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

A Midwinter God: Encountering the Divine in Seasons of Darkness

with Christine Valters Paintner, Aisling Richmond, Jamie Marich and guest teachers

Forum facilitators Polly Paton-Brown and Melissa Layer

January 20 – March 1, 2025

Live Zoom Session on Mondays January 20, 27, and February  3, 10, 17, & 24

3-4pm Ireland

10-11am Eastern

7-8am Pacific

Program Description

Our western culture denies the reality of difficult feelings, demonizes the experience of darkness, and rejects the invitation of winter to move into a place of unknowing and mystery. Our religious institutions don’t leave any room for the experience of doubt and despair. Certainty, planning, and achievement always trump unknowing, mystery, unfolding, and fallowness. We are encouraged to move full steam ahead through every season, never taking time to rest.

The seasons of the year offer us a profound invitation to embrace the gift of darkness and mystery, and to honor what I call the Midwinter God. John of the Cross describes one aspect of this experience as the dark night of the soul which is a spiritual journey of having one’s attachments stripped away.

In the midst of anxiety and distress, how might we begin to cultivate our ability to stay awake and present through the dark night of the soul we experience both individually and collectively?

What gifts might emerge from creating safe holding spaces for folks to do their own deep inner work, wrestling with the shadows, expressing grief, and embracing the mysteries of life?

This journey asks us to cultivate an ability to be with life’s questions.

This online retreat in particular requires that participants come with a certain amount of spiritual maturity and experience, as well as a willingness to plumb some dark depths in a container of support. We recommend having a soul friend or spiritual director with whom you can process what emerges in this material.

You will need to purchase a copy of Christine’s book A Midwinter God: Encountering the Divine in Seasons of Darkness.

We will turn on closed captioning during the live Zoom session (which you are able to turn off in your settings if you find distracting) as well as provide a video recording with closed captioning available and a text transcript of the session.

The program will be recorded for those who pre-register but are unable to attend at the scheduled time or who want to view again. You will be sent a notification when this is ready to view.

You have lifetime access to all online programs.

Weekly Themes

Midwinter God Weeks 1& 2

Week 1: The Gifts of Winter and Darkness

When we approach life through the rhythms of creation, we begin to see that winter is an essential part of the cycle of life. Our experience of flowering and fullness is punctuated by seasons of releasing and resting.

Week 2: Spiritual Bypassing and Shadow Work

Spiritual bypassing means using spiritual concepts to avoid dealing with difficult feelings. Central to this work of honoring our winter seasons is to learn to welcome our emotions with compassion. We are also called to tend to our shadow selves as voices longing for expression.

Midwinter God Weeks 2&3

Week 3: Grief as Holy Path

Grief is a sacred sign of how much we have loved, whether a person, a place, a dream, our abilities, or other beings. Tending grief is a vital part of the journey and helps us to honor what has been lost.

Week 4: The Apophatic Path or Way of Unknowing

John of the Cross describes the dark night of the soul as a time when God seems to become absent. We must learn to walk the way of unknowing into the seasons of deeper mystery as they ultimately lead us to a more mature and enriched understanding of the divine.

Midwinter God Weeks 5&6

Week 5: The Compassionate, Fierce, Dark Feminine

One of Mary’s faces is as Mother of Sorrows, she being one who has experienced her own terrible losses. She is also depicted as the Black Madonna of fierceness and compassion. In many religious traditions, it is the goddess or sacred feminine who embodies the journey to the Underworld.

Week 6: The Transformative Mythic Journey

We will explore the archetypes of Orphan, Destroyer, and Sovereign and the journey of Persephone to the Underworld to support us in our own movement from victimization to embodying our power.

What's Included

Monday: Live session with Christine (Zoom) 

Tuesday: Somatic Resourcing practices with Aisling Richmond (video)

Wednesday: Mindful Movement practices with Jamie Marich (video)

Thursday: Written reflections from guest teachers (Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, Jamie Marich, Simon de Voil, Kayce Hughlett, Melissa Layer, Michael Moore)

Friday: Creative exploration (audio guidance for the practice in the book)

Saturday: Reflection questions and closing blessing

Sunday is a Sabbath day of rest and integration

A lovingly facilitated forum is also included in this live version of the retreat. Feel free to share what you are discovering with a community of kindred souls.

Your Guides for the Journey


Christine Valters Paintner

Christine Valters Paintner is the online Abbess and director of, a virtual monastery exploring contemplative practice, creative expression, and ways to nourish an earth-cherishing consciousness. She is a spiritual director, teacher, pilgrimage guide, Benedictine oblate, and author of numerous books on spirituality and the arts. Her deepest belief is that the earth is the original monastery–a wisdom guide and mentor in living a soulful and vibrant life. Visit the “About Christine” page for more information.


Aisling Richmond

Aisling Richmond is a Somatic Therapist and transformative guide who is deeply inspired by nature and the wisdom of the soul. Aisling is currently undertaking a PhD in Psychology and Transformative Leadership to work with cultural change. She shares a home with her partner in the rugged wildness of Donegal, North West Ireland. Aisling works as a therapist, supporting people to resolve trauma and life challenges through body-psyche-soul wisdom. She also mentors people in finding their deep soul purpose, and teaches a rich range of transformative programs online.  Aisling is passionate about soul centred living, where nature and the feminine are deeply valued. Having worked collaboratively with many organisations including Amnesty International, Aisling has also been a guest lecturer with both Galway and Limerick Universities. Visit Aisling’s website here>>


Jamie Marich

Jamie Marich, Ph.D., LPCC-S, REAT, RYT-500, RMT travels internationally speaking on topics related to EMDR therapy, trauma, addiction, expressive arts, LGBTQ issues, spirituality and mindfulness while maintaining a private practice in her home base of Northeast Ohio. Jamie is also the developer of the Dancing Mindfulness expressive arts practice. Jamie is the author of several books including Dancing Mindfulness: A Creative Path to Healing and Transformation (2015, with foreword by Christine Valters Paintner) and Process Not Perfection: Expressive Arts Solutions for Trauma Recovery released in 2019, heavily influenced by the growth she has experienced through her study with Abbey of the Arts! Now primarily a North Atlantic Book author, she has recently released Trauma and the 12 Steps: An Inclusive Guide to Recovery (2020), Transforming Trauma with Jiu-Jitsu (2022), and Dissociation Made Simple: A Stigma-Free Guide to Embracing Your Dissociative Mind and Navigating Life (2023). Visit Jamie’s website here.

Guest Teachers

Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, MA is a Psalmist, spiritual director and freelance musician. He enjoys all manner of projects in theology and the arts. Through his company,, he is publishing imaginative and adventurous songs for the ever-evolving church. Raised in the Midwestern United States, he is a husband to Trish and a dad to Sam. Faves: discovery, music, Star Wars, bosc pears, blue, laughter, naps.

Richard OB loose

Simon de Voil

Reverend Simon Ruth de Voil is an interfaith-interspiritual minister, sacred musician, spiritual counsellor, and chaplain. His sacred work—both musical and interpersonal—explores themes of the inner landscape of the soul, the enchantment of the natural world, and the healing power of spiritual practice. As a chaplain and counsellor, Simon helps individuals and groups connect sacred presence with everyday life. Simon is also a transgender activist and a luthier in training. Visit Simon’s website here>>

Simon de Voil

Kayce Hughlett

Kayce Stevens Hughlett, MA LMHC is a soulful and spirited woman. In her roles as ponderer extraordinaire, spiritual director, life muse, author, creative coach, and speaker, she invites us to playfully and fearlessly cross the thresholds toward authentic living. A strong proponent of compassionate care in the world, Kayce’s live and online work focuses on the principle that we must live it to give it.

Kayce’s official titles include: Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Spiritual Director, Life Coach, Speaker/Facilitator, and co-creator of SoulStrolling® ~ a movement for mindfulness in motion, at home or abroad. She is the author of three books, including her body-mind-spirit travel memoir, SoulStroller: experiencing the weight, whispers, & wings of the world.  Kayce is a member of Abbey of the Arts Wisdom Council and co-leader of Awakening the Creative Spirit. Visit Kayce’s website here>>


Michael Moore

Michael Moore is a retired USAF Chaplain and a retired pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) who currently lives in Mobile, Alabama with his wife and partner in life and ministry, Denise. His undergraduate degree is in Business Administration (University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire) and he earned his Master of Divinity degree from United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities (Saint Paul, MN). He served two small, yoked Presbyterian Churches in rural Fergus Falls, MN for three years before going on Active Duty with the USAF for 21 years. Following his retirement from the Air Force, he has served churches in Florida, Colorado, Georgia, and Alabama. He has a Certificate in Christian Spiritual Formation from Columbia Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA.

A writer and photographer, you can find him blogging at Pastor Michael Moore’s Blog or at Godspace as a member of that community.


Forum Facilitators

Polly Paton-Brown

Polly Paton-Brown MA UKCP worked for many years as a psychotherapist and trainer in the field of trauma. More recently, Polly’s focus has been on helping people explore their spirituality and prayer,  using creativity and connection with nature. Polly has a particular passion for creating healing dolls as a portal to transformation.

Always a lover of nature, horses and creativity Polly now integrates all of these into her practice. She has trained in Nature Based Practice and Eco-pychology, Environmental Arts, Expressive Arts and Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy. She is a licenced facilitator of Chakradance,  The Art of Allowing , Creative Awakenings and the  Wild Soul Woman Programme.

A member of the Iona Community, Polly was coordinator of their healing ministry for 11 years and when in that role ran regular retreats on the Isle of Iona. She is also a Sister of Belle Coeur.  With roots in the contemplative and monastic traditions, Polly also draws wisdom from other spiritual paths such as Druidry and Sufism. She is passionate to help those wounded by the institutional church restore their image of God and themselves.

Visit Polly’s website here>>

Polly Bio

Melissa Layer

Melissa Layer, MA, LMHC honors the unfolding journeys of our wild and precious lives as compelling invitations for creative, integrative meaning-making in BodyMindSpirit.  Her sacred calling and formal training as a psychospiritual therapist, hospice grief counselor, and spiritual director have taught her about the potency of thin places in thresholds and dark nights of the soul.  Cultivating curiosity, Melissa offers expressive exploration of the Great Mystery through journaling, collaging, poem-making, dreamwork, visio and lectio divina, creation of rituals and altars, and engaged encounters with nature.  Like the honeybee for which she is named, she claims her role as “a bee of the invisible…passionately plundering the honey of the visible in order to gather it in the great golden hive of the invisible” (Rilke).  Melissa offers a compassionate, attuned presence and deep listening with the ear of her heart from the Pacific Northwest in Washington, where the Salish sea meets the evergreen forest. Visit Melissa’s website here>>

Melissa Layer 2


Your registration constitutes an agreement with our online program Terms and Conditions below.

Please read our Financial Access Policy. 

We offer a sliding scale of 3 fees for payment. The reduced fee is for those who need financial assistance and the sponsorship fee helps support our ability to offer scholarships. In an effort to keep this program accessible, please carefully consider both your own resources as well as honoring the expense, time, and energy required to run these programs and keep our work sustainable. Thank you!

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Purchase the Companion Book

The book is not included in the registration fee. You may purchase the book at the links below or at your local book seller. Thank you for your support!

Terms and Conditions

Please consider your purchase carefully and review the many free materials we have on our website to make sure the program will be a good fit or get in touch with any questions.

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