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Journey with the Desert Mothers and Fathers

A Companion Retreat to the Book

Registration Fee: $150 USD
Desert Mothers and Fathers

Program Description

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.

What's Included

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

  • 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

Weekly Themes

Week 1

Listening to Word and Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Guides for the Journey

Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Christine is the 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, 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.

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John Valters Paintner, MTS

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

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>>
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Marilyn Freeman

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.
This has been a very nourishing journey for me. Cinema Divina is new to me, and I found those sessions provided new insights. As I continue on my spiritual journey I will take with me silence and solitude. I have learned that other things follow (humility, loving kindness) when I take time for silence and solitude. Thank you so very, very much.
Nancy Geertz Larson
I love the image, "[my] heart a chapel". Along with my "three essential things" - kindness, simplicity, wonder - this is the image that I will carry in my pilgrim's bag.
Ann Robertson
Oh, the graces and blessings that flowed from this desert pilgrimage! Each week was a new unveiling and discovery. These last 6 weeks have been transformative for me. . . . My heart is filled with nothing but gratefulness for the graces and blessings of this most blessed "desert journey".
John Peters

Praise for the Course

It's Easter Monday and I am sad to see the end of this Creative Flourishing retreat, but oh so grateful for the multi-layered experience. I made the decision to take this journey at the last minute, but with great conviction it would deepen my Christian life. I had no idea what it would be like. It was like nothing I have experienced before. Thank you to Christine for originating the idea and doing such a thoughtful and tender job of guiding us through this journey. My deepest joy was to reconnect with the artist within me. The art literally flowed from me. Like living water. A well-spring fed by Christ himself.
Laurie Wagner
I'll be stepping into the season of Easter and spring with more ease, joy and awake from having prayed with, reflected on, moved with and daily witnessing of the mandalas during the past five and one half weeks. Thank you Christine for your vision, knowledge, design and guidance throughout this Lenten season; Hildegard of Bingen is now a living Saint for me. Betsey, i've become more embodied, through participating in your interpretations of Hildegard in dance and chant. This spiritual community has filled my heart with divine blessings. I will pass these blessings on.
Beatrice Randall
I'm so grateful for this retreat. It has been the most amazing experience of learning and growth, spiritually, artistically, and emotionally. Most of which I was not expecting when I signed up. Christine, I want to thank you again for this amazing Lent retreat. It was a joy, honor and privilege to attend. This has been an experience I won't soon forget. I've learned so much about myself and this process of healing through artistic expression. I look forward to doing more with you
Tamara Mapp
Thank you, Christine, for the best retreat I've ever experienced. I'm hooked on Hildegard! She will ever be part of my spirituality as she has added both depth and richness to my faith.
Evelyn Jackson
Sincere and grateful thanks for this marvelous retreat. Your guidance and song will live in my heart. Hildegard's presence has been a source of light and love. Your ministry is much appreciated. We are greener!
Mary Mason
This has been a very rich retreat. I have loved creating, singing, breathing, moving, reading and praying with you. Thank you.
Judith Bryan
My heart is so full. This has been the best retreat in my life.
Louise Thigpen


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

All prices displayed in USD.

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


Registration Fee

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

Purchase the Companion Book

The book is not included in the registration fee. You may purchase the book at the links below or at your local book seller. Thank you for your support!

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

Some self-study retreats include video or audio recordings of sessions that were recorded in a live community offering of the retreat and may make reference to forums or other modes of sharing. Please disregard these as self-study retreats do not have these available.

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.