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Cultivating the Poet – Christine Valters Paintner

“Consider allowing some time each day to listen to how the world is whispering beneath the rushed and goal-directed surface. To cultivate this kind of attention is to be a poet. We need far fewer how-to manuals and self-help books, and much more poetry.”

Christine Valters Paintner, PhD Dreaming of Stones: Poems

Cultivate the time to read and write poetry as a spiritual practice.

That We May Be One

A Mallard taking a bath in the pond at Coffee on the Rocks

On one of our recent walks we walked (as we always do) by the pond at Coffee on the Rocks. I have been keeping my eye and heart open for whatever gift God has in store for me. Watching this Mallard “take a bath” made me smile and I was pleased with this photo I received during this encounter. This is just another example of being still and connecting with our wild neighbors here in the Rockies. During this Pandemic, I have enjoyed the time with all of our wild neighbors like this duck. He reminds me that we are all in this together and that God wants us to draw together as a community of faith during these challenging times.

In today’s Gospel reading we encounter a part of Jesus’ High Priestly prayer which he offers on behalf of the disciples prior to being betrayed, arrested, convicted, and executed. Jesus must have been considering what would happen to this very human group of Ragamuffins (to use Brennan Manning’s words) who were about to find themselves at the mercy of the wolves. I can only imagine how heavy his heart must have been as he looked at his disciples, knowing that the already rough road was about to get a whole lot rougher for Jesus and then for the disciples.

As we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen and experienced many Christ-followers coming together in unity despite their theological differences. Sadly I have also seen many christians condemn others for thinking differently from them or having the nerve to trust science as well as God. I want to focus right now on the variety of Christ-followers who are laying aside differences in doctrine, dogma, and history to work and pray together in these days.

In Romans 12, Paul talks about the Body of Christ. A body is not uniform but rather is made up of many parts. These many parts have different functions but these different parts work together for the common good of the body. Paul was using this physical analogy to describe the church. We are different… but aren’t we also called to be united as Christ-followers? We can celebrate our unity in our diversity as the body of Christ. Our diversity doesn’t drive us apart, it brings us together as one body.

During times like these one of two things usually happen. There is either a unity or coming together of people for the common good which we are seeing happen all over the world or there is division which we are also seeing. One of the discussions that seems to pop up a lot is that the church is closed. We need the church open and we need to worship inside the building. My reply is always that the building may be closed but the church is alive and well and open.

Jesus in John 17:11b said the following: Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. That they may be one as we are one, can be one in the Spirit and one in the Lord as the old camp song says. We can be one even in our diversity.

Thomas Merton talked about such unity as he taught the new novices who were entering the Cistercian Order at Our Lady of Gethsemani. Listen closely to his words… embrace them… let them soak in…

To be alone by being a part of the universe—fitting in completely into an environment of woods and silence and peace. Everything you do becomes a unity and a prayer. Unity within and without. Unity with all living things—without effort or contention. (A Search for Solitude: Pursuing the Monk’s True Life, The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume 3: 1952-1960”, p.47)

Perhaps we need to take a lesson from Merton and consider how we can be united as individuals and as God’s creation. The wild animals we have encountered lately seem to be saying that to me. Live in unity… and in that time we will begin to understand what the psalmist said in Psalm 46:10. Be still, and know that I am God. May we enter into that space and truly learn and grow together, bringing hope and healing to this broken world.

Monastic Prayer – An Unusual Reflection

Two feathered friends we have spent time with on our rambles.

As Denise and I hiked in Hermit Park Open Space late this afternoon we truly sensed the Spirit’s presence in the midst of the glory of God’s creation. Butterflies were flying around us and the flowers were in brilliant bloom, especially the pasque flowers pictured below.

Pasque flowers in Hermit Park Open Space.

As we walked along the Moose Meadow Trail we were both intrigued by the call and response of the birds (I believe they were robins by the sound of their call) as the sun was beginning to lower in the western sky. Their almost antiphonal singing took me back to the experience of antiphonal readings and prayers which I had experienced at St Bernard’s Abbey in Cullman, Alabama.

Instead of human voices chanting the prayers and the psalms, it was the birds singing their hymn of praise to their Creator. One would sing and then stop. The other would immediately pick up the note and sing. A monastic call and response being shared in the cathedral of God’s creation by these lovely musicians.

I then remembered the times when Thomas Merton wrote about praying the Benedictine Liturgy of the
Hours

in his hermitage along with simply observing and hearing the worship of God’s creation. The more time that Merton spent in his hermitage, the more he sensed a holy kinship with his wild neighbors. In his poem, The Trappist Abbey: Matins (Our Lady of Gethsemani, Kentucky) he shares the following observation about the prayers of nature.

When the full fields begin to smell of sunrise
And the valleys sing in their sleep,
The pilgrim moon pours over the solemn darkness
Her waterfalls of silence,
And then departs, up the long avenue of trees.

The stars hide, in the glade, their light, like tears
And tremble where some train runs, lost,
Baying in eastward mysteries of distance,
Where fire flares, somewhere, over a sink of cities. (In the Dark Before Dawn: New Selected Poems of Thomas Merton (p. 26))

Besides the two of us enjoying this sacred Vesper Service we had another friend enjoying it with us.

Our Moose friend in Moose Marsh!

Hope in the Wilderness – Christine Valters Paintner

“In the Hebrew Scriptures the promise of God’s abundance is often conceived of as blossoming in the desert. In that harsh landscape, a flower bursting forth from the dry land is a symbol of divine generosity, fruitfulness, and hope. Hope is a stance of radical openness to the God of newness and possibility. When we hope, we acknowledge that God has an imagination far more expansive than ours.”

Christine Valters Paintner, PhD Sacred Seasons: A Yearlong Journey through the Celtic Wheel of the Year – A Self-Study Online Retreat

In what way is hope as “radical openness to God” worlds apart from anticipatory hope? How can living from a stance of acknowledging God’s infinite imagination free us from the shackles of our own limited projections into the future?

Such Peace in Creation – A Reflection

A beautiful Colorado Pasque Flower (Easter Flower) on our hike in the Hermit Park Open Space)

Today Denise and I were able to take a couple of hours between worship and meetings to enjoy the vast outdoors. Thanks to dear friends who gave us the gift of an annual pass to the Larimer County Parks we were able to go to Hermit Park Open Space near Estes Park for a few hours of hiking.

It was so wonderful to get outside and away from the crowds we too often face in Estes Park. The few people we met on the trail were so polite as we kept our social distance passing each other on the trail. It was as if we recognized our mutual appreciation for God’s creation and each other. The wonder and beauty of it all brought tears to my eyes as we rambled along the trail.

Such peace we felt in the midst of the beauty of God’s wondrous creation! In his book Darkness Before the Dawn, Thomas Merton explored the wonder of God’s creation as he arose each morning in his hermitage. Such a wondrous and beautiful thing to awake to.

One lovely dawn after another. Such peace! Meditation with fireflies, mists in the valley, last quarter of the moon, distant owls—gradual inner awakening and centering in peace and harmony of love and gratitude. (p. 250)

Such a wonder to behold dear and precious Creator. May your Spirit continue to challenge and encourage us as we seek to serve you. In these unusual times with COVID-19 may we serve you with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.

To Know the Creator – Christine Valters Paintner

“St. Columbanus said, ‘Understand, if you want to know the Creator, know created things.’ If we want to come to know God, we must grow intimate with God’s artistry.”

Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the SacredHow do you grow intimate with God’s artistry?

Writing as Meditation – A Reflection

When I began blogging in 2014 it was more of an outlet for sharing words and pictures which meant something to me. Six years and 4,304 posts later I have been both thankful and overwhelmed by the response to these simple words and photos from this Padre.

It has become far more than an outlet for me. Reflections, Prayers, Meditations, and Sermon preparation are all a part of this world of words for me. I have also met some amazing people through the blogging world and I treasure their friendship!

Over the course of time this has become a spiritual disciple for me. Combining Visio Divina and Lectio Divina I have found an incredible practice for myself and for those who read and respond to my writing.

When I began to blog, I hadn’t had the chance to really get to know my spiritual mentor Thomas Merton. As I began to get to know him through coursework and reading his journals and books I found a kindred spirit. It is no surprise then to realize that his love of photography and writing would speak to my soul.

In his book, New Seeds of Contemplation, he wrote the following about the spiritual life: Learn how to meditate on paper. Drawing and writing are forms of meditation. Learn how to contemplate works of art. Learn how to pray in the streets or in the country. Know how to meditate not only when you have a book in your hand but when you are waiting for a bus or riding in a train. Above all, enter into the Church’s liturgy and make the liturgical cycle part of your life—let its rhythm work its way into your body and soul. (p. 216)

The opportunity to explore this way of meditation and prayer along with the opportunity to share with others has been a blessing to me. I pray dear reader that it has been as much of a blessing for you. For it is in these moments that we truly do feel Spirit’s presence and guidance in our lives.