A Companion Retreat to the Book

with Christine & John Valters Paintner, Betsey Beckman, and Marilyn Freeman

A self-study retreat (start any time, move at your own pace, lifetime access)


The desert is a place of sparse landscape, where we are stripped down to our essence and confronted with our own deep needs and desires. Naturalist and writer Terry Tempest Williams described its spiritual significance in her memoir Refuge: "If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place that allows us to remember the sacred. Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert is a pilgrimage to the self. There is no place to hide and so we are found."

Join us for a very special journey. We invite you to take a pilgrimage to the desert and in the process journey to your own deepest self. This online retreat invites you to explore and engage with the insights of the desert mothers and fathers of fourth and fifth century Egypt. These men and women of God went to the desert to live out a simple but challenging spirituality that still resonates strongly for us today.

Themes explored include the importance of the cell, the cave of the heart, tears of compunction, radical simplicity, silence and solitude, detachment and inner freedom, boredom and restlessness, elders and spiritual guides, and the importance of daily practice and always beginning again.

We will begin each week with a recording of a session led by Christine Valters Paintner, a scripture reflection from John Valters Paintner, we will cultivate contemplative seeing through short films created by filmmaker Marilyn Freeman, and be invited into embodied exploration with songs and gesture prayers from Betsey Beckman.

This is a companion retreat to the book Desert Mothers and Fathers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings Annotated & Explained (book not included in retreat fee but can be easily ordered from most bookstores)

Cinema Divina | Short Evocative Films Made for Contemplative Practice

“If you are unfamiliar with the work of Marilyn Freeman, you must get acquainted. These films have been transformative for me in the deep spiritual way that I have encountered other artists like Annie Dillard, Mary Oliver, and bell hooks.” Gabriel Molinaro, Songwriter/Musician, Pastor of Sanctuary Church Seattle

Cinema Divina is the creative, contemplative and social practice of media artist and writer Marilyn Freeman who re-imagines the ancient prayer ritual, lectio divina, in a film paradigm to foster intimacy with the Divine. Marilyn invokes a rigorous and devotional process in making short lyrical films—meditations on everyday wonder, gratitude, contradictions, loss, doubt, faith and love—and screens the films in guided contemplative practice for reverent engagement with individual and communal participating audiences.

Weekly Themes

Week 1: Listening to Word and Silence

We will explore the themes from Chapters 1 and 2 - Give Me a Word and Your Cell Will Teach You Everything

Week 2: Entering the Cave of the Heart

We will explore the themes from Chapters 3 and 4 - Heart-Centered Spirituality and Thoughts, Desires, and Passions

Week 3: Embracing Vulnerability

We will explore the themes from Chapters 5 and 6 - Humility, Simplicity, and the Beginner’s Heart, and Spiritual Elders and Soul Friends

Week 4: Showing Up Fully

We will explore the themes from Chapters 7 and 8 -- Tears of Compunction and The Necessity of Practice

Week 5: Serving the World in Love

We will explore the themes from Chapters 9 and 10 -- Virtues, Charity, and the Service of Love and Solitude, Silence, and Hesychia

Week 6: Discovering What is Most Vital

We will explore the themes from Chapters 11 and 12 -- Three Essential Things and Prayer and Differing Gifts

How it Works

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.

Day 1: Recording of hour-long session with Christine

Day 2: Written scripture reflection from John

Day 3: Cinema Divina from Marilyn Freeman (meditative short film practice)

Day 4: Song and Movement experience from Betsey (teaching and dance along videos)

Day 5: Written reflection questions for deeper inquiry

Day 6: Closing Blessing

Day 7: Sabbath rest and integration


What's Included

  • Video and audio recordings of the weekly sessions with Christine Valters Paintner that were originally recorded during a live offering of this retreat in Lent 2021 and may contain some references to that season and time. Written session transcripts are also included.
  • Lifetime access to the materials in our private and easy-to-navigate retreat platform on Ruzuku.
  • Weekly scripture reflections from John Valters Paintner
  • Weekly Cinema Divina short contemplative films created by Marilyn Freeman
  • Weekly songs and movement prayers with Betsey Beckman
  • Weekly set of extensive reflection questions to deepen the journey
  • Weekly blessing to close the week and theme


If you need a different payment option or plan than what is available, please get in touch with us.

You will need to purchase a copy of Desert Mothers and Fathers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings Annotated & Explained(not included in retreat fee)


There are no refunds for online purchases.

You have forever access to the course material.

The price includes VAT where applicable.

For technical issues please contact university@ruzuku.com.


Your Guides for the Journey

Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Christine is the director of AbbeyoftheArts.com, a virtual monastery exploring contemplative practice, creative expression, and ways to nourish an earth-cherishing consciousness. She is a spiritual director, teacher, pilgrimage guide, and author of nine 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.

John Valters Paintner, MTS 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.

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), recordings, and The Dancing Word series of DVDs on embodied prayer. She offers the gift of playful improvisation whenever possible. Visit Betsey's website here>>

Marilyn Freeman is a media artist, writer and spiritual director working at the intersections of reckoning and resiliency, queerness and film, and contemplative, creative and social practices. Their films have been featured on PBS and in galleries, theaters, festivals and spirituality centers worldwide from the Seattle Int’l Film Festival to the Franciscan House Kowloon in Hong Kong, from NewFest LGBTQ+ in New York City to NonfictioNow in Iowa City, and from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to MircroActs Artist Film Screenings in London. They are author of The Illuminated Space: A Personal Theory and Contemplative Practice of Media Art (The 3rd Thing, 2020) and creator of Cinema Divina—short evocative films made for contemplative practice. Freeman regularly facilitates Cinema Divina sessions virtually via St. Placid Priory Spirituality Center, a Benedictine community with which they’ve been involved for many years. For more, please visit her website.