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Abbey of the Arts

Transformative living through contemplative & expressive arts

A love note from your online Abbess

Dearest monks and artists,
I am still traveling this week, having a little rest while visiting family between leading retreat programs. I have been savoring the delights of fall colors, a dip in the ocean, and time just to play and be. 

Above is our latest dancing monk icon of Thomas Merton, painted by Marcy Hall of Rabbit Room Arts. Soon to be revealed will be the last three of the original 12 in the series - Amma Syncletica (desert mother), Rainer Maria Rilke, and Dorothy Day. We will be making prints of all twelve available for purchase by the end of October and are also working on getting some icon cards made.

Merton was a passionate advocate of the contemplative life and I think would have blessed our endeavors to bring the gifts of monasticism out into the world. Certainly he engaged the world and its ideas, including opening the doors for interreligious dialogue.

One of my favorite quotes of his comes at the end of Merton's book New Seeds of Contemplation:

The Lord plays and diverts Himself in the garden of His creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear His call and follow Him in His mysterious, cosmic dance.

For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast. . . Indeed we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not.

Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance. 

Merton was a most definitely a dancing monk, one who found the deep well of joy at the heart of life and let it overflow into his presence to others.  The icon above depicts the Abbey of Gethsemane in the background, A Buddhist temple to represent his love of conversation across traditions, and his beloved trees and creatures. He also has a camera hanging around his next, because in addition to being a prolific writer and poet, he also developed a love of photography as a contemplative practice. 

Here is an excerpt from my book Eyes of the Heart:

Thomas Merton as Photographer
We can trace some of the roots of photography—an undeniably modern art form—as a Christian contemplative practice to the most famous modern monk, Thomas Merton. In 1968, Merton wrote to a friend soon after he had received the gift of a camera: “What a joy of a thing to work with . . . the camera is the most eager and helpful of all beings, all full of happy suggestions: “Try this! Do it that way!” Reminding me of things I have overlooked and cooperating in the creation of new worlds. So Simply. This is a Zen camera.”
At this point in time Merton had been making photos for several years already, but now his photography took on more impetus. He discovered the lens of the camera to be a valuable tool for contemplative practice. Merton brought his camera on walks and photographed what moved him, letting the camera reveal what was there rather than bringing to the camera what he expected to see. Merton discovered in photography an alignment with his exploration of Zen practice.
Merton had begun his first serious exploration of photography in January 1962 when he visited a Shaker village near his monastery: “Marvelous, silent, vast spaces around the old buildings. Cold, pure light, and some grand trees. So cold my finger could no longer feel the shutter release. Some marvelous subjects. How the blank side of a frame house can be so completely beautiful I cannot imagine. A completely miraculous achievement of forms.” As he developed friendships with other artists and photographers, he wrote to them about his discoveries.
One of Merton’s most well-known photographs is titled “The Sky Hook.” He wrote that the picture “is the only known photograph of God.” The composition of the photo is balanced between positive and negative space, a steel hook cuts through the top center of the image, curled toward the sky. The hook is empty, holding nothing. It is an evocative image that acts somewhat like a Zen koan by inviting us to see beyond preconceived and neatly packaged ideas.

---excerpt from Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice (by Christine Valters Paintner)

How might the camera be a portal to the holy presence all around you this week?

October 4th is the Feast of St. Francis. Please click here to view the St. Francis Dancing Monk Icon and read a poem about his visit to the corner pub.

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Photo: Thomas Merton dancing monk icon by artist Marcy Hall

Invitation to Dance: Harvesting the Inner Garden

We continue our theme this month of "Harvesting the Inner Garden" which arose from our Community Lectio Divina practice with the parable from the Gospel of Mark and continued with this month's Photo Party and Poetry Party.

I invite you into a movement practice.  Allow yourself just 5 minutes this day to pause and listen and savor what arises.

Click here to read the whole invitation to dance and share your response>>


Monk in the World guest post: Patricia Kowal

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Patricia Kowal's wisdom on living as a monk in the world

Mystic Within

Compassion, Compass, Passion
Contained in the Mystic-Within
Connected to Love, guided with Love, directed in Love
Flowing through one to another.

To read the rest of Patricia's reflection, please click here>>

Coming Home to Your Body: A Women's Contemplative Embodiment Retreat

April 17-21, 2015 
with Christine Valters Paintner, PhD 
at the Grunewald Guild near Leavenworth, WA
(limited to 15 participants)

"If only we can bring the wisdom of the body to consciousness, spirit will no longer be homesick for home."
–Marion Woodman, Leaving my Father’s House

What if you made a radical commitment to embrace the gift of your body as sacred vessel?

What if you began the long and beautiful journey home?

Together in this 4-night retreat for women we will create a body wisdom tribe of dancing monks, sensual monks, monks delighting in the gifts of embodied life, and monks lamenting the places of loss and betrayal. We will root these in ancient practices and texts. We will discover that we are part of a larger Body and a Cosmic Dance, which constantly offers us the nourishment we need to thrive.

We will explore a variety of practices drawn primarily from desert, Celtic, and Benedictine monastic traditions as well as body-based practices from yoga and dance.  This will become our holy well offering generous drink. As we drop down beneath the chattering of our thoughts and the endless stories they tell, we discover a place of stillness and wisdom, a source of deep joy and praise.

More details and registration here>>

Join the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks (plus free and low-cost resources at the Abbey)

Your registration in our programs helps the Abbey to exist. We are entirely self-supporting and rely on program fees to continue this work and keep it sustainable. We are tremendously grateful for the opportunity to do such life-giving and impactful work. 

If your budget doesn't allow for participation in some of our programs, please remember there is always the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks Facebook group which is free to join and lots of wonderful things happening there. It is facilitated and the space lovingly held just for you. We are an open and embracing community, welcoming all those who seek the contemplative and creative path as witnesses to a new way of being in the world.

This email newsletter with love notes and reflections is always free to you as well providing ongoing support for your spiritual journey.

We also have the free Monk in the World e-course (8-day and 8-week version) which you can access through this link. There is a request for a donation to our Earth Monastery Project, but if you are unable to donate at this time, simply enter "0." If you have taken the class previously, consider revisiting the material - simply go to the Ruzuku login page and enter your email address and password (you can reset your password there if you have forgotten it.)

I have also been giving away free digital versions of my Reflective Art Journals which you receive links to access when you subscribe to this newsletter. If you have lost that link click here to access them. Look for another one very soon!

Last spring Ave Maria Press invited me to present an hour-long webinar on Cultivating Contemplation in Your Parish through Photography which is available free to view. 

We also have 14 self-study retreats/classes for you to choose from. All but one of these cost $100 or less. If one of those is calling your name, but the fee would be a hardship, please contact us about the possibility of partial scholarships to assist with the cost.
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