star of the Sea and Vessel of Grace.
Here is an excerpt from Day 3 Morning: Opening Prayer
Stella Maris, Mary, Star of the Sea, we look to the night sky to see your brilliance shining upon the world. Be with us as a guiding light and safe harbour on our journey of surrender and trust. Show us the way to the Self which knows its true direction as we dive beneath the surface to explore our magnificent depths.
We are delighted to be hosting our final retreat in our Mystical Heart series. On Saturday, June 3rd I will be leading an online retreat on St. Kevin, Celtic spirituality, and the love of creation. I am delighted to be joined by two Scottish friends, musician Simon de Voil and poet Kenneth Steven who will add their gifts to our retreat experience.
This is an excerpt from my book The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred on St. Kevin:
The story of St. Kevin and the Blackbird is another one of my favorites of all the Celtic saints. He was a 6thcentury monk and Abbott, and was soul friend to many, including Ciaran of Clomacnoise. After he was ordained, he retreated to a place of solitude, most likely near the Upper Lake at Glendalough where there is a place called “St. Kevin’s bed.”
He lived there as a hermit for seven years, sleeping on stone and eating very simply, only nuts, herbs, and water. In the writings of his Life, it is said that “the branches and leaves of the trees sometimes sang sweet songs to him, and heavenly music alleviated the severity of his life.” Kevin is known for his intimacy with nature and animals. It is said that when he was an infant and young child, a white cow used to come to offer him milk. Later when he founded his community an otter would bring salmon form the lake to eat.
One of the most well-known stories about him goes that he would pray every day in a small hut with arms outstretched. The hut was so small though that one arm reached out the window. One day, a blackbird landed in his palm, and slowly built a nest there. Kevin realized what was happening and knew that he could not pull his hand back with this new life being hatched there. So he spent however many days it took for the eggs to be laid, and the tiny birds to hatch, and for them to ready themselves to fly away.
I love this story because it is such an image of yielding, of surrendering to something that was not in the “plans,” but instead, receiving it as gift. Instead of sitting there in agony trying to figure out how to move the bird, he enters into this moment with great love and hospitality.
How many times in our lives do we reach out our hands for a particular purpose, and something else arrives? Something that may cause discomfort, something we may want to pull away from, but in our wiser moments we know that this is a holy gift we are invited to receive.
There are stories of St. Columbanus during his periods of fasting and prayer in places of solitude where he would call the creatures to himself and they ran eagerly toward him. Esther deWaal in Every Earthly Blessing: Rediscovering the Celtic Tradition says that “He would summon a squirrel from the tree tops and let it climb all over him, and from time to time its head might be seen peeping through the folds of his robes.” Animals like bears and wolves, normally feared and hunted, are shown warmth and kindness and respond with mutual respect.
Celtic tradition is full of legends about kinship and intimacy between monks and the wild animals of the forests where they lived. Sometimes the creatures were the ones to lead hermits to their place of prayer and solitude. DeWaal tells of St. Brynach who had a dream where an angel told him to go along the bank of the river until he saw “a wild white sow with white piglings” and they would show him the spot for his hermitage. Often the animal that would show the monk his or her cell would stay on as a companion, sharing life together.
This is our call in soul friendship as well, to learn how to yield our own agendas and egos and allow ourselves to be vulnerable and transparent in front of another. To show our shadow and tender places, to seek growth knowing that what is kept hidden only festers. When speaking with a soul friend, keep in mind this open palmed approach to life, not needing to hold too tightly to your own façade or persona you present in life.
Join us next Saturday to immerse ourselves in the wisdom of the Celtic love of creation.
This Friday I am offering our final Tea with the Abbess before our summer break. You are most welcome to this free event.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE