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Monk in the World Guest Post: Valerie Hess

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series. Read on for Valerie Hess’s reflection on living fully as who God created her to be.

Breathe. Breathe again. Stop. Look. Listen. Pay attention. You are in liminal space. Breathe. This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf (see 2 Chronicles 20:17).

These are words I say to myself when I find myself “ramping up” into anxiety or multi-tasking overdrive as I try to reign in internal chaos through external order. I used to pride myself on my ability to work quickly, be efficient, multi-task. Yet, today, my husband will remind me of something or someone from years ago and I can’t remember it or them, or only remember vaguely. I have what is called “wasn’t fully present to the event or person back then and so of course I can’t really remember it today”! This is not yet a medically recognized condition but will be soon, I’m sure.

I have always been a “slow learner,” a “late-bloomer.” I often don’t make good first impressions because I am a big personality that can be impetuous and overpowering, intimidating even.  (A friend once lovingly told me that the reason I play a pipe organ is that it is the only thing bigger than my personality! I am a full-blown Enneagram 4.) 

Yet, with the help of the Abbey of the Arts’ daily meditations, retreats, and books, through making art, music, and poetry, in learning to slow down, to breathe, to notice, to listen to my body, I am finally, in my late 60s, becoming a more calm, grounded, spacious person. 

My big artistic personality isn’t wrong, a message from childhood I am still healing from, but more like a “river in flood stage that needs to be gently returned to its natural banks.” Instead of “flooding the landscape,” I am being invited to nurture gently, to flow in ways that don’t wreak havoc along the way. In short, to take my essence and harness it through healing disciplines into a life-giving source.

Remarkably, in learning to dial down my intensity several notches, my creativity is blossoming in ways it hasn’t in the past. To create poems, stories, paintings, and musical compositions, I have to slow down.  And in slowing down, hidden gifts in my soul are coming out of hiding. Ali Baba’s cave has nothing on the treasures deep within me. My “open sesame” to these deep cave rooms in my soul has been to face, even embrace the unknown and breathe into it instead of closing my eyes and holding my breath. I’ve discovered it is possible to go years without really breathing and that that is not a good way to live.

I am learning to trust my “gut instincts” more after years of being silenced for saying “but the emperor has no clothes!” It wasn’t safe then to stop-look-listen, to admit aloud or to myself that what I saw or experienced was at odds from what I was being told had actually happened. 

The Abbey has helped me quit trying to outrun my nightmares but rather to stand, face them, and ask them what they have to teach me. This has not been easy at times. The shame and anger have nearly overwhelmed me but I go back to the 2 Chronicles verse quoted above and, like a small child, put my hand in God’s as we together walk back into the darkness, this time to really see, to be present, to honestly assess what happened, to learn not to react in “sideways” responses but to acknowledge the truth, the pain, the sorrow.  

I am learning that I don’t have to prove myself by doing. Slowly, I am accepting that my being is enough in all the ways that really count and that when the doing flows organically out of my being vs. trying to prove that I have worth by doing something successfully, my creative output has a depth to it that is hard to explain.

For me, being a monk in the world is learning to be fully who God created me to be. It is learning that I can glorify God by living fully into the beloved child I am and always have been. And when I live fully, I automatically give people around me permission to be fully who they were created to be. It is a form of witnessing to the goodness of God without necessarily using words. To continue on this healing and creative path is my commitment to God, myself, the Abbey, and the world.

Valerie E. Hess is a published author and poet, musician, painter, pearl knotter, mother and grandmother. She lives with her husband near Missoula, Montana.

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