by Christine Valters Paintner, PhD
Practicing Resurrection with All of Creation
Lent is a powerful season of transformation. Forty days in the desert, stripped of our comforts, and buoyed by our commitment to daily practice so that we might arrive at the celebration of Easter deepened and renewed. And yet this year, we were challenged to a much more severe Lenten experience, where many of our daily securities have been stripped away.
How do we then approach the glorious season of resurrection, and celebrate not just for that one day, but for the full span of 50 days. How do we savor joy in the midst of so much grief and heartbreak. Easter is a span of time when days grow longer in the northern hemisphere, blossoms burst forth, and we are called to consider how we might practice this resurrection in our daily lives.
My new book, Earth, Our Original Monastery, is rooted in my love of monastic tradition and practice: the gifts of silence and solitude, hospitality, daily rhythms, slowness, soulful companionship, and presence to the holiness of everything are gifts our world is hungry for. Over time, I began to discover the ways that Earth herself teaches us these practices. In the Celtic tradition it is said there are two books of revelation – the big book of Nature and the small book of the scriptures. Nature is experienced as the original scripture.
Thomas Merton, the 20th century Trappist monk who was such a genius at translating contemplative wisdom for a contemporary world often found his experiences in creation as some of the most profound spiritually. He writes, “How necessary it is for the monks to work in the fields, in the sun, in the mud, in the clay, in the wind: These are our spiritual directors and our novice masters.” For Merton, the elements of water, wind, earth, and fire are our original soul friends.
The monastic tradition is also filled with stories of the kinship between saints and animals as a sign of their holiness. The desert and Celtic traditions in particular have many of these stories, such as St. Cuthbert who would emerge from the sea each morning after prayer and otters would come to dry him off and warm his feet or St. Brigid who had a white cow as a companion who would give endless milk.
And of course, the great tradition of the creation psalms gives us a window into a worldview that sees all of nature singing praise together in the original liturgy.
How do we find resurrection in a season when many will die from this pandemic? How so we practice a deep sense of hope in the midst of economic uncertainty? What might happen if we let Earth teach us a new way of being?
Imagine if, during the Easter season, we each took on practices like these:
- Allow time and space each day to grieve fully, to release the river of tears we try to hold back so carefully. Listen to the elements and see what wisdom they offer to you for this sorrow and for how to endure.
- As our movements are limited, make a commitment to move slowly through the world, resisting the demand for speed and productivity that is tearing our bodies apart and wearing them down to exhaustion.
- Reject compulsive “busyness” as a badge of pride and see it for what it is—a way of staying asleep to your own deep longings and those of the world around you. Allow time to be present to birdsong and to notice the way creation is awakening through green leaf and pink bud.
- Pause regularly. Breathe deeply. Reject multitasking. Savor one thing in this moment right now. Discover a portal into joy and delight in your body through fragrance, texture, shimmering light, song, or sweetness.
- Roll around on the grass, the way dogs do with abandon. Release worries about getting muddy or cold or looking foolish. Or dance with a tree in the wind, letting its branches guide you. Don’t hold yourself back.
- Every day, at least once, say thank you for the gift of being alive. Every day, at least once, remember the One who crafted you and all of creation and exclaimed, “That is so very good.”
- Allow a day to follow the rhythms of your body. Notice when you are tired, and sleep. When you are hungry, eat. When your energy feels stagnant, go for a long walk. See what you discover when you try to attune to your natural rhythms.
Easter is a season of new life, which does not mean we deny the reality of death. Indeed nature requires the death of old matter to generate nourishment for growth. Make space for the sorrow and make space to listen for the rumblings of spring erupting around you.
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD is a Benedictine oblate and the online Abbess at Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery and global community integrating contemplative practice and creative expression. She is the author of 14 books on the gifts of monastic wisdom including her newest Earth, Our Original Monastery and her forthcoming second collection of poems The Wisdom of Wild Grace.
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE, OblSB
Author of 14 books including two new titles in 2020:
“Earth, Our Original Monastery is a love song–a sacred ecstatic chant in a language we somehow know.” –Janet Conner, author
“The Wisdom of Wild Grace: Poems is a GLORIOUS collection! An inspiring, luscious, deep delve into Earth Wisdom and lively tales of Christian saints; a spirited and intimate re-seeing of the desert mystics and beloved St Francis and Julian of Norwich, offering their transcendent wisdom through beautifully crafted poems.” — Judyth Hill, poet
AbbeyoftheArts.com: Transformative Living through Contemplative and Expressive Arts