Dear monks, artists, and pilgrims,
Today we release the audio podcasts for Day 6 of our Love of Thousands prayer cycle with morning and evening prayer. The themes for the morning are cosmology, myth, and song inspired by the stories and music that has inspired our ancestors and still runs through our blood and bone. The evening theme is on becoming a wise and well ancestor ourselves, which means bringing our gifts fully into the world so those generations that come later will benefit (even if we don’t have children ourselves).
Each day when I awaken I listen to morning prayer of our prayer cycle and offer gratitude for all of you.
How amazing to think there are so many of you across this beautiful Earth who hear the call to be a monk in the world. The archetypes of monk, hermit, and anchorite/anchoress might seem odd in a world full of frenetic busyness, noise, and constant demands for our attention. But if you feel the pull to these ancient ways of being, Spirit is drawing you toward the still point at the heart of you and the heart of the world to live into a new way of being. What a gift to gather together to cultivate this path of love and presence.
I am feeling a bit nostalgic as it was 20 years ago this fall when John and I moved to Seattle after finishing our graduate studies and I stepped onto the grounds of St. Placid Priory, a small Benedictine women’s community. After falling absolutely in love with St. Benedict and St. Hildegard in my studies several years prior, I was longing to become an oblate.
An oblate is a lay person who lives out this path of monastic practice in their daily lives. You might wonder, can I really be a monk or hermit in the middle of the city or the suburbs or wherever I happen to live? In an office building or a fluorescent-lit grocery story?
Of course my response is a whole-hearted yes. If you feel the call – and I assume you are reading because you do hear it – the world needs you. The ancient monks tell us clearly that the cell or cave we withdraw to is in our hearts. This presence of the divine is wherever we are. We can claim a holy pause in the parked car or the waiting room or the bustling cafe for a few minutes to open ourselves to that divine love. An outer quiet place is a gift that we sometimes cannot access.
When I first visited St. Placid, Sister Lucy, the oblate director welcomed me warmly in that beautiful Benedictine way. I felt right at home among our ecumenical group, I loved that Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics, and many others including those who had left the institutional church were drawn to this community. The focus of our gatherings was praying lectio divina together, reflecting on the Rule, and supporting each other in living this monastic way in the ordinariness of our lives whatever their outer circumstances.
I was an oblate guest at St. Placid for a year, then entered a discernment year, before making my full commitment to this path through ceremony in 2005. Even though I have not lived near the Priory for 10 years now, I am still connected to Sister Lucy and the other sisters there, many of the oblates, and of course the many gifts of Benedictine wisdom which work their way into all my teaching.
As the years passed and I lived into this commitment as a monk in the world, I fell in love with the desert mothers and fathers. Their potent stories speak straight to the heart about the need for silence, working with our thoughts, inner peace, and deep love. They are so honest about the challenges of the heart we struggle with. Then moving to Ireland I was delighted to find that the ancient Celtic monks were profoundly influenced by the desert way, albeit in a wilderness instead.
During the pandemic, like many of you, Julian of Norwich also began to speak to my heart more deeply. As an anchoress she was walled into her cell in the heart of a city, with a window to the world to offer spiritual guidance to pilgrims and those seeking meaning in the midst of the suffering of her times which included plague and war.
These are the lineages which continue to shape me, which spark my joy each morning with gratitude for the deep wellspring I can draw upon and for this extended community I am woven into. They also help me cultivate my capacity to meet sorrow with compassion.
Following a spiritual path does not exempt us from challenges. We are humans and we will make mistakes. We will find ourselves distracted and far away from ourselves at times. Our hearts will break over personal losses and the terrible shattering happening all over the world over and over.
In my own life, I have written many times about my ongoing struggles with autoimmune and chronic illness which have worsened in recent years. We have not returned to hosting in-person programs because of my compromised immune system and greatly fluctuating energy levels. Embracing the way of the monk does not erase the pain and suffering, but it brings a connection to all the ancient ones who knew the divine presence in the midst of it.
When we enter the inner sanctuary, whether for a few minutes or a few hours, we are invited again and again to align ourselves to Love. Like the great mystic Howard Thurman writes, we listen for the “sound of the genuine” within. We are asked to welcome in all the difficult parts of self, we are called to make space for the grief, the wailing, the heartache, as well as the joy, gratitude, and delight the world offers. When we learn to welcome in more and more we meet the stranger with love as well and see the face of the divine there as Benedict so wisely advises us. Then we act on behalf of justice out of that in dwelling fountain of love.
Our particular Abbey community is about being dancing monks. What does this mean exactly? It is a path for those who also feel a call to follow the creative way and to bring beauty into the world. It is for those who honor the body as a source of tremendous wisdom. It is for those who long to join in the cosmic dance which Thomas Merton tells us about, and even while holding space for grief, we also enter into the play and delight that is also our birthright.
However you participate, whether through our morning and evening prayer in our prayer cycles (Day 1-6 of The Love of Thousands is now available along with four other themes), our monthly contemplative prayer services where we gather together in real time, our book club to expand our perspective on contemplative practice or participate in our mini-retreats and series to go deeper into particular topics. In addition to my own books and reflections we bring in a wide variety of guest teachers to share their wisdom with you as well so we can learn from one another.
We make all of our paid programs accessible through sliding scale options and additional scholarship requests. We have many free resources as well. If you are contemplating your end of year giving, know that we gratefully accept donations to help support this work. For US-based donors we have a fiscal sponsorship relationship with Fractured Atlas for our many non-profit based offerings so you can receive a tax deduction. For those outside of the US, we also welcome your support. Like most ministries we operate on a very simple budget while striving to pay our artists and teachers a living wage and produce the highest quality resources we can.
We recognize that not everyone has the financial resources to share. Your generosity of heart sustains us in this work. Your enthusiastic response to what we share keeps us going in joy. Thank you for all the ways you show up in the world, claiming the gifts of the monk as a path of transformation. May Peace infuse our hurting world, may Love heal the brokenness. It begins with each of us.
If you are seeking some creative inspiration during this holiday season, please join me for Writing into Winter, an online mini-retreat being hosted on December 2nd by the Benedictine sisters of St. Placid Priory. On Thursday, November 30th Betsey Beckman will lead us in a free, joy-filled gathering to celebrate the release of the Birthing the Holy Prayer~Dance~Video digital collection. Many of these dances are featured in our Birthing the Holy prayer cycle.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Image © Christine Valters Paintner