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The Mystical Heart: Love as a Creative Force

A monthly series of retreats on the mystics

with Christine Valters Paintner, Betsey Beckman, Carl McColman, Claudia Love Mair, Lerita Coleman Brown, Sister Laura Swan, Sophfronia Scott, Kenneth Steven, & Therese Taylor-Stinson

One Saturday a month, September 17, 2022 – June 3, 2023

9am-12pm Pacific

12-3pm Eastern

5-8pm Ireland

Program Description

At the heart of mysticism is a profound sense of God’s intimate and transforming presence in your life which always expands your capacity for love. We can be sure that our encounter with the divine has been genuine when it leads us to greater love and compassion for self, for other, for creation, and for God.

We encounter this Ground of Love both through our own spiritual practice, opening our hearts daily to listen, but equally as important is through divine grace which always extends out toward us, always seeking to be in communion with us.

Mystics are found in all spiritual traditions and commit themselves to practice in prayer and meditation, spiritual reading, and meeting with a mentor or soul friend in an ongoing way so as to make themselves more available to these moments of encounter.

Through this series we will immerse ourselves each month in the wisdom of a particular mystic in the Christian tradition. We are exploring ancient mystics like Anthony the Great and desert wisdom, medieval mystics like Hildegard of Bingen, Benedict of Nursia, Teresa of Avila, Mecthild and the Beguines, Julian of Norwich, and Kevin of Glendalough, and modern mystics like Howard Thurman, Harriet Tubman, and Thomas Merton.

Each presenter will invite us into the particular mystic’s perspective on love and through teaching, meditation, conversation, creativity, and practice you will begin to embody their wisdom and cultivate love as a conscious practice and creative force in your life.

The monthly retreats in this series can be registered for individually by following the links below. We are also offering the opportunity to register for the whole series. Those who do will receive reflection questions and creative prompts after each retreat and access to a discussion forum (facilitated by Melissa Layer and Polly Paton-Brown) where participants can share their discoveries and insights from each retreat with one another. 

Please check out our Sustainers Circle too where you can get access to this program on the mystics as well as several other programs we offer.

All retreats will be recorded for those who register and made available within 48-72 hours after the program.

Monthly Themes


September 17:
Hildegard of Bingen

with Christine Valters Paintner & Betsey Beckman


October 15:
Teresa of Avila

with Claudia Love Mair


November 19:
Mechtild and the Beguines

with Sister Laura Swan


December 10:
Thomas Merton

with Sophfronia Scott

January 14:
Anthony the Great & the Desert Elders

with Christine Valters Paintner

February 25:
Harriet Tubman

with Therese Taylor-Stinson


March 18:
Benedict of Nursia

with Christine Valters Paintner

April 15:
Howard Thurman

with Lerita Coleman Brown


May 13:
Julian of Norwich

with Carl McColman

June 3:
Kevin of Glendalough

with Christine Valters Paintner, Kenneth Steven, and Simon de Voil

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.

Betsey Beckman, MM

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 of Awakening the Creative Spirit: Bringing the Expressive Arts to Spiritual Direction), producer of the Abbey of the Arts CDs, and The Dancing Word series of DVDs on embodied prayer. She offers the gift of playful improvisation whenever possible. Vist Betsey’s website. 

Carl McColman

Carl McColman a spiritual director, retreat leader, Lay Cistercian, and internationally known speaker and teacher on mystical spirituality and contemplative living. He is the author of many books, including The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Eternal Heart: The Mystical Path to a Joyful Life, and Unteachable Lessons: Why Wisdom Can’t Be Taught and Why That’s Okay. He is one of the co-hosts of the Encountering Silence podcast, and blogs regularly at Patheos, Medium, and his own website, Although he himself is a practicing Christian, his approach to contemplation and mysticism is inclusive and expansive, and he is dedicated to exploring the common ground between faith traditions; he is particularly interested in the connecting points between Christian, Buddhist and Pagan wisdom. Carl lives with his wife, artist Fran McColman, in Clarkston, Georgia, near Atlanta. Visit him online at
Claudia Love Mair (1)

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.

Lerita Colman Brown

Lerita Coleman Brown

Lerita Coleman Brown, PhD,  Ayşe I. Carden Distinguished Professor Emerita of Psychology, Agnes Scott College, is a spiritual director/companion, writer, retreat leader, and speaker. She earned her BA from UC Santa Cruz and PhD from Harvard University and her certificate in spiritual direction/companioning from the Shalem Institue for Spiritual Formation. Professor Brown promotes contemplative spirituality, the living wisdom of Howard Thurman, and uncovering the peace and joy in one’s heart on her website, and other social media platforms. She appeared in the PBS documentaries,  Back Against the Wall:  The Howard Thurman Story and The Black Church. In 2019, she published, When the Heart Speaks, Listen—Discovering Inner Wisdom which chronicles her heart transplant journey. Her current book, What Makes You Come Alive—A Spiritual Walk with Howard Thurman will be published by Broadleaf Press in February, 2023.

Laura Swan

Sister Laura Swan

Benedictine Sister Laura Swan is a member of St. Placid Priory in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She is a spiritual director and archivist as well as faculty at Saint Martin’s University where the students inspire her to learn and rethink and learn even more. Her passion has been around restoring the histories and stories of women to history (to the narratives that shape our understanding and perceptions). She is the author of numerous books including The Wisdom of the Beguines: The Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women’s Movement,  The Forgotten Desert Mothers and Engaging Benedict: What the Rule Can Teach Us Today.


Sophfronia Scott

Sophfronia Scott is a novelist, essayist, and leading contemplative thinker whose work has appeared in numerous publications and received a 2020 Artist Fellowship Grant from the Connecticut Office of the Arts. Her book The Seeker and the Monk: Everyday Conversations with Thomas Merton received the 2021 Thomas Merton “Louie” Award from the International Thomas Merton Society. Sophfronia holds degrees from Harvard University and Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Sandy Hook, Connecticut and is the founding director of Alma College’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing, a low residency graduate program based in Alma, Michigan. Sophfronia’s next novel, Wild, Beautiful, and Free, will be published in February. Visit Sophfronia online.


Kenneth Steven

Kenneth Steven is a Scottish writer, best known as a poet. Some 16 of his collections have been published over the years, and in 2021 Paraclete Press brought out Iona, a volume of his new and selected work. Iona has been at the centre of his writing life for many years now: his novel The Well of the North Wind is swirled around the imagined story of the creation of the Book of Kells on the island. He and photographer Iain Sarjeant created another book, Iona the Other Island, about all the hidden sacred places on Iona, often overlooked and unvisited by tourists. Kenneth and his wife Kristina lead Celtic Christian retreats on Iona each October.  Visit Kenneth’s website here.

Therese Taylor-Stinson

Therese Taylor-Stinson

Therese Taylor-Stinson is a seasoned spiritual director, an award-winning author-editor, and an ordained deacon and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA).  As an organizer Therese won an award in 2018 as a Collaborative Bridge-Builder presented by Grace and Race, Inc., and an Indie Author Legacy Award for her edited work Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around:  Stories of Contemplation and Justice.  She is the founder and organizer of the Racial Awareness Festival based in Washington DC, which recently closed with its sixth annual event and seventh organizing year.  Therese also founded the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd., going into its 14th year and 8 years incorporated as a nonprofit.  In addition to the above, she is a certified pastoral caregiver and an Emotional Emancipation Circle Facilitator.  Therese is married to Bernard Stinson.  They have a daughter and two granddaughters. Her current book Walking the Way of Harriet Tubman: Public Mystic and Freedom Fighter will publish February 14, 2023.

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. 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 Head Shot


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

All prices displayed in USD.


Regular fee


10 monthly payments of $50

If you need a different payment plan or a partial scholarship to make this program accessible, please get in touch with us.

Small Group Options

We offer dedicated (same group for duration of program) and facilitated (by our wonderful Wisdom Council members) small group options. The groups are limited to 8 maximum and to register you are asked to make a commitment to show up for all sessions.

If the group you want to join is full, please let us know and we can start a list to form additional groups.

Group 1 with Kayce

$120 Registration fee

  • Small Group Option facilitated by Kayce Stevens Hughlett
  • Starts Monday, April 5th for 8 weeks.
  • Meets following the live webinar session from 8:15-9:15 AM Pacific time (11:15 AM-12:15 PM Eastern time). 
  • Check your time zone here >>>

Group 2 with Amber

$120 Registration fee

  • Small Group Option facilitated by Amber Andreasen
  • Starts Monday, April 5th for 8 weeks.
  • Meets from 2:00-3:00 PM Pacific time (5:00-6:00 PM Eastern time).
  • Check your time zone here >>>

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.

We ask that you honor our work by not sharing the program materials with others who are not enrolled.

Please contact us for permission to quote in settings beyond the program

These videos are made available to registered participants and may also be included in future versions of the program including self-study. If you choose to speak during a recorded gathering, you are giving us your consent to record that contribution. If you prefer not to be seen or heard, you can of course switch off or mute your camera or microphone at any time. Chat sessions are recorded and posted as well. Participation in the chat function is also giving consent to their recording. Breakout groups are never recorded.

If you choose a payment plan and stop payment before fulfilling the commitment without contacting us to make other arrangements, your access to the program will be removed.