Give Me a Word: An Advent and Christmas Retreat to Usher in a New Season of Life
with Christine and John Valters Paintner and guest teachers Aisling Richmond, Betsey Beckman, Carmen Acevedo Butcher, Claudia Love Mair, Deirdre Ní Chinnéide, Dena Jennings, Jamie Marich, Jo-ed Tome, Melinda Thomas, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, and Simon de Voil
Forum facilitators: Amber Andreasen and Polly Paton-Brown
December 3, 2023 – January 6, 2024
35 days of daily prompts and reflections, and Two Live Zoom Sessions with Christine:
Monday, December 4th
7-8 am Pacific | 10-11 Eastern | 3-4 pm Ireland/UK
Saturday, January 6th
8-10 am Pacific | 11-1pm Eastern | 4-6pm Ireland/UK*
*Celtic musician Deirdre Ní Chinnéide will be joining Christine for the live session on the feast of Epiphany
All live sessions will be recorded.
A key phrase, repeated often in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, is “Give me a word.” When a seeker went out to the wilderness to approach one of the ammas or abbas and said, “Give me a word,” they were not asking for a command or solution. They were opening their hearts to a communication which would slowly transform their lives.
We find this phrase repeated throughout the sayings of the desert fathers and mothers, those wise elders who, in the second and third centuries, went to the deserts of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine to cultivate a life of radical simplicity and ongoing devotion to the presence of the divine in their lives.
This tradition of asking for a word was a way of seeking something on which to ponder for many days, weeks, months, sometimes a whole lifetime. The “word” was often a short phrase to nourish and challenge the receiver. A word was meant to be wrestled with and slowly grown into.
A monk once came to Basil of Caesarea and said, “Speak a word, Father”; and Basil replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” and the monk went away at once. Twenty years later he came back and said, “Father, I have struggled to keep your word; now speak another word to me”; and he said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”; and the monk returned in obedience to his cell to keep that also.
This story demonstrates how a word could be worked on for years at a time. The word being sought was not a theological explanation or counseling. It was part of a relationship which had developed and the assumption that this word, when received by the disciple would be life-giving. It was meant for this person in this moment of their lives.
Since 2008 we have posted an annual invitation to listen for a word to guide them in the year ahead. We would share a few short and simple practices with hundreds of people participating.
This year we are creating something more expansive and with greater depth.
Join us for a 35-day retreat that takes us through the seasons of Advent and Christmas, a time to contemplate what holiness we are birthing within our souls.
Each day there will be a different practice offered to inspire, challenge, and support you in listening for the word that wants to be spoken to your heart.
The practices are not about resolutions or goal setting, they are not about achieving more in the new year or accomplishing tasks or goals. They are about listening for what is calling to you in a particular season of life. They ask us to trust a greater wisdom at work in the world than our own egos.
Through this retreat, you will be invited to release your thinking mind and enter into a space of receiving.
Ask the wise presences in your life for your own life-giving word. You will be invited to listen in the stillness, to sacred texts, to your life, to dreams, to nature, to your body, to soul friends, to the ancestors. The word might come from reading a poem or story. It might come in a time of stillness, or it might arrive later in the day, wise words offered from an unexpected source, a dream symbol, a line from a conversation, or an image you stumble upon that seizes your imagination.
The word is something that shimmers for you, catching your attention in a particular way. Shimmering is a way to describe when something in the world is calling to you, beckoning you, urging you to pay closer attention. Sometimes what shimmers is challenging but we know that wrestling will yield something bigger in our lives. Sometimes what shimmers invokes wonder and awe. We notice a felt response in our bodies and spirits that ask us to attune more deeply to what is being revealed.
The purpose of the word is to simply hold it in your heart, turning it over and over, pondering, but not analyzing. Give it space within you to speak. We don’t force it into a meaning for us. We let it unfold slowly.
Once the word arrives, we offer you some ways to help confirm the word and break its meaning open further through creative explorations. And finally, we invite you to make some commitments for the season ahead rooted in your word.
This is radically different than making New Year’s resolutions.
We come to this process, not from a sense of lack, but with hearts open to receiving the greater aliveness that is our birthright.
Five weeks allows a slow process of unfolding and receiving, not rushing through or grasping. We will attune ourselves to a different way of being in the world.
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.
How the Program Works
We begin and end this online retreat with a live Zoom session led by Christine Valters Paintner. These sessions will include teaching, meditation, ritual, reflection, and time for sharing and questions. These two sessions will be recorded.
The rest of the retreat is asynchronous which means each day a new creative practice or meditation is posted to our online retreat platform to help you listen for your word, receive your word, or carry your word forward into the world.
These practices will be shared by Christine as well as by guest teachers in written, audio, and/or video formats to support you in this journey of listening. There will be a weekly Sabbath day of rest from new practices to allow time for incubation and integration.
The meditations for each day will be in either audio or video format, some with written introductions, and will be 5-15 minutes long maximum.
There will also be an online forum where you can participate in a conversation and share what you are discovering at any time of day with others in the retreat.
Daily Practices to Nourish and Inspire You
Part One: Listening for a Word
12/3: Welcome + Sunday scripture reflection
12/4: Live opening Zoom session with Christine
12/5: Lectio Divina with Life Experience
12/6: Meditation from Aisling Richmond
12/7: Read a set of spiritual principles
12/8: Tend the Night Wisdom of Dreams
12/9: Dialogue with a Word from Richard Bruxvoort Colligan
12/10: Sabbath rest + Sunday scripture reflection
12/11: Consult a Soul Friend
12/12: Imagination & the Limberjack from Dena Jennings
12/13: Memento Mori: Imagine Your Deathbed
Part Two: Receiving the Word
12/14: Allow the Word to Ripen
12/15: Trust What You Love
12/16: Chant from Carmen Acevedo Butcher
12/17: Sabbath rest + Sunday scripture reflection
12/18: Call on the Angels, Saints, and Ancestors
12/19: Yoga from Melinda Thomas
12/20: Pilgrimage of Memory
12/21: Listen to the Elements
12/22: Contemplative Walk from Jo-ed Tome
12/23: Consult the Desert Elders
12/24: Sabbath rest + Sunday scripture reflection
12/25: Bring Your Word to a Threshold Place
12/26: Create a Pantoum
Part Three: Carrying the Word with You
12/27: Create a Breath Prayer
12/28: Hold the Tension from Simon de Voil
12/29: Choose a Spiritual Teacher
12/30: Create a Playlist of Word-Themed Songs and Dance
12/31: Sabbath rest + Sunday scripture reflection
1/1: Create an Icon from Claudia Love Mair
1/2: Commit to a Word-Rooted Practice
1/3: Write an Acrostic Poem
1/4: Dancing Mindfulness from Jamie Marich
1/5: Illustrate the Word Visually
1/6: Live closing Zoom Session with Christine and Deirdre Ní Chinnéide
Your Guides for the Journey
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE is the online Abbess for Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery and global community integrating contemplative practice and creative expression. Her programs draw on the wisdom of the desert, Celtic, and Benedictine spiritual traditions as well as the joy of the expressive arts, embodied practice, and Earth-cherishing wisdom. Christine is the author of numerous books on spirituality and creativity, including three collections of poetry. She lives on the west coast of Ireland with her husband John and dog Sourney. Find out more about her here.
John Valters Paintner, MTS
John Valters Paintner is the online prior for Abbey of the Arts, where he assists his wife Christine in ministering to global community both online and through in-person programs. John was a youth minister and pastoral associate for four years before becoming a high school religion teacher for twelve years. He has a Masters of Theological Studies from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. His love for the Bible, particularly the Hebrew Scriptures, emerged when he taught the “Old Testament” at an all-boys high school. John is also a lover of the art of story-telling and has written dozens of short stories, one-act plays, and short films in a variety of genres.
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>>
Betsey Beckman, MM is nationally acclaimed as a spirited dancer, storyteller, teacher of SpiritPlay and dancing Spiritual Director. With her extensive repertory of sacred storydances, she is regularly featured as artist/presenter at national conventions as well as local churches. She earned her Masters in Ministry degree from Seattle University, her certificate in Movement Therapy from the Institute for Transformational Movement, and is a certified InterPlay leader. As dancer, choreographer, author, mother, wife, teacher and spiritual director, she is passionate about living life fully and fostering creativity in all those with whom she shares life and ministry. Betsey’s publications include books (she is co-author ofAwakening the Creative Spirit: Bringing the Expressive Arts to Spiritual Direction), recordings – including producing the Abbey of the Arts CD collections, and The Dancing Word series of DVDs on embodied prayer, many of which companion the Abbey CDs. She offers the gift of playful improvisation whenever possible. Visit her website TheDancingWord.com.
Carmen Acevedo Butcher
Carmen Acevedo Butcher is an award-winning translator, poet, and workshop leader. She has been interviewed on the BBC’s Compass, NPR’s Morning Edition and Dante’s Old South, and many others. Her Cloud of Unknowing translation received a 46th Georgia Author of the Year Award, and Martin Laird calls her translation of Brother Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence “the new standard.” Carmen holds degrees in Medieval Studies from the University of Georgia, was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of London, and teaches in the College Writing Programs at the University of California, Berkeley. She lives in the Bay Area, and is working on a chapbook of poetry. Visit Carmen online.
Claudia Love Mair
Claudia Love Mair, MFA is a writer, artist, and Ringmistress of the Beautiful Soul Circus, a private Facebook group for creatives, queers, and tender souls. She’s an Inspirationalista who, when she’s not creating something herself, helps other creatives tap into their deepest intuition and longings through writing and painting. Claudia is the author of the God Alone is Enough, the critically acclaimed novel, Zora and Nicky, and her memoir, Don’t You Fall Now. She is a Certified Intuitive Painting and Expressive Arts Facilitator and the Coordinator for the Kentucky Black Writers Collaborative. Claudia lives in Lexington, with two of her adult children, and three cats, including one who thinks he’s a dog.
Deirdre Ní Chinnéide
Deirdre Ní Chinnéide is trained as a psychotherapist / spiritual director and workshop facilitator. She has worked all over Ireland, the U.S.A. and Europe including Bosnia and Kosovo. The Aran Islands with its unique history, culture and natural beauty provides a special setting for the retreat work, and was the place of inspiration for Celtic Passage, a journey of the heart which she leads through music, reflection and prayer. Deirdre divides her time between the Aran Islands and the mainland offering retreats, workshops and performances of spiritual music and also works part time with Partners in Faith, a Catholic adult faith education programme working in marginalised areas in Ireland.
Deirdre has also co-authored the book Journey to the Well: Connecting to Celtic Ways and Wisdom. Visit Dierdre’s website here.
Dena Jennings, D.O. is a luthier, musician, writer, Virginia Master Naturalist, and an Internal Medicine physician with certification in Ayurvedic practice. In addition to over 30 years of medical practice, she completed a 4-year apprenticeship with a sculptor and luthier in Ontario, Canada where she learned to design and built the gourd instruments of cultures around the world. In 2013 Dr. Jennings married her best friend Donald Jennings and moved to their organic herb farm and wildlife preserve in Nasons, VA which they lovingly call the Farmashramonastery. There, she practices medicine and counselling, hosts contemplative retreats, hikes, and meditation, and raises angora rabbits. Since 1996, Dr. Jennings has been the Executive Director and founder of Imani Works, a human rights advocacy group that enjoys consultative status with the United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs. Through Imani Works, she provides evaluations for asylum seekers. You can reach her for bookings, consultations, and counselling by visiting
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.
Melinda Thomas, E-RYT 500 is the Program Coordinator for Abbey of the Arts providing program and logistical support, forum facilitation, and yoga offerings. She is an experienced yoga teacher and has been studying and practicing yoga for more than twenty-five years. In each of her classes and workshops Melinda weaves spiritual and contemplative themes into accessible, alignment based movement practice. Melinda is a writer and the author of Sacred Balance: Aligning Body and Spirit Through Yoga and the Benedictine Way. She lives in North Carolina with her son whose room is often littered with LEGOs and who still wants to cuddle. Visit her website >>
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, Worldmaking.net, 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.
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>>
Amber Andreasen is a contemplative, ever desiring to deepen into and dance the rhythms of monk and artist. She has trained as a spiritual director, receiving her M.A. in Spiritual Formation and Soul Care from The Institute of Spiritual Formation at Talbot School of Theology. Wherever she finds herself, she desires to nurture a compassionate space where others can be listened and loved into fuller being by the Beloved. She is continually awed by the body as sacred storyholder and storyteller, and her heart beats loudly for the weaving together of creativity and spirituality in the discovering of what it means to live an embodied, fully human life in all its mystery and wonder.
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>>
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