Earth Our Original Monastery a Review of Christine Valters Paintner’s book
6th October 2020
By Judith Keller
Earth Our Original Monastery: A Review
See details below about the online Reading group that Judith and Bethany South will lead early in 2021.
Christine Valters Paintner has a doctorate in Christian spirituality and lives in Galway in Ireland. She is the author of thirteen books with enticing titles such as: ‘Water, Wind, Earth and Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements’, and, ‘The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred’. Christine has one collection of poems, ‘Dreaming of Stones’. Some readers may know her through her earlier books such as ‘The Artists Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom’, or, ‘Lectio Divina - The Sacred Art: Transforming Words and Images into Heart-Centred Prayer'. Praying, ripening, dreaming, nurturing, transforming, are evocative words and attentive to the diverse creative ways in which spiritualities may unfold.
Christine’s books are written at the intersection of prayer, and the arts and creativity. They draw on Celtic and monastic sources of wisdom. They are invitations to enter more deeply into contemplative communion with oneself, others, the Sacred.
What would it be like for us to throw ourselves on the earth and kiss it?
The book grows out of the author’s own deep connection with Earth as a sanctuary space and also in listening to others express this deep connection in her retreats and in her spiritual direction work. The book’s theology is incarnational: God’s presence is in all creation and creation is the place of love where our hearts are nourished anew.
Earth is also our original teacher of contemplative practice and this conviction shapes the pattern of the book’s content. Contemplative engagement is a work of love and of healing. Christine writes: The contemplative path is the one I am called to focus on in my writing. In this path we cultivate intimacy with Earth and her creatures, and we allow ourselves to fall in love with nature.
Ultimately contemplative practice is a doorway by which we enter into the depth of Divine Love at the heart of creation. The pattern of each of the seven chapters is:
Earth centred practices such as meditation, a contemplative walk, working with herbs, exploring visual arts, and writing invite the reader to lean into the text experientially. For as the author says, Reading can only take us so far in our journeys of transformation. When we engage the world kinaesthetically by being out in nature and paying attention, we have a different kind of encounter than we have with words on a page. The words of the world are intended to be your primary teacher, with this text as a support system for listening.
There are seven different meditations, contemplative walks, writing explorations, and so on. For example, in chapter one, the meditation is a lectio divina with nature, in chapter two, praying in rhythm with the seasons, in chapter three, resting in gratitude, in chapter four, listening to the elements, in chapter five, an ecological examen, in chapter six, the contemplation of a hazelnut in one’s hand, and in chapter seven a meditation on the tree of life.
This is a book to cherish if you love Earth and feel drawn to deepen into communion with Earth.
While the author draws on a number of Christian mystics in the book, Meister Eckhart, for example, Catherine of Siena, St Bonaventure, and Hildegard of Bingen, it is the Trappist monk Thomas Merton whose life and writings are among her favourite. At the centre of Merton’s monastic life was the praying of the psalms, many of which are songs of creation expressing praise of the Divine. He knew these psalms intimately, immersed as he was in praying the hours of the day with the other monks in the monastery but also embodying these psalms in his work in the fields, close to the earth and the turning of the seasons. A number of quotes from Merton’s writings are incorporated in arresting ways.
The influence of Celtic spirituality can be seen in the seasonal awareness that pervades the writing. Central to the author’s view is the Celtic Christian emphasis on nature as the first book of revelation, that there are two books of creation, creation itself is the first book, and the scriptures are the second book. In addition, stories of Celtic saints express deep truths about the holiness of the human condition when lived in harmony with the natural world; stories that illustrate the tenderness of God experienced in the love of an animal or the depth of the communion that is possible between human beings and the non human world.
Christine’s ‘voice’ in Earth as Original Monastery is timely. While she talks about intimacy and loving communion with Earth, she also practices this. The beauty and integrity of her writing is compelling. This includes her capacity to touch upon a wide array of writers on spirituality and nature and enfold some of this writing seamlessly in her own work.
The book invites a letting down of one’s guard in the face of the beauty and abundance of Earth. The writer asks, What would it be like for us to throw ourselves on the earth and kiss it? This is a brave and beautiful question to ponder and then to embody in all its sensuality and wonder.
Earth Our Original Monastery is a book that could be used by spiritual directors, sacred writers, meditators and visual artists. It will appeal to those drawn to creative expression as central to their being holy and human. Multiple modes of engagement are invited which make possible new, even unanticipated ways of seeing the world. This is a book to cherish if you love Earth and feel drawn to deepen into communion with Earth.
Join us to explore these writings and practices
Eremos welcomes expressions of interest for an online contemplative Reading Group to undertake an 8 week immersion in this text “Earth Our Original Monastery” engaging in and exploring together the earth cherishing practices that it invites. These include centering practices, lectio divina, contemplative walking, visual arts practices, earth -centred meditations and sacred writing.
The anticipated time is weekly on Tuesday evenings from 7:30 – 9 pm AEST beginning on 2 February 2021. There is no charge for Eremos members for the group. To register your interest or for more details contact Judith: firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes from the author: