Monthly Archives: December 2018

Blessed New Year dear friends~

Dearest friends,

As we approach the end of 2018, I am feeling deep gratitude for journeying with you this year: through this blog, in past retreats at Kairos, and at Whispering Springs this past September. I am looking forward to how God will lead us in the coming year, how Love will invite us into a fullness of living, and how Light will guide us even (or perhaps especially) in these darker days of winter.

I am also feeling such a deep desire for peace — peace within each of us, in our families and communities, and in the world. I would like to share this song below as a prayer for peace. As you listen, perhaps you can bring to your own prayer, those places where you are seeking peace. (click on the arrow or the youtube icon)

In keeping with the invitations of the coming New Year, I would like to share with you an email I received today, written by Christine Valters Paintner (the author of The Soul’s Slow Ripening, which we are using as a resource for this blog and for our retreats this year):

Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

I offer you a reprise of my reflection on Embracing Mystery in the New Year: Ten Essential Practices.

Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the plowshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring, and reserve a nook of shadow for the passing bird; keep a place in your heart for the unexpected guests, an altar for an unknown God.
-Henri-Frederic Amiel

Who doesn’t love the promise of new beginning the New Year offers? St. Benedict described his Rule as a Rule for beginners, reminding us to always begin again. In Buddhism, an essential practice is beginner’s mind. When we think we have become an expert at things, especially the spiritual life, we are in trouble.

Living into the mystery of things helps us to release our hold on needing to know the answers. One of the things the monk and artist have in common is a love of mystery, a willingness to sit in the place of tension and paradox until it ripens forth.

New Year’s resolutions often come from a place of lack, or of thinking we know how to “fix” ourselves. Unfortunately, they are often fueled by a consumer culture that is eager to have us buy more and more things to improve ourselves. Embracing mystery, on the other hand, honors our profound giftedness and depth and acknowledges that coming to know ourselves and God is a lifetime exploration.

So my invitation to you, dear monks and artists, is to shift your thinking this year. Welcome in ambiguity. Learn to love the holy darkness of mystery. Dance on the fertile edges of life.  Let what you love ripen forth.

  1. Breathe deeply – our breath is our most immediate and vital connection to the life force which sustains us moment by moment. Let yourself be filled with awe and wonder at the marvels of this intimate gift.  Sit for three minutes savoring that you are breathed into.
  2. Embrace night wisdom – one of the great gifts of dreams is that they upend our desire for logic and immerse us in a narrative which reveals the shadows we must wrestle with and the joys which call to us, whether or not they make sense to the waking world.
  3. Dance freely – we live so disconnected from our bodies. Dance has been part of human culture for thousands of years as a way to experience union with ourselves, one another, and the divine. Each day put on one piece of music that you love, close the door, and dance. Pay attention to what rises up in the process. If you resist, even better – dance with your resistance!
  4. Follow the thread – each of us has a unique unfolding story and call in this world. We don’t “figure this out” but rather we allow the story to emerge in its own time, tending the symbols and synchronicities which guide us along.
  5. Trust in what you love – following the thread is essentially about cultivating a deep trust in what you love. What are the things that make your heart beat loudly, no matter how at odds they feel with your current life (and perhaps especially so)? Make some room this year to honor what brings you alive.
  6. Let the rhythms of nature guide you – we live our lives in a constant state of stimulation and productivity. We are often exhausted and overwhelmed. When we turn to the natural world we find with each day, each moon cycle, and each season a rhythm of rise and fall, fullness and emptiness. Trying to live all the time in rising or fullness is exhausting. Make some time to embrace the falling and emptiness of life which immerses us in an experience of mystery.
  7. Release what is no longer necessary – we accumulate so many things in our days, perhaps you have discovered at Christmas that you have a new pile of stuff which now requires energy to maintain or worry about. Reflect on what is most essential. Then ask yourself, what are the thoughts, attitudes, or expectations about life which keep you from freedom?  How do you try to control the direction of your life rather the yielding to grace?
  8. Remember that you will die – St. Benedict writes in his Rule to “keep death daily before your eyes.” This is never an act of morbid obsession, but a reminder of life’s incredible gift. Any of us who have brushed near death, or had loved ones pass away, know this wisdom in profound ways. This is another paradox of the spiritual life: a vibrant relationship to our mortality is essential to a vibrant relationship to life.
  9. Ask for the wisdom of your ancestors – each of us is the inheritor of generations of stories which beat through our blood. Each of us has mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, who wrestled mightily with living a meaningful life. We can call upon this great “cloud of witnesses” to support us in our own wrestling.  We can listen across the veil between worlds.
  10. Open yourself to receiving a word for the year ahead – in quiet moments what are the desires you hear being whispered from your heart? Is there a word or phrase that shimmers forth, inviting you to dwell with it in the months ahead? Something you can grow into and don’t fully understand? (see below)

Imagine if your New Year’s wasn’t about fixing or improving, but about deepening and transforming, about embracing the holy mystery at the heart of the world.

What if the year ahead wasn’t about growing more certain about things, but about releasing the hold of your thinking mind so something deeper and more fertile could rise up?

What might bloom from such rich soil of your imagination?  How might you create an altar for an unknown God and for the unknown depths of your own beautiful being waiting to be freed?

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

In # 10 above, Christine suggests the practice of receiving a word for the year. This has been a regular spiritual practice for me for the last five New Years and I have found it to be an immensely helpful practice as I consider how God is drawing me into the coming year. As your word finds you in the coming weeks, perhaps you’d like to share it here. My word is making itself quite evident in the past week or so, and I will share it soon.

May the coming year hold much peace, joy, love — and new discoveries and adventures!


from Christine Valters Paintner~


In ancient times, wise men and women fled out into the desert to find a place where they could be fully present to God and to their own inner struggles at work within them. The desert became a place to enter into the refiner’s fire and be stripped down to one’s holy essence. The desert was a threshold place where you emerged different than when you entered.

Many people followed these ammas and abbas, seeking their wisdom and guidance for a meaningful life. One tradition was to ask for a word – this word or phrase would be something on which to ponder for many days, weeks, months, sometimes a whole lifetime. This practice is connected to lectio divina, where we approach the sacred texts with the same request – “give me a word” we ask – something to nourish me, challenge me, a word I can wrestle with and grow into.  The word which chooses us has the potential to transform us.

What is your word for the year ahead? A word which contains within it a seed of invitation to cross a new threshold in your life?


As in past years, Christine has offered all Abbey newsletter subscribers a gift: a free 12-day online mini-retreat with a suggested practice for each day to help your word choose you and to deepen into your word once it has found you. To sign up for the newsletter and access the free 12-day mini-retreat please click on the link below. You will be also be registered to receive a gift from the Abbey of the Arts.

Abbey Newsletter

3 gifts on a winter’s solstice

cabin in snow

Dear friends,

One of the dearest, wise-persons of our present time is Brother David Stendl-Rast, a Benedictine monk. Brother David, now 92, has devoted his life working for peace, engaging in interfaith dialogue, and speaking and writing on the powerful impact of gratitude. His website,, is a rich spiritual resource.  Please check it out.

Today on his website, Brother David shared a brief letter on light and darkness. I thought it was so beautifully-written, I wanted to share it with you, on the eve of winter solstice.

Light in Darkness: A Letter from Br. David

The poet David Whyte is a close friend of Brother David. He too writes powerfully about darkness and light.

photography of night sky

Photo by Juan on

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired

the world is tired also.


When your vision has gone

no part of the world can find you.


Time to go into the dark

where the night has eyes

to recognize its own.


There you can be sure

you are not beyond love.


The dark will be your womb



The night will give you a horizon

further than you can see.


You must learn one thing.

The world was made to be free in.


Give up all the other worlds

except the one to which you belong.


Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet

confinement of your aloneness

to learn


anything or anyone

that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

(David Whyte, “The House of Belonging”)

And as a final gift for this week, I would like to share a video that Linda Witmer and I played at an Advent Day a few years ago featuring the song, “Come Darkness, Come Light” by Mary Chapin Carpenter. It seems a perfect accompaniment to Brother David’s letter.

May we journey together – through the dark – toward the Light of Christ. Alleluia!

Advent 3: Joy!


Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:9-11, NRSV)

The promise of joy comes through the Angels at Jesus’ birth, and towards the end of Jesus’ life, through his own words:

I have told you these things so that My joy and delight may be in you, and that your joy may be made full and complete and overflowing. (John 15:11, Amplified Bible)

Jesus desires to give us joy. His joy!

Almost every morning I check my online Enneathought, a daily insight using the Enneagram model of transformation based on nine personality types. Yesterday I read, “As a Five, you most need to learn to appreciate that life is a joy and that the universe is benevolent.” I was immediately challenged: what would it be like to live as if I really believed that “life is a joy and the universe benevolent”? How often I live guarded and cynical trying to protect myself from hurt and disappointment.

I am kept from joy when I keep myself from entering life fully. For right in the midst of the most ordinary moments of my life, joy sparkles. Like Hope of Advent Week One and Peace of Week Two, Joy also comes as gift… bubbling up from a source deep within and beyond me. It seems less a transient feeling of happy thoughts, and more a Holy Truth, a Divine Attribute, which Jesus comes to share with us.

I cannot create or force joy, but I can choose to see and receive. I enter into God’s joy as I choose to notice love and beauty in God’s creation. I enter joy when I am silent and still enough to hear the whispers of God in my spirit. I enter joy when I let go, and fall into LOVE.

The root of joy is gratefulness…

It is not joy that makes us grateful;

it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”

―David Steindl-Rast

Being grateful is foundational for being more joyful. It’s as if we are a garden and moments of gratitude are the seeds that grow and sprout into joy.

What brings you joy this Advent season? (Please share in the comments as you are led.)

For me, recent moments of joy have been:

  1. having a child’s heart of wonder as I drive through dark streets, sparkling with Christmas lights: “Wow… wow… wow…”
  2. snuggling with my 6-year-old granddaughter Grace, sharing private jokes
  3. baking Christmas cookies (recipes handed down from my mom and her grandmother), listening to Christmas music, and chatting with a picture of my mother and brother – both now deceased – on the kitchen counter beside me.
  4. my first early-morning cup of strong, fragrant coffee, and sitting in the stillness and quiet beside our beautiful, wild, and unwieldy Christmas tree (still without lights or decorations). 

An invitation for prayer this week:

Set aside some time each day this week to listen to the music below, with an open heart to receive God’s gifts in this third week of Advent.  

You may wish to search on youtube for other versions of this beautiful hymn. There are many. But I was drawn to the dazzling winter images in this one. (You might like to click on the YouTube button to fully enjoy the lovely winter pictures). 

Although we are all very familiar with the amazing Bach version of this hymn, here are some of the original lyrics which were written by Martin Janus in 1661:

1 Jesus, joy of our desiring,
holy wisdom, love most bright;
drawn by thee, our souls aspiring
soar to uncreated light.
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
with the fire of life impassioned,
striving still to truth unknown,
soaring, dying round thy throne.

2 Through the way where hope is guiding,
hark, what peaceful music rings;
where the flock, in thee confiding,
drink of joy from deathless springs.
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead thine own
in the love of joys unknown.

peace on earth…


Ego says, “once everything falls into place, I’ll feel peace.”

Spirit says, “Find your peace, then everything else will fall into place.”

~Marianne Williamson

As we end our Advent week of “Peace” I wanted to share the video/song below. It is one of my favorite Christmas carols featuring Bing Crosby and David Bowie. It was recorded from a “vintage” television special, layering the two songs: “Little Drummer Boy” and “Peace on Earth.” The music begins at 1:50 if you want to avoid the preliminary conversation.


May we continually choose — and pray for — peace (for ourselves, our loved ones, our communities and the world) even when the days can seem dark. May we dive deep within ourselves and find the place where “Peace simply is.” (Gerald May)

I send you each a blessing for peace and love this night~


May God bless you and keep you;
may God’s face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
may God look upon you kindly,
and give you peace.

(Numbers 6:24)

Advent 2: Peace


Photo by Simon Matzinger on

Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
    God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
    those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
    down the path of peace.

Luke 1:78-79 (The Message) – Song of Zachariah

When we think of peace, we often think of the absence of war, pain, fear, and suffering. Yet in this season of Advent, the promise of peace comes right in the middle of the darkness of our broken world, and in our broken selves. Peace is not the absence of trouble, peace is about the presence of God in whatever we encounter. Surely this is the promise of Advent.

In her book, An Interrupted Life, Etty Hillesum writes about her spiritual awakening and the persecution of Jewish people in Amsterdam during the German occupation (she was killed in Auschwitz concentration camp), “Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.”

Hillesum wrote these words when it must have seemed that hatred and evil were winning. How did she find any peace within these circumstances? How might we claim peace in ourselves, when so much around us, and within us, is a swirling storm of emotions and events that seem to pull us into fear and despair?

Gerald May writes, “Peace is not something you can force on anything or anyone… . much less upon one’s own mind. It’s like trying to quiet the ocean by pressing upon the waves. Sanity lies in somehow opening to the chaos, allowing anxiety, moving deeply into the tumult, diving into the waves, where underneath, within, peace simply is.”

Peace simply is…

I am so drawn to this image of trying to quiet the ocean by pressing upon the waves. How often my arms grow weary from pressing upon the ocean waves of distraction, anxiety, fear and chaos. I too often try to resolve the uneasiness within me by trying to control the outside. Instead, the invitation from May is to dive deep within, where peace already exists. Where God is. Once we touch into this place of Peace within, we can more easily share it with the world around us.

The Hebrew word for peace is Shalom, meaning  “wholeness or completeness, well-being and harmony.” It means a putting back together. Like pieces of a garment, sewn together to make a whole. Or puzzle pieces gathered together — found after being lost — to fit together to make a whole picture. This is not a homogenous peace where the prerequisite for peace is that we all think or act alike, but a peace of bringing together, restoration, a renewed vision. I am only one piece of cloth — one puzzle piece — one note in a symphony, but I trust that God’s amazingly beautiful creation holds us all, needs us all.

In John 14, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

How might we practice peace this week?

Perhaps we can begin with ourselves. How might we be more peaceful within ourselves, and within our families and friendships? Can we refuse to give space for criticism, judgement, toward ourselves and others?

How might you spend more time in that space of peace as Gerald May writes about — the deeper place where peace simply is.  Can you find peaceful places to spend a few minutes each day: perhaps outside under the stars, early in the morning watching the sunrise, taking a walk, observing a bird, listening to a favorite song. I would love for you to share where you are finding peace this Advent season.

Can we trust that as we make a greater space for peace in ourselves, the world will be changed…

[note: this song was written by Jill Jackson. Two years before writing this song, Jill’s life felt unbearably broken and painful and she tried to commit suicide. Then Jill had a life-transforming spiritual experience, which led her to write this song.]


a visitation of hope…

Dear friends~

Before we move into the 2nd week of Advent and it’s theme of PEACE, I wanted to share with you a photograph and reflection from Linda Graham, who is part of our “Sacred Rhythms” community. 


I took this picture driving on our way home from Florida a few weeks ago. We had just heard from my nephew who lives in Texas with no family around, about the sudden death of his wife. My brother and sister-in-law are already dealing with so much with her cancer. I was feeling such sadness and despair and the whole sky was gray and heavy with thick clouds. Then this opening appeared and such light shown through. It was such a picture of Hope and I felt a peace and calm wash over me. God touched me with His message Hope through this beautiful sky. 



Thank you so much Linda, for sharing how God broke through the darkness, and touched you with Hope. Your sharing is a tender reminder of how Hope and Peace join within us when we become aware of God’s presence within the everyday and extraordinary moments. ~with love, Donna

Buoyant hope and pomander balls :)


As we continue to consider “Hope” in this first week in Advent, I wanted to share this picture taken in my backyard this morning, which shows one of my favorite signs of hope in these colder, darker, and more barren days.

When we see trees with budding branches, we most often think of spring. But look closely… you may find something surprising waiting among the last lingering leaves of autumn… buds for leaves that will arrive in the spring! Trees are already preparing for spring blooming.

We often think of the winter as a time of dormancy for a deciduous tree. And it is. The leaves fall so there is no photosynthesis and no fresh sugar to fuel metabolic processes. Only the tree’s stored reserves, found primarily in the roots, will provide the energy for life. Temperatures plummet. Life slows down. But it does not stop. Individual cells will continue to perform the biochemical reactions necessary for the tree’s continued living. The tree is being readied for the returning light and warmth of spring.

This image for Hope gives me great joy, and takes on a quality of lightness and buoyancy.

The Collins dictionary defines buoyancy as “the power to keep something afloat, upward pressure on a floating object. Lightness or resilience of spirit.”  What is the upward pressure that keeps you afloat this Advent season – and beyond? What gives you lightness and resilience of spirit?

Nan Merrill (Psalms for Praying) writes, “True hope is rooted in a Reality beyond ego and illusion.  Hope that rises in our hearts is like a buoyant bubble of champagne.”

In her book Mystical Hope, Cynthia Bourgeault also writes about this buoyant quality of hope she experienced after the death of a dear friend and spiritual mentor:

“Everything seemed hopeless. Rafe was gone. My life was gone… And then the most extraordinary thing happened. As I sat out there shivering with cold and lost in my misery, suddenly, from my toes up, I could feel a strange lightness and joy start to bubble up in my being — almost like an empty glass being filled with champagne. It was not a mood shift, but a distinct physical sensation. There was an effervescence inside me that simply had not been there the moment before, as if I had been recharged, filled and fueled with an energy so buoyant that I simply could not sink even if I wanted to… my being coming to me from a far deeper place.”

For me, having hope does not always lead to what my ego would consider THE perfect outcome, but it is more like an opening, a flowering of possibility (even within darker days). Sometimes it is a small opening, barely perceptible, but other times it is wide, open-armed, and open-hearted, assent, “Yes, Come — Come Emmanuel!”

Here’s one of my favorite versions of this wonderful Advent hymn: “O Come O Come Emmanuel:”

Scents of the Season:

Pomanders are wonderfully fragrant, natural room and closet fresheners. They make great gifts or festive tree and package decorations.


I ran across the webpage below with suggestions and guidelines for making pomanders. It is really simple — and wonderfully fragrant. Enjoy!!

How to make spiced orange pomander balls

Advent 1 – hope

header photo

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.

from Psalm 130

In this first week of Advent as we focus on the theme of Hope, I wonder what hope means for you? Is hope like making a wish on an evening star or a wish before blowing out candles on a birthday cake? Is it being an “upbeat” person — always looking for a silver lining — believing the best will happen? Or could it be the same as grace – or faith?

In her book Mystical Hope, Cynthia Bourgeault writes that the “journey to hope… is something that will change your innermost way of seeing.” She continues, “In our usual way of looking at things, hope is tied to outcome. We normally think of hope as having an optimistic feeling.”

Instead, Bourgeault believes that “hope has something to do with presence — not a future good outcome but the immediate experience of being met, held in communion, by something intimately at hand.”

I am drawn to contemplate hope like Bourgeault, as “an abiding state of being… a call to become a vessel, to become a chalice into which divine energy can pour; a lamp through which it can shine.”

Our practice of waiting in Advent is very close to this “abiding state of being” as we wait for the coming light, even when days are short, dark, and cold. We might consider how Mary’s abiding hope helped her receive the promise of the Holy One within her: how she became a “vessel, a chalice, a lamp.”

How might you embrace Hope this Advent season?  How might you hold the promise of the coming Christ within you this Advent season?

As we consider becoming people of Hope, here are a few of my favorite quotes on hope:

I heard a preacher say that hope is a revolutionary practice . . . hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up. . .

~ Anne Lamott


12988817915_a51e7d1b9e_mHope is what sits by a window and waits for one more dawn, despite the fact that there is not one ounce of proof in tonight’s black, black sky that it can possibly come.

~ by Joan Chittister



Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Either we have hope within or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.

~ Vaclav Havel in “Share International” #3, Vol. 25

For me, at Advent, my hope is in God who wants to be with us — Emmanuel. Enough to become incarnate, to take on flesh, to be born in humble circumstance. To be one of us, one with us. We keep vigil – a patient waiting – for the completion of our deepest desire rooted in God’s desire. We practice hope in our every day lives, moment by moment. We share hope with others. We wait together for the light to come.

The hope is for fullness, for completion,

for being one with each other . . .

Our entire lives are a vigil, a keeping watch,

for the fulfillment of this hope.

~ Wendy Wright

“Waiting in Silence (Waiting in Hope)” by Carey Landry

video by Diocese of St. Benedict, Old Catholic Missionaries