Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
Every four weeks I go to the hospital to receive an infusion of a biologic medication to keep my rheumatoid arthritis under control. Each time I go I am full of gratitude at the way modern medicine has allowed me to mostly keep my mobility 32 years after being first diagnosed. My mother, who also had RA, didn’t even live this long into her illness and was in a wheelchair the last several years of her life after several joint replacement surgeries.
As many of you know, autoimmune illness is challenging. I have several chronic pain conditions in addition, as well as a lot of fatigue. My conditions flare at various times and in those seasons I have to pare back even more on what I am doing so I can spend more time being and resting. In a world that prizes productivity, this act of stopping without apology is a form of resistance, in addition to necessary self-preservation and radical loving care for my body.
Because my immune system is compromised I have to be very careful about being in shared spaces with others which is why we no longer offer in-person programs. A cold easily turns into a chest infection. I wear masks diligently these days as respiratory illness numbers rise and I do feel quite disheartened when I am in a medical setting or on public transit with people coughing and sniffling all around, almost no one is taking simple steps to protect others.
I am grateful that the hermit life calls to me, and I am very content spending my days at home with sweet Sourney by my side. What I call my horizontal perspective from the long hours of rest, helps me to see things differently and I know those of us who have to live more slowly and discern more carefully what to take on have a gift to offer the world.
For so many years I prayed for healing, and while I do continue to hold a version of that desire in my heart, I know it looks like something different than what I first imagined. I am acutely aware that this ebbing and flowing of energy and pain is my ongoing reality. It is unlikely that will ever change. It can be exhausting to keep wishing for it when acceptance and compassion toward myself as I am helps to sustain me better, while also doing all that is necessary to keep me as healthy as I can be. This includes medication, but also herbs, baths, naps, massage, walks, swims, yoga, physio, and other treatments as needed. I have found that the things which help me take pleasure in my body are some of the greatest medicine I receive.
A deep bow of gratitude especially to the many people who share the marvelous work of running an online monastery – my beloved John, our gifted program coordinator Melinda, our wonderful Wisdom Council members, and our other guest teachers. Also our web person Garrett and our accountant Bernadette. So many hands necessary. As someone with early patterns of over-responsibility, having a team of amazing and wise souls to support this work, and me in the process, is nothing short of amazing. It brings me to awe every time I ponder it and keeps me from depleting myself.
And thank you to all of our dancing monks, you offer me so much grace in accepting me as I am, with all my gifts and all my significant limitations. Your kindness and care for one another moves me deeply. Abbey of the Arts is such a vibrant creation because of your participation. I pray in gratitude for you every morning and imagine your luminous presences scattered across the globe.
This life of anchoress by necessity offers me such meaningful ways to stay connected to the world far beyond my walls, through the miracle of online connections, through prayer, poetry, writing, and simply being witness to the beauty around me that erupts each moment.
So days like today, when I go to the hospital to receive the gift of my infusion that allows me to continue on as best I can, I know it to be a sacrament. The wonderful nurses who minister to me each month are earth-bound angels. And my illness calls me again and again to hold the beauty and sorrow of life together. To know this as ongoing revelation. To know this as its own kind of grace.
(Please no health advice, I have tried many different healing modalities over the years and work with my team of healthcare practitioners to discern what is best for me right now. It can be exhausting to be given advice, rather than simply being witnessed in the complexity of my situation. Thank you in advance for honoring that boundary.)
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE