Visit the Abbey of the Arts online retreat platform to access your programs:

St Colman, Solitude, and Pilgrimage ~ A Love Note from Your Online Abbess

Pilgrimage Blessing*
Journeying One,
you help us to navigate the path,
placing one foot in front of the other,
even when the way ahead is not visible.
We set aside our desire for maps, GPS, and guidebooks
and surrender to an inner knowing and direction
sparked by the deepest longings of our hearts.
We know the desire for new life
we feel has been kindled by you.
May we surrender our need to steer the course
and let every step we take carry us into
greater intimacy with you.
Help us to see others as fellow pilgrims on the way
with their own fears and struggles.
Compel us to reach out a hand
in loving compassion and support
and may we recognize all those holy guides
who disrupt our intended paths
as sparking a new direction on our way.

Dearest monks and artists,

On April 23rd, Simon de Voil and I will begin a 9-day virtual Celtic pilgrimage for the feast of Beltaine (May 1st) honoring Saints Colman, Sourney, and Patrick. We have spent many hours over the past year working with our wonderful filmmakers and local guides to bring some more of the sacred sites in the west of Ireland alive for you, our dear community. 

One of the sites dedicated to St. Colman is especially close to my heart. It is a place in the Burren, the limestone landscape across the bay from where I live, which holds a cave, a church ruin, and a holy well, all surrounded by a grove of hazelnut trees. 

Colman was the founder of many monasteries, but at an early point in his life he longed for greater solitude and silence. He went into the forest of the Burren and found a cave where he could settle. When we used to bring pilgrims there, we’d bless ourselves at the well and spend time sitting in silence to listen to the wisdom of wind and stone, of trees and water. 

It is said that Colman also brought three creatures with him—a rooster, a mouse, and a fly. The rooster would wake him for his morning prayers. The mouse would nibble on his ear if he fell back to sleep, and the fly would help him keep his place in his book of prayers. 

Even though Ireland’s landscape and weather are far from desert conditions, because of the impact of the ancient desert ammas and abbas, we still find in Ireland many places with the name dysert (or variations of it) to reflect the wild, solitary places the Irish monks sought out. 

Colman lived in this dysert place for seven years in silent contemplationallowing the wilderness to teach him. Eventually, through divine intervention, he was called back to community life where he built his monastery, Kilmacduagh (which means “church of Macduagh”) near Gort. It became a large ecclesiastical site that many pilgrims sought out.

Is there a dysert place in your own life? 

Where do you go for a time of retreat? It might be a place in your own home, a retreat center nearby, a beautiful landscape where you go to restore, or a faraway place that has touched your heart with its capacity to reveal the holy. 

Make a commitment to find a day sometime during the next weeks to go away for a time of silence and solitude to simply listen. You can even practice dysert at home for ten minutes each day if that is all that is available to you. Turn off any notifications from your phone or computer, tell others in your house not to disturb you, and give yourself time to sit and listen. 

You may not hear anything at first, or you may hear the birds outside, the whir of car engines going by, the rustle of neighbors on their way out the door. Instead of fighting these as distractions, bring the art of blessing to each of these sounds. Bless the birds, the people in their cars wherever they are headed, the neighbors whose story you may or may not know. 

Consider joining us for our virtual pilgrimage and creating your own desert and wilderness retreat in the midst of your daily life. 

You are also invited to join Therese Taylor Stinson this Wednesday for our monthly Centering Prayer session for another opportunity to practice silence and stillness with kindred spirits.

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

*Pilgrimage Blessing by Christine Valters Paintner from our Soul of a Pilgrim prayer cycle

Dancing Monk Icon © Marcy Hall

You might also enjoy

Monk in the World Guest Post: Kate Kennington Steer

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to our Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Kate Kennington Steer’s reflection Heart of Stone. I arrived at February 2023 in a post-viral fatigue fug, feeling beset by depression, with

Read More »

Soul of a Pilgrim Video Podcast Day 2

Blessing for Packing Lightly*Winnowing God, you ask us to release, let go, surrender, and yield all that we canin service of making space for what is most essential. The more we set aside that which burdens us and takes up too much spacethe more room

Read More »

Monk in the World Guest Post: Mary Camille Thomas

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to our Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Mary Camille Thomas’s reflection Sitting in Paradise. “Sit in your cell as in paradise,” St. Romuald says in his brief rule for

Read More »