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Stretching of the Heart with St. Columba ~ A Love Note from Your Online Abbess

Dearest monks and artists,

Today we release the video podcast for Day 5 of our Soul of a Pilgrim prayer cycle. The theme for morning and evening prayer is The Practice of Being Uncomfortable and Embracing the Unknown.

Pilgrimage always demands something from us. If we are not challenged by it, then we are merely on a trip or a vacation. 

This Friday, I will be leading an online retreat with two dear friends, Simon de Voil and Kenneth Steven. The retreat is titled Stretching of the Heart: A Celtic Mini-Retreat on St. Columba (known as Columcille in Ireland) and we will explore the ways pilgrimage calls us to new adventures but also to leave behind things and people we love

The feast of St. Columba (known as Columcille in Ireland) is a week from today on June 9th. 

He was born in County Donegal and is one of the three patron saints of Ireland (in addition to St Patrick and St Brigid). His birth was foretold in his mother’s dream of a youth receiving a radiant cloak which spread over Ireland and Scotland. 

He came from a family of Kings, but at an early age was sent to a monastery where he gave up his royalty and went on to found many monasteries across Ireland, including in Derry, Durrow, and Kells, and as far west as the Burren in Co Clare where there is still a holy well dedicated to him. He was also a poet and an artist who did illumination, including perhaps even some of those in the Book of Kells. 

Columcille experienced a call to leave Ireland and become an exile. He knew a great deal about loss. Soon after I first moved to Ireland I found reference to the “flagstone of loneliness” or the “stone of sorrows” which is a flat stone in County Donegal that St. Columba slept on overnight before he left his beloved Ireland for a pilgrimage by sea which would take him to Iona. It is said that the stone helped to carry his grief over leaving home. 

That image of offering your sorrow to the stones and asking them to help hold that heaviness is so breathtakingly poetic to me. Nature has a way of meeting us in our sadness. The Celtic vision of how Earth and its beings nourish and sustain us in so many ways. 

For many of the Irish monks, this call to exile was an integral part of the peregrinatio journey, to release all that is familiar and make oneself reliant on the hospitality of strangers, to feel your radical dependency on God. 

In the year 563, he traveled with twelve other monks to cross the sea in a coracle and landed on a small island off the coast of Scotland, now known as Iona. It was here that he began his new work and Iona became a heart center for Celtic Christianity and is still thriving today as a vibrant community. 

Join Simon, Kenneth, and me this Friday when we explore Celtic wisdom for the leaving behind and embracing the new. Through song, poetry, meditation, and teaching, Stretching of the Heart: A Celtic Mini-Retreat on St. Columba will be a holy pause of refreshment to enliven your spirit and support you as you continue on your own life pilgrimage. 

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, OblSB, PhD, REACE

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