GNL number 58

a report of doings at meeting #58, Sunday, March 11, 2012
including liturgical notes, major themes, and other odds and ends


We become contemplative when God discovers Himself in us.
—–Thomas Merton


Cynthia, whose idea it was to explore Contemplative Practices, first reiterated and expanded the questions she’d given us from the book (The Artist’s Rule: nurturing your creative soul with monastic wisdom, by Christine Valters Paintner). The questions follow below:

An essential element of committing to the monastic way
is cultivating a place for silence and solitude…..

CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICES:{excerpts that caught my imagination}

  • this week you are invited to begin contemplating your inner monk and artist — with which do you feel more resonance?
  • “Thus says the Lord: stand at the crossroads and look-and ask for ancient paths: where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16
  • {introductory passage to this chapter by Kathleen Norris}

    ‘I regard monks and poets as the best degenerates in America. Both have a finely developed sense of the sacred potential in all things; both value image and symbol over utilitarian purpose or the bottom line; they recognize the transformative power hiding in the simplest things — and it leads them to commit absurd acts: the poem! the prayer! what nonsense!! In a culture that excels at creating artificial, tightly controlled environments {shopping malls, amusement parks, chain motels}the art of monks and poets is use-less, if not irresponsible, remaining out of reach of commercial manipulation and ideological justification.’


  • what if you cared less about achievements & being useful, and did more “useless” things?
  • what would it mean for you to dance, make art, write poetry or pray purely for the delight in the act of creation?
  • what are the “degenerate” activities that call out to your heart?
  • where are the places & practices in your life where the way of the monk & the path of the artist merge?
  • where do they challenge one another?
  • where are the border spaces in your life that invite you to linger?

Cyn enlarged, for instance, on the question “Where are the ‘border spaces’ that invite you to linger?”—as referring to the edge of one’s comfort where there might be fear, challenge, overload. And she spoke of the need she’d felt recently as an artist, to get away from the weight of all the possible wonderful projects looking at her, and just take a breath.

Ann spoke of having felt the urge to do art—much art in her family—but never really finding the way, or discipline, to do it. But she mentioned several things she does alone that she finds contemplative or meditative, especially paddling the Mohawk and other streams. And she showed us 4 beautiful nature photos she’d taken where snowfields magically blended into sky. She also said she realized that her recently discovered love of ‘pickleball’ related not just to the physical exercise and one’s own focused skills, but the pleasure of expressing joy at beautiful plays, something she’s found also helped others feel free to express it too. (Which seems like an art to us.)

Anna again referred to her long life with its several different phases of creative art, which she pursued each in its turn and retired from in its turn as well. First was the period in her youth when she was devoting much of her time to modern dance and even studying with one of the Martha Graham groups, then a time when she was playing classical music on recorders with groups of musician friends, and then later doing many years of photography, which she emphasized was done very much on impulse for the candid shot, and not by plan or discipline.

Vijaya spoke of her own pleasure in creating beautiful things, so visible in her apartment and shop, and she showed a recent project, two large collage frames of photos she’d taken of all her family. Then at her suggestion, we also discussed two other places where creativity is being nurtured. First, in a relationship problem that drew several ideas for clarifying communication, including doing what one can to understand where the other is coming from, and making a gesture or gift that shows one cares. And then the second, in efforts she and Cynthia were involved in with other artful friends to start some kind of local artists’ collective.

Nancy had written responses to the reflection questions, for which see AFTERWORDS. But she spoke mainly of a couple ideas: That she has a lot of “monk” time, which seems essential for hearing what’s needing to be heard; and it’s then that she’s been struck by something that became songs, or other writings, or photos, or as a couple years ago, a picture book for her grandkids called Wild Animals of Cobleskill. From this she read the story of a very young fawn she met on Quarry Street who thought he was a dog. Of course the pleasure of such delights was multiplied many times when passed along to family and friends. She needs to do it more.

We agreed to send today’s offering to Peacemakers’ Spring Fund Drive for the House of Flowers Orphanage in Kabul, Afghanistan.


Contemplation for an hour is better than formal worship for 60 years.


Sunday, April 1, 2012 (1030), at Gail Sondergaard’s in Worcester. The special topic is Wandering and Watching the Beavers! (Carpooling recommended.)


from Nancy:

  • 1—About achievement and useful and useless: Have never been hot to achieve. That’s different from doing something useful, which I still aspire to. Still want to be of use to this world. But my useful is probably a lot of people’s useless, as in sharing some of one’s simplest joys, like laughter. (See degenerate, below.)
  • 2—About doing dance, art, poetry, prayer for the delight: I do that, and want to do more. Yes, for the delight; that’s the first reason. The second: it saves my life.
  • 3—About the degenerate activities: Probably everything that calls to me is. Like making songs, dancing crazily in the kitchen, playing with kids, teasing, laughing.
  • 4—About where monk and artist merge: Surely in solitude, we’re better able to notice our deepest feelings and ideas, and allow them to develop into something like truth or beauty. For me, it’s been making songs on long drives and walks alone; any photos I love have happened alone, any wonderful dream-like dancing, alone, any poem-like writing, alone. (But I don’t want the word artist; still feel making something that delights you should be organic, part of life, everybody’s natural response to living, like worship even, or at least thank you.)
  • 5—About where they challenge each other: It’s easier to be a control-freak monk, than to tune in to your truth here and now, and thank it. I would like to make my monk time more tuned in, focused, and reflecting what’s here, and then spend more time too sharing.
  • 6—About border spaces: Have not felt called by border spaces so much as by the need for a more balanced and whole life, with enough of both creative solitude and sharing the pleasure.

Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear.
—–Lao Tzu

You wish to see: Listen. Hearing is a step toward Vision.
—–St. Bernard


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