Illuminating the Way: Book Review

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I am excited to share with you my review of Illuminating the Way:  Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics by Christine Valters Paintner.  Christine is the online Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a Benedictine oblate, and the author of 8 books on monastic spirituality and creativity, as well as a poet, photographer, spiritual director, pilgrim guide, and teacher.  Learn more about Christine at Abbey of the Arts.

“This book takes you on a journey accompanied by many great monks and mystics of our tradition.  While there are other worthy books that invite you into relationship with the saints, what makes this one unique is that each figure invites us into an exploration of a particular archetypal energy within us.”

Christine explores the archetypal lives of twelve great mystics and monks, some of which include:   Francis of Assisi:  The Fool, Hildegard of Bingen:  The Visionary, Benedict of Nursia:  The Sage and Dorothy Day:  The Orphan.  I especially appreciate that Christine shares how Jesus expresses all twelve archetypes and she reminds us that we can too!

“We each have within us a gathering of different energies.” Let me share five that particularly appealed to me.

King David:  The Sovereign

“One of our central questions in life is, what is my task in this world?”  This is a central question that many of us ask ourselves not just once but at various points in our lives.  The answer to this question is who we are and what we are meant to do with our lives.  Once we have discovered and often rediscovered it, we are free to live from our inner Sovereign.  “When we are living fully from our inner Sovereign, we embody a calm and assertive energy.”

“A true Sovereign blesses others by his or her presence.”  We are not threatened by others.  In fact, we are thrilled when we see another live from his inner Sovereign too.  It is then that we know we have arrived.

Brendan the Navigator:  The Pilgrim

“Help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown” is from a prayer attributed to St. Brendan, Christine informs us.  We best live when we let go of expectations.  We allow ourselves to be uncomfortable.  We trust God as we journey on the unpredictable path before us.  We lean into mystery.  It is best to remember that we are always beginners.  This means that sometimes the best action is to wait and listen before we continue to explore.

Rainer Maria Rilke:  The Artist

“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back.”  This quote by Rainer Maria Rilke begins this chapter.  That is what I want to happen.  I like to write.  This is what happens when I write.  I let the words flow out of me.  I do not know what they will be until they land on the page in front of me.  I love it!  I allow the Great Inner Artist to create!

Christine challenges each one of us with these two questions.  “Must you create?  Do you experience a compelling need to express your deep desires?”  If so, then do not resist.  It is never too late.  There is always an opportunity for new things to birth!  We all have an Inner Artist!  Follow your impulse to create beauty and meaning.  Do not judge and critique your work.  Let it happen.  We often discover who we are when we let ourselves create.

Mary:  The Mother

My wife is one of the most selfless people I know.  “The Mother is the one who supports us in giving birth to what is gestating within.”  Compassion, care and unconditional love are the expression of the Mother.

I recognize that there are times when I will need to put aside my needs and wants so I can love, serve and support another.  I have a feeling that when I take the time to do so, it is then that I will feel most alive.

Thomas Merton:  The Monk

“To be a saint means to be fully oneself.”  Merton saw the lakes, the mountains, the trees and the animals as saints.  They were intrinsically themselves.

I practice centering prayer.  Centering prayer teaches me who I am.  It slows me down so I can live each day from the deepest part of me:  my true self.  My true self is calm, confident and content.  It is excited to live and serve each day.

“Maturity in the spiritual life means knowing what we are both called to do and called not to do.”  This is a lesson that I too can see I have learned as I look back at my life and reflect on the different paths I have taken in my personal, family, career and community arenas.  I think the other archetypes will more easily unfold when I best live as a monk in this world.

Next Steps

“This is a journey toward growing wholeness, where the fragments of ourselves are brought back together again.”  This journey will never end.  I do not want it to end.  As I explore each energy within, I can only become more whole.  This is exciting!  I will become more and more the person God wants me to be.

Go Further

More books by Christine Valters Paintner:

Earth, Our Original Monastery: Cultivating Wonder and Gratitude through Intimacy with Nature

The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred 

The Wisdom of the Body: A Contemplative Journey to Wholeness for Women 

The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom

The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within

Lectio Divina—The Sacred Art: Transforming Words & Images into Heart-Centered Prayer (The Art of Spiritual Living)

The Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice

The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers by Christine Valters Paintner: An Online Retreat that enables you to explore and engage with the insights of the desert mothers and fathers of fourth and fifth century Egypt. These men and women of God went to the desert to live out a simple but challenging spirituality that still resonates strongly for us today.

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks – This is a great way to listen to books with your cell phone while you drive, walk or relax at home.  I frequently listen in my car during my commute to and from work.  I’m a proud affiliate.

Contemplative Discernment by Fr. Carl Arico, Pamela Begeman, Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler: A contemplative practice of discernment is not about decision-making, although this may be an eventual outcome. Rather, contemplative discernment is receptive in nature, a process of opening to receive clues about who we are in God. We focus on ever-deepening levels of relationship and trust in God’s will for us. We learn how to listen deeply to our motivations and sort through and purify any mixed motivations. As this relationship deepens, we learn to allow the love of God to motivate our actions and manifest through us. We discover what it means to truly pray “not my will, but Thy will.”

Embracing Living: The Welcoming Prayer by Contemplative Outreach, Mary Dwyer, Therese Saulnier, Cherry Haisten, Jim McElroy: The Welcoming Prayer is a method of consenting to God’s presence and action in our physical and emotional reactions to events and situations in daily life. If Centering Prayer (or another daily prayer) is practiced for one hour of the day, the Welcoming Prayer is for the other 23 hours. It is a “letting go” in the present moment, in the midst of the activity of ordinary life.

Practicing the Presence of God by Pamela Begeman, Mary Ann Brussat, Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler, David Frenette: We live in a world of complexity, fragmentation, noise, and haste. We sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of tasks, appointments, and commitments facing us. How can we experience God in the midst of the busyness, responsibilities, and activities of our daily lives? By practice. By living more in the present moment. By practicing the presence of God in the present moment.

Sounds True has titles by teachers and authors such as Thomas Keating, Cynthia Bourgeault, James Finley, Richard Rohr, David Frenette, Parker Palmer , Adyashanti , Eckhart  Tolle , Michael Singer , Jon Kabat-Zinn , Marianne Williamson to name a few.

Contemplative Light offers courses on contemplative practices (Christian Meditation, Centering Prayer, The Examen, Lectio Divina, The Jesus Prayer), the Christian mystics (ancient and current) and spiritual writing. Peruse their wonderful offerings.

Prayer-Bracelet: Authentic Orthodox prayer ropes and bracelets are handmade by monks in the Orthodox monastaries reciting a prayer for every knot they tie. Peruse their prayer ropes and bracelets that are all handmade, provided by several orthodox churches around the globe.

How might your life change if you were steeped more deeply in the wisdom of the Christian Mystics? Drawing on the best available writing on the topic of Christian Mysticism both ancient and modern, Contemplative Light is offering a special course on the Christian Mystics Sacred Lives: An Introduction To The Christian Mystics.

Contemplative Practices: 5 Ways of Consenting to the Divine – Learn methods practiced by Christian mystics for centuries to consent to the action and presence of God within, including Centering Prayer, The Examen, Lectio Divina, Christian Meditation, and the Jesus Prayer.

Writing as a Spiritual Practice: This course helps you to access the rich spiritual stories that lie deeply within you. Words are powerful. The words that you write can be used to:

  • help you understand yourself better – and therefore divine God’s purpose in your life
  • facilitate healing of spiritual wounds
  • minister to others more effectively
  • share your testimonies of how God has worked in your life

Drawing from the wisdom of monastic life, modern psychology and best practices in personal productivity, the Monk Manual provides a daily system that will help you find clarity, purpose, wisdom, and peace in the moments that make up your life.

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