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To Be is a Blessing: An Online Retreat for Advent

with Christine and John Valters Paintner, Sybil MacBeth, and guest teachers

Forum Facilitators Aisling Richmond and Amber Andreasen

December 1 – 24, 2024

Live opening gathering on Zoom Monday, December 2nd

4-6pm Ireland

11am-1pm Eastern

8-10am Pacific

Program Description

God bless you and keep you, God smile on you and gift you.

—Numbers 6:24-26 (Translation from The Message)

Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.

—Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

This Advent, join us for a retreat in which we cultivate a spirituality of blessing. Together we will nurture gratitude, joy, hope, and delight in the beauty of our lives in the midst of a hurting world. We won’t be denying or bypassing that woundedness but resourcing ourselves with a sense of abundance at the heart of things. We will resist a culture that strives to wear us down and leave us feeling hopeless.

Blessings can be like warm bread for the hungry, a cold drink for those who thirst.

Blessings offer hope and encouragement, steep us in gratitude, nurture our courage.

They bring us present to the grace of each moment. The word comes from the Latin, benedicere, which means to speak well of. Blessings help to remind us of the love and beauty of the Holy One in our lives and assist us to take nothing for granted. They act as maps to navigate our human experience, orienting us back to gratefulness and praise.

They sustain us in bringing reverence to all of life from the most ordinary of tasks to the great thresholds of our lives. They immerse us in the holy rhythms of the sacred which are not of our making. In a world obsessed with the scarcity of time, blessings help us to expand each moment like a flower opening her petals on a sunny day. They invite us to breathe more deeply, enlarge our vision, and give honor to our experiences. Blessings help us to touch eternity here and now.

A blessing is an acknowledgment of the gifts and graces already present. All of the mundane activities of the day became opportunities to witness grace at work. They become meditations and remembrances.

When my calendar and to do lists become misplaced holy grails in my life, speaking a blessing is a way to put things back into perspective. When my heart aches and grieves over loss, a blessing is a sanctuary space within which I am held and met by the divine.

St. Benedict wrote in the Prologue to his Rule, “Let us then at last arouse ourselves, even as Scripture incites us in the words, ‘Now is the hour for us to rise from sleep.’ Let us then, open our eyes to the divine light, and hear with our ears the divine voice as it cries out to us daily. ‘Today if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts,’ and again, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches.’”(RB Pro:8-11).

The image of awakening calls us to shake off the slumber which creates a veil between reality and our perception. The act of blessing helps us to awaken and see more clearly. When we remember to bless, we consecrate life whether we are in the kitchen, the office, in church, or standing in a forest.

In both Jewish and Celtic traditions, a central practice is to bless the unfolding of the day, each activity, each turning point. Everything becomes worthy of blessing. The Talmud calls for 100 blessings each day and through this practice we can shape ourselves into beings who pay close attention and who remember from whom all of life flows.

Our retreat begins with a two-hour live online retreat to embark on our journey together. Christine Valters Paintner will lead us into Advent and offer some wisdom about a spirituality of blessing. She is joined by Sybil MacBeth who will lead her practice of Praying in Color, a simple and accessible creative practice using a black pen and colored markers or pencils. It invites the whole body into an active, meditative, and playful way to pray. A piece of paper becomes a prayer closet in which an ebb and flow between silence and words makes possible a connection with the Divine.

Then each day of Advent that follows until Christmas Eve there will be either an audio with Christine offering more teaching and meditation or a video from one of our wondrous Wisdom Council members leading a practice to cultivate a spirituality of blessing. (These audios and videos are about 8-12 minutes each). Once a week John Valters Paintner will be offering a scripture reflection on a biblical story of blessing.

We will be considering ways to offer blessings, receive blessings, and to be a blessing in the world.

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 gathering  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.

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.

Sybil Fall 2018 5

Sybil MacBeth

Sybil MacBeth is the author of the series of books called Praying in Color and The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Extremist. She is a doodler, dancer, former community college math professor, and more recently a Pickleball player. Check out her website and blog at She and her Episcopal priest husband Andy moved to Sarasota, Florida during Covid and spent ten months in 2022 working at St. George’s College in Jerusalem.

Forum Facilitators

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>>


Amber Andreasen

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. She has her B.S. and M.S. in Kinesiology and a Ph.D. in Holistic Nutrition. She has also done training in BioSpiritual Focusing as a holistic approach to spiritual growth. Wherever she finds herself, she desires to nurture a compassionate space where others can be listened, beheld and loved into fuller being by the Beloved. She is continually awed by the body as sacred storyholder and storyteller and by dance and movement as conduits of deep interior silence, stillness and joy.  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.

Amber Andreasen

Guest Teachers


Jan Richardson is an artist, writer, ordained minister in the United Methodist Church, and the author of several books including In the Sanctuary of Women

Jamal Rahman

Imam Jamal Rahman, Sufi Interfaith Minister and author of numerous books including The Fragrance of Faith: The Enlightened Heart of Islam

Zari Weiss

Rabbi Zari Weiss, is a spiritual director, teacher, writer, and Rabbi in the Jewish tradition


Carmen Acevedo Butcher is an award winning author and translator of The Could of Unknowing and Practice of the Presence


Deirdre Ní Chinnéide is a musician, psychotherapist, spiritual director, and workshop facilitator

Te Martin

Te Martin is a musician and song leader living at the cross-section of spiritual practice, earth-connection, social justice, and artistic expression

Melissa Layer 2

Melissa Layer is psychospiritual therapist, hospice grief counselor, spiritual director, and frequent Abbey forum facilitator and presenter


Jo-ed Tome is a spiritual director, transpersonal psychology researcher, and self-proclaimed monk in the world leading programs online and in the Philippines


Melinda Thomas is the Program Coordinator for Abbey of the Arts and author of Sacred Balance: Aligning Body and Spirit Through Yoga and the Benedictine Way

Polly Bio

Polly Paton-Brown is an artist, psychotherapist, retreat and workshop facilitator, and frequent Abbey forum facilitator and presenter

Richard OB loose

Richard Bruxvoort Colligan is a Psalmist, spiritual director, freelance musician, and frequent contributor to Abbey programs

Claudia Love Mair (1)

Claudia Love Mair is a writer, artist, conversation partner for the Abbey’s Lift Every Voice Book Club,  and author of God Alone is Enough


Jamie Marich is a psychotherapist, the developer of the Dancing Mindfulness expressive arts practice, and author of numerous books including Dancing Mindfulness: A Creative Path to Healing and Transformation

Dena Ross Jennings

Dena Ross Jennings is a luthier, musician, writer, Virginia Master Naturalist, and an Internal Medicine physician hosting retreats and meditations on her Farmashramonastery in Virgina


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