Sacred Life Arts
Autumn landscape with small chapel close to the road. Watercolors

Summer blessings, dear Sacred Life-Artisans...

With summer's arrival comes the opportunity for travel and adventure. The spaciousness of this season may also deliver a call to step onto the holy road to make a pilgrimage. 

Friends have recently walked the Camino in France and Spain, and another dear friend is making a pilgrimage through the Scottish Highlands. I've been blessed to make pilgrimages to Chartres Cathedral several times and I hope in the near future to plan a pilgrimage to Belgium to visit the ancient beguinage, inspired by a spiritual sister's recent visit there.

The theme of pilgrimage has caused me to imagine offering virtual pilgrimages. Beginning here and throughout the year I'll visit with writers, artists, and other Sacred Life-Artisans and ask ten questions pertaining to their current work. The questions and featured artisan's responses will be shared with you for your inspiration. There are many creative and inspirational souls doing amazing work in the world to bless our hearts and minds. 

It's my pleasure this month to introduce my guest, Online Abbess of Abbey of the Arts , Christine Valters Paintner . Christine is a Benedictine Oblate and the author of eight books . She is also a pilgrimage leader and retreat facilitator. Her current book,  The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within, is a meditative read with eight spiritually enriching practices to bless your life's pilgrimage.   She lives with her husband, John, in Galway, Ireland. 

Ten Questions

A Sacred Life-Arts Visit 
with Author and Online Abbess


Welcome, Christine... 
SLA: "Beginning again is essential." Returning to those things that feed the, meditation, etc. Can you suggest some ways to become unstuck to begin to reconnect to one's source of inspiration and spiritual center? 

CVP: It may seem counter-intuitive, but for me one of the best ways to get unstuck is to stop trying so hard. We often feel "blocked" and then judge and resist the feeling, getting us even more stuck. Going for a long walk, preferably in nature, whether a city park, in a forest, or along a shoreline, does wonders for the creative juices. 

SLA: What are the signposts leading one to make the pilgrimage to discover new thresholds of possibility? 

CVP: The signposts come in many forms. Often they arrive in night dreams, in synchronicities during daily life, in symbols which start to repeat themselves, in a line from a poem or something a friend utters which seems ripe with meaning even if we don't understand it yet. Sometimes we are ushered into a pilgrimage from outside circumstances and don't feel ready, but we are rarely "ready" to go to the edges of the soul. 

SLA: The desert mothers and fathers "valued their monastic cells" as vitally important "to experience stillness." In our fast paced culture driven by productivity and do we unlearn our overactive behaviors to make the shift from doing to being? 

CVP: This is a huge challenge in our times and something I continue to work on myself. Practice is essential, finding a multitude of ways to move from taking to receiving, from doing to being. Making art for the sheer joy of it without a "product" in mind. Going for a walk without a destination. Sitting in silence to just drink in a few moments of quiet and rest. Building in "holy pauses" between each activity, even if only to take five deep breaths before getting our of your car to head to an appointment. Claiming a day of Sabbath free of work and worry. I consider keeping a day of Sabbath perhaps one of the most vital and most challenging of all the practices. And yet, the incredible grace of allowing ourselves a day to restore has amazing benefits to our outlook on life and the pace we keep. 

SLA: How essential is the concept of shedding, letting go of possessions, commitments, beliefs, etc. to the spiritual life/pilgrimage? Where do we find the entry point to begin living more simply? 

CVP: We can only journey so far with the baggage we carry before we grow tired and need to lay something down. It is always a process though. We don't have to figure it all out before we embark. Pilgrimage will strip away what we think is essential until we are pared down to what is truly important to us. I find beginning on the physical plane the easiest, letting go of those things which take up energy to maintain and which no longer bring joy. As you begin this process, even if it is just a book or piece of clothing each week, then you start to notice other things which weigh you down even more heavily - the ideas about yourself, the unhealthy patterns you can transform. 

SLA: Please share how the practices of midrash and lectio divina are valuable for seekers today. 

CVP: Both are profound practices of engaging ancient stories or texts in contemplative ways. Lectio divina is a way of slowing down and really savoring the scriptures, or other sacred texts. We begin to listen in new ways and receive the wisdom to move forward. There are so many stories of journeying and how to do it well. Midrash is a way of honoring the incredible wisdom of our own imagination, by inviting us into the cracks of the story, the places in the scripture texts where voices are missing or you long to have a conversation with one of the characters or symbols. Learning to trust this impulse can open up new layers of revelation. These texts were not meant to be read at a distance but engaged on a soul level, wrestled with, broken open so they might break us open. 

SLA: Art-making, photography, and dream exploration are some of the creative sacred practices you discuss in your book. How does creativity inform our spiritual lives? 

CVP: The creative process is its own kind of pilgrimage. When we enter into art-making without the destination in mind, but a willingness to follow the thread wherever it leads us, it can open us up to beautiful discoveries about ourselves. It is this process-oriented focus, rather than on the product, which is essential for opening us up to revelations along the way as opposed to seeking what we want to find. These are two very different things in life and in our spiritual journey. What is offered as gift to us is infinitely more interesting and satisfying than what our limited egos desire. 

SLA: What spiritual/creative practice do you rely upon? Do you have a practice(s) that you consistently turn to when you need guidance for your earthly pilgrimage? 

CVP: Two of my favorite spiritual practices which I don't discuss in the book are yin yoga and dance. In yin yoga, poses are held for 3-5 minutes so on a physical level the fascia are targeted, as opposed to the muscles. On a spiritual and emotional level, it is a profound practice of presence and witnessing my own thoughts as I sit for that period of time and notice moments of discomfort and staying with my experience (always backing out of pain). Yin yoga is about "allowing" and "yielding" rather than active effort and so I learn on a very physical level how to release my doing and this has profound impact on my spiritual life. I also love dance, not dancing to steps or choreography, but putting on a piece of music I love and entering into it as a meditation with my body. Dance helps move me out of my mind and my desire to analyze and figure things out and just allow my body to express its own deepest prayer. I am often moved to tears when unexpected grief arises, and also it breaks open a deep well of joy for me as I allow myself this freedom of expression. 

SLA: Can you share what it was like to write The Soul of a Pilgrim as a co-creative project with your husband? 

CVP: Part of this life pilgrimage we embarked on together was learning what it is like to work together. It has definitely stretched us in ways we weren't expecting, each of our ingrained work patterns, and there has been incredible grace and deepened intimacy as we share more of our life work in service together. I absolutely love that he can bring his passion for the stories of scripture to this ministry. 

SLA: What has been your greatest "take-away" from your pilgrimage to leave all that was familiar and begin a new life abroad? 

CVP: That we are called into exile, to become strangers to ourselves, to be able to reclaim the home that is deeply within in a more powerful way. There is incredible gift to allowing ourselves to be uncomfortable and to intentionally walk toward our own inner edges in service of widening our capacity for presence to the world. 

SLA: As you contemplate your life as a pilgrimage...what is the threshold or pathway that awaits you on the horizon? 

CVP: I continue to be on a threshold, it has lasted many years now! I find this summer that I am being invited into a space of deep rest and unknowing. Being in Ireland has called forth many incredible gifts that I was not expecting including a love of the landscape and wild places, a deeper invitation to write poetry, leading pilgrimage experiences to sacred sites, and starting to offer more soul guidance for writers through retreats. And yet I have this sense right now of just allowing myself to be in this space of not-doing and seeing what emerges from this time.

Many thanks to Christine for sharing her inspiration with us this month. To listen to a past interview with Christine please visit  Sacred Life-Arts Sanctuary Page.

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With love and blessings!  



Sibyl "Dana" Reynolds
Founder and Spiritual Director, Sacred Life-Arts
Summer Reading 
Ink and Honey
The story of a sisterhood of women in medieval France who live by their wits and their prayers.

"Sibyl Dana Reynolds offers us a lush and generous gift of storytelling and immersion in the medieval culture of women monks and mystics.  Her novel is filled with sensual details that make her writing and the time period come alive, while her story is compelling, drawing the reader always forward.  You grow to care deeply about these characters and come to recognize something of yourself in their journeys and longings."


Christine Valters Paintner, author of The Artist's Rule: Nurturing your Creative Spirit with Monastic Wisdom