Book Club Channel
Contemplation and Creativity: An Interview with Christine Valters Paintner
The resistance I think comes when working through all of the baggage people carry about being an "artist." We are often critiqued for our creative ability early on and we learn what kinds of expressions are acceptable and what are not. A lot of artists feel like impostors because they aren't doing this work professionally. In indigenous cultures the arts belong to the whole community and are in service to ritual. In our contemporary world we set artists apart in galleries and museums. We forget that art is the language of joy and meaning that we all share.
Christianity has traditionally placed so much emphasis on Scripture as being the only and final source of revelation. In your book you reflect a Celtic approach—as theologian Phillip Newell puts it—The Big Book (nature) and the Little Book (Scripture) together as sources of revelation. Can you say more about "Creation as the first scripture"?
We tend to forget that Creation is the original source of many of our religious categories and that the earth is the very matrix for our self-understanding. The psalms celebrate again and again the way nature praises God in her own original liturgy.
Merton claimed that it was necessary for the monks to work in the fields "in the sun, in the mud, in the clay, in the wind" because these elements are our spiritual directors. Medieval monk and mystic Bernard of Clairvaux wrote: "Believe me as one who has experience, you will find much more among the woods then ever you will among books. Woods and stones will teach you what you can never hear from any master."
Our relationship to creation is deeply broken. We have forgotten our deep earthiness. In monastic tradition humility is essential, which is about remembering that we are of the earth and that we will one day return to the earth. We could avoid much of our hubris by keeping "death daily before our eyes" as Benedict writes in his Rule. We would feel much more alive by following the rhythms of creation around us rather than forcing ourselves to meet the unending demands of the clock. Praying the Hours is a practice of attending to the rise and fall of each day, of entering a different kind of time.
How has writing this book changed the way you see structure and freedom for yourself, and how has your own "artist's rule" changed and been transformed?
I have grown immensely over the last few years in my trust of my own natural rhythms. I feel deeply blessed to be able to structure my life in such a way that most days I can follow this rhythm and respond to it as needed. I live from a more organic sense of time and trust the unfolding of what is happening. God's birthing into the world is a slow process. I also recognize that there is great gift in practice and discipline, which forms the structure of my life, and so I hold these in healthy tension with one another. I know that I need daily practices to cultivate my openness to the sacredness of each moment.
What's the thing you loved most about writing this book, and what do you your readers receive by reading it and engaging in its practices?
I have loved the monk and artist paths for many years and have been so deeply enriched by their mutual aliveness for me. When I first offered the online classes I was so taken by surprise that there was such a hunger for the material. I felt like I had been following my call for years but with offering this material and connecting with the community of people hungry for it I was amazed and so gratified. The only thing better than doing the work you love is having such a grace-filled community of people to receive it.
One of the things I hope my readers receive through this process is a deeper trust in their own deep longing, even when it takes them to uncomfortable places. I have a chapter on hospitality in the book that invites this attitude of welcome toward our own inner shadow places, to the parts of self that we dislike or have been suppressed by others and we have rejected often unconsciously. When we remember all of our parts and meet them with love and openness, we grow in our own wholeness. We begin to meet others with much more compassion because we can welcome in ourselves what we find in others. Ultimately for me this journey is about widening my capacity for bringing compassion to myself and to the world.
Visit the Patheos Book Club for more on Christine Valters Painter and her new book The Artist's Rule—including an excerpt of Chapter 1.
Christine Valters Paintner, Ph.D., is a Benedictine Oblate and the online Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery without walls offering online classes and resources in contemplative practice and creative expression. She is the author of seven books on monastic spirituality and creativity including The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom (Ave Maria Press), Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings (SkyLight Paths), and Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice (forthcoming 2013 from Ave Maria Press). Christine earned her Ph.D. in Christian Spirituality from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and her work focuses on the intersection of the arts, contemplative spirituality and practice, and the wisdom of the seasons. Visit her website Abbey of the Arts.