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Orphan, Fool, Sovereign, Prophet: Creating New Beginnings in Times of Unraveling

with Christine and John Valters Paintner, Simon de Voil, Dena Jennings, Aisling Richmond, Jamie Marich, and guest teachers

Forum facilitators Melissa Layer and Polly Paton-Brown

September 23 – October 19, 2024

Weekly live gathering on Zoom Mondays, September 23, 30, October 7, 14

3-4pm Ireland

10-11am Eastern

7-8am  Pacific

Program Description

“Apocalypse” is a mythic and archetypal reality that has been activated many times over history during wars, pandemics, and other kinds of societal collapse. The root of the word apocalypse means to uncover or reveal. Theologian Dr. Brian Blount referred to Revelation as a call to endurance when two worlds clash — “the world as it is” and “the world as it meant to be.” These times ask us to cultivate endurance and practices which help us to nurture hope and new beginnings, rather than preparing for the end.

Time is cyclical and moving in spirals, rather than linear, so the endings always hold seeds of new beginnings. “Apocalypse” is a threshold, a liminal time between eras and ways of being which disrupts the status quo. As destructive systems collapse, humanity is called to rebuild the world rooted in a new vision. The veil is slowly lifted, to reveal a future filled with glimmers of renewal, compassion, beauty, hope, and thriving for all Earth’s beings.

The value of looking to the archetypal imagination is that it reveals a world behind the world of appearances. This mythic way of understanding asks us to cultivate a different way of seeing, to find solace in the threads of the eternal which are woven into the fabric of our lives, and to re-orient ourselves toward a deep kinship with the natural world and those beyond the borders of political and cultural power to discover wisdom from the wild edges of life.

These times demand endurance and a trust in our role in the unfolding of things. They also require rest and resistance to all the ways our culture tries to exhaust and deplete us, so we have nothing left to offer. They call us to focus our resources on supporting those whose suffering has been the greatest as well as making space for grief and lament as a practice of naming the harm that has been done.

What are the things I need to lament in the world as it is? How am I am called to be a sign of hope and promise in a world that can often feel very dark? How might the reality of endings also point to new beginnings and the world as it is meant to be?

Through imagination and creative process, we can nourish ourselves and the world by also turning our attention to shimmering moments, to those places where beauty erupts in the midst of challenge, to learning how to see the deeper union of all beings, and to create together from these visions.

At the heart of the Christian tradition is the reality of suffering and death being transformed into new life in ways beyond expectation. The natural world teaches us about the rhythms of dying and composting as necessary before another cycle of blooming and fruitfulness.  

In the four weeks of this retreat, we will be exploring the significance of living during what feels like end times to gain new perspectives on the beginning of time. We will be focusing on the liberating and empowering concepts of threshold and transformation. We will listen to the wisdom of the mystics who have lived through their own turbulent periods as well as those who have been oppressed and lived through end times over many generations.

In Christine’s weekly live sessions, she will weave in an exploration of the archetype of apocalypse with the archetypes of orphan, fool, sovereign, and prophet to help illuminate the ways these ancient patterns or ways of being help support our call to create newness in the face of endings. Through teaching, meditation, and creative writing explorations we will empower ourselves to be fully present to the reality of the world we live in and listen closely for what is ours to do in response. She will be joined in the live sessions by Simon de Voil who will offer the gift of music to help us deepen into the themes.

The rest of the week you are given daily invitations into various creative and reflective practices led by a wonderful array of Abbey Wisdom Council members and other guest teachers (more details below).

Through various forms of creative practice including writing, song, visual expression, movement, and ritual we will yield to the creative force at work in us, summoning new possibilities. We will also root ourselves in kinship with nature as a resource and powerful ally for our sense of grounding and connection to the sacred in all things.

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.

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

Week 1: Archetype of the Orphan

We will explore the Orphan archetype through spiritual figures like Dorothy Day, Jesus crying out from the cross, and Mary Mother of Sorrows

The Orphan appears across myths, fairy tales, and popular culture, think of little Orphan Annie, Cinderella, Dorothy, and Harry Potter. The Genesis story of the Garden of Eden is a primal orphan myth explaining where our experience of being exiles arises.  Jesus experiences utter abandonment on the cross.

The fundamental experience of the Orphan is abandonment, feeling like an exile, and longing for an experience of being at home. Ultimately the Orphan learns that it is the source of power to face one’s victimization and limitations and to feel fully the pain caused by them.  Conscious suffering is the gateway to our own spiritual awakening and maturity. Doing so frees us up to work together to create a better world.

In what ways do I continue to abandon myself again and again? How have your own experiences of wounding called you to be a healing presence in the world?

Week 2: Archetype of the Holy Fool

We will explore the Holy Fool archetype through spiritual figures like St. Francis of Assisi, Sister Thea Bowman, Jesus and his parables, and Mary as Virgin. The Russian Church has a special word for saints who are regarded as holy fools: yurodivi.

The Holy Fool helps us to see things in new ways and dismantle the accepted wisdom of our times. Productivity, striving, consumption, and speed are some of the false gods of our western culture. A life committed to following the Divine path is one which makes the world’s wisdom seem foolish, but conversely, the world looks upon those with spiritual commitment often as the ones who are “fools.” These are the wild souls who witness to other possibilities.

How are you being called to step out of the roles you have taken on and do something “foolish” in the service of subverting what the world values? What are the illusions you long to tear down in service of greater vision and wholeness? In what ways are you called to take yourself less seriously and commit to more play, laughter, and delight?

Week 3: Archetype of the Sovereign

We will explore the Sovereign archetype through spiritual figures like King David, poet Maya Angelou, Jesus entering Jerusalem, and Mary as Queen of Heaven, Angels, and Saints

Our inner Sovereign is our inner Queen or King who asks the question, “what is my task in this world? How can I be of service to the community?” Living into what that is may take a lifetime, but the sovereign helps us to claim the call that is our birthright and step into life with confidence.  That gift is then offered with joy as a blessing to the world. When I live from my inner Sovereign, I act out of a sense of agency which is a willingness to take action on my own behalf for the benefit of others, to exert my power or influence.  This is not what we think we should be doing for others but emerges from the very deep and wise place within us. 

What is my call in this lifetime? What is fully mine to offer the world as gift and blessing? Where have I felt victimized in my experience and can I reclaim my power again? 

Week 4: Archetype of the Prophet

We will explore the Prophet archetype through spiritual figures like the biblical prophet Miriam, Howard Thurman, Jesus and his speech of judgment, and Mary as Mirror of Justice

In his book The Prophetic Imagination, theologian Walter Brueggemann writes that the dominant culture, now and in every time, is grossly uncritical, cannot tolerate any fundamental criticism, and will go to great lengths to stop it. It is the role of the prophet to help “to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and a perception” alternative to the dominant narrative. The Prophet helps us to imagine the world as it might be, and how we can get from here to there and reminds us that we are bound up with one another.

How are you called to sacred activism? What practices can support you in nurturing a consciousness alternative to the dominant narrative of what is valuable? How can your inner prophet help to nourish new visions of what is possible?

What's Included

We invite you to join us for a four-week program where dive into each of the four archetypes to invite us into new perspectives and transformation.

Six days each week you receive an email with a link to the day’s content. The 7th day is a time for rest and integration. The materials are in written, video, and audio format which you can view and listen to at any time. You have lifetime access to the materials in the course.

Monday: Live Session on Zoom with Christine Valters Paintner

Each Monday of our journey together, Christine will be hosting a live session where she offers teaching on each archetype, leads a meditation, and leads some creative writing explorations to deepen into the overall theme. Simon de Voil offers his gift of song to deepen your reflection. Each session will be recorded and made available later the same day.

Tuesday: Somatic Intelligence and Nature Connection with Aisling Richmond

Aisling will offer you a rich weave of practices to deepen your wisdom, well-being and response-ability in these epic times. Through embodiment and nature connection you will be supported to grow your roots deep into the earth, so as to reach your branches outwards and offer your unique gifts to the world.

Wednesday: Songs of Healing and Hope with Dena Jennings

Dena will be offering the gift of songs from various traditions such as spirituals and songs of the South which speak to ways that creative impulse can provide people who are struggling a way to lament, protest, celebrate, and resist.

Thursday: Dancing Mindfulness with Jamie Marich

Dancing Mindfulness is a come-as-you are meditation and expressive arts practice that uses dance and other creative movement as our primary vehicle for engagement in present-moment awareness. Participants are given a great deal of options to engage movement in whatever way is sustainable for their bodies and personal practices.

Friday: Conversations with Guest Teachers

Christine invited some wisdom teachers to explore the archetypes we are considering.

Week 1: Dr. Brian Blount on Revelation and Apocalypse

Week 2: ValLimar Jansen on Sister Thea Bowman as Holy Fool

Week 3: Benjamin Mertz on Maya Angelou as Sacred Sovereign

Week 4: Dr. Luther Smith on Howard Thurman as Mystic and Prophet

Saturday: Scripture reflection by John Valters Paintner and questions for reflection

At the end of each week, we will post a scripture reflection by John (originally in the book Illuminating the Way) and some questions to help you sit and listen to what each archetype is inviting you to consider.

Sunday: Sabbath rest and integration

We do not post any content to allow for a day of rest from processing and give you a chance to integrate.

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.

m_John headshot 2

John Valters Paintner

John Valters Paintner studied education and earned a teaching certificate in his home state of California.  John later went on to earn a Masters in Theological Studies at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley.  After working in parish ministry for several years, John returned to the classroom, teaching high school religion for twelve years. He now works as Prior of the Abbey of the Arts alongside his wife of twenty years, Abbess Christine. Visit the “About John” page for more information.

Simon de Voil

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>>

Dena Ross Jennings

Dena Jennings

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. 

In the larger community, she conducts conflict transformation workshops including one for artistic ambassadors through the US State Department in Washington, DC. She has developed accredited curricula of meditation for racial justice, and for cultural sensitivity in artistic performance. In 2019, she was appointed to the Virginia Commission for the Arts where she serves as the chairperson.

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 ImaniWorks online.



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.


Forum Facilitators

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

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

Guest Teachers

Brian K. Blount

Dr. Brian K Blount is a President Emeritus, Union Presbyterian Seminary and the author of numerous books including Can I Get a Witness: Reading Revelation through African American Culture

ValLimar headshot

ValLimar Jansen is a singer, composer, recording artist, and playwright. She wrote and stars in  “I Will Live Until I Die” – a musical of the life of Sr. Thea Bowman.

Benjamin Mertz
Benjamin Mertz is a musician, composer, activist, and director of Diversity & Inclusion at the Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute
Dr. Luther E Smith Jr

Dr. Luther Smith, Professor Emeritus of Church and Community, Candler School of Theology, Emory University and author of Howard Thurman: The Mystic as Prophet


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