Learning The Artist's Rule

I’m a sucker for wavy stripes; I find them restful. So when I saw the cover of Christine Valters Paintner’s The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom, I gave a little gasp of appreciation — okay, I stared at it in a kind of bliss for a while — and anticipated in those blurred, calming lines the message: more restful stuff within!

Well. . .yes and no. There’s a little treasure trove within the book, but how restful one finds it depends, ultimately, upon one’s disposition and how much one puts into this “nurturing of the creative soul” business.

As with pretty much everything in life, what you get back is a fair measure of what you put in (or out). But this book is worth putting something in; that would be effort.

Paintner, a Catholic spiritual director and Benedictine Oblate who writes here at Patheos over in the Progressive Christian Portal, is a beautiful writer. Her piece sharing her dog’s impact on her prayer life was a recent treat, and she has a lot of wisdom to impart on the practice of contemplative prayer, in all of its mysteries and occasional discomforts. Being an Oblate, myself — and sadly writing a great deal less than Christine on the subject of prayer, especially the Liturgy of the Hours, than I would like to — I am very grateful for her insights and instruction.

The Artist’s Rule is a twelve week “course” in healing, creative expression that builds on the wisdom and insights culled from monastic practices, and from the Rule of St. Benedict, which is fundamentally a guide to marking the passage of time — making it sacred, in prayer — and practicing holy mindfulness of the Presence of God (and therefore of Good) in the everyday. While I am not putting Paintner’s book on the same level as our Holy Father Benedict, it is very fair to say that her “Rule” gives a helpful assist.

I have written elsewhere about my difficulty with the Benedictine practice of Hospitality

Hospitality is a substantial part of being a Benedictine, and it is a confusing thing, for me. Once I get the people into my house, I like to serve them good food and wine; I like to laugh with them and share memories, and surprise them with little gifts. Sometimes I’m even sad to see them leave. But until the moment they’ve crossed that threshold, I am negative about the whole endeavor.

And this, I suppose, is the deeper, more hidden reason I am a Benedictine: because the God Who Knows what we need to work on supplies the therapeutic mechanism, in one way or another.

Conscious of this struggle, after reading the introduction and first chapter, I turned quickly to “Week Seven” and Paintner’s thoughts on Hospitality, which is deeply connected to the Benedictine disciplines of Conversion and Stability. There, I encountered a notion I’d suspected for a while — that difficulty in welcoming others as Christ is rooted in one’s difficulty in welcoming the Christ within oneself — but in Paintner’s gentle voice, this didn’t seem nearly as harsh as it has seemed in my own.

Paintner recognizes, and wants the reader to recognize, that our inner selves, our passions, fears, miseries and imaginings all exist and run amok as part and parcel of God’s gift. To make them welcome within us, and give them expression, is to greet them in Christ, accepting the whole imperfect self as a work-in-progress — both Christ’s progress and our own.

Not all are called to the arts, and I admit, Paintner’s encouragement to pick up paper, pastels or crayons and venture forth with the courage to create “bad art” left me remarkably unswayed; I have no gift in that area — why do you think I am so fond of wavy lines? Because I can’t draw a straight one! — and even with permission to produce “bad” art, I was happier to accept her invitation to try my hand at bad, if mindful, haiku and poetry.

Putting something in to the effort, I was rewarded with something better than I had any right to anticipate — a poem I can’t share (because it’s personal) but rather like, and Jesus and I have giggled over it in a very satisfying way.

Invest some time in The Artist’s Rule. The return will be worth it!

Read more about The Artist’s Rule at Patheos’ Book Club, and catch this interview with Christine Valters Paintner, too.

Browse Our Archives