Whatever I Find hidden among the stones piled by lake’s edge — a beetle, a coin, a candy wrapper — let it be a portent, a cypher. Let me seek a new direction among what is hidden, lost, discarded, rather than always grasping at some bright, invisible future. —Christine Valters Paintner, Love Holds You: Poems and Devotions for Times of Uncertainty
Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
This coming Friday, I am delighted to be leading an online program, hosted by Mercy by the Sea retreat center, called Love Holds You: Yielding to the Sacred Presence through Poetry and Writing. This mini-retreat is inspired by my third collection of poems published this past spring.
This is an excerpt from the introduction to that collection:
Most of these poems were written during the time of pandemic. The call to compassionate retreating came naturally for my strong hermit side. I found myself, rather than getting bored with home, falling more in love with the mundane aspects of my life: the boxes on our patio growing herbs, the way my favorite chair has shaped itself to my body, my dog’s daily eagerness for walks and cuddles. As I lingered more than usual I found deep appreciation for the radical ordinariness of my days.
In the heart of a season filled with anxieties around personal health and well-being, around economic impact, around tremendous collective grief and loss, I found that there was one thing I wanted to remember daily: my prayers were calling me back to the ground of love that I believe undergirds us all. This isn’t always easy to remember, and sometimes reading the news I question whether it is even true.
Writing poems about love became an act of cultivating trust. The moments that trust dissolved, I would pick up my pen and try and remember what I loved or how love had been made visible to me that day.
Most of these poems are not directly about the pandemic per se. They are love poems that arose out of a desire to pay close attention when things seemed to be falling apart and to name what it was that endures. Many of the poems are dreamlike settings, where a new reality erupts into the everyday.
Love doesn’t make our struggles vanish. It doesn’t mean carrying perpetual optimism into our days or even having to believe that everything will be okay. Those things are not seductive for me in a world when so many have so much to grieve. It does mean that I believe Love is the foundation of everything and holds us in our sorrow as well as our delight. This is in large part why I write poems, to hold this tension of living in a world that can be so devasting and also so staggeringly beautiful.
These are hard times to be a sensitive human being. Amid the daily grind, the pain and loss, the fears and doubts, you can lose sight of the firm bedrock of love beneath your feet.
During our retreat time we will honor the tangible expressions of love that can be found amidst loss, reclaim hope and healing after times of turmoil, connect to the lineage of Love that runs through our blood and bone, discover the strength that the Source of Love gives you through the beauty of creation, and nurture your inner poet, artist, and pilgrim.
Weaving together poems from my newest collection, Love Holds You, with practices and creative explorations to encourage you to find your own path forward, steeped in the beauty and wonder all around you.
We will make space for a holy pause in the rush of life to nurture and nourish an awareness of Love’s breaking through. We will let Love be our anchor, our guide, and our coming home.
Returning to the poem that opens this love note, you might consider:
Have you ever found something on the ground that became an important symbol for your life?
What soul landscapes do you willingly enter seeking harbingers of news from otherworldly realms, symbols and icons of a different way of inhabiting this life?
Can you relinquish your illusory desires in favour of embracing the hidden gifts of now?
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
P.S. I wrote an update about in-person pilgrimages. Click here to read the post and link to our Ireland travel recommendations.
P.P.S. I also had an article on exile at the heart of the human experience published at US Catholic. Read the article here.
Image © Christine Valters Paintner