Monday, January 19, 2015


Co-retreat leader Brother Elias with Cecelia Kane at Trappist Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers Georgia

Co-retreat leader Brother Cassian with Cecelia Kane at Trappist Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers Georgia

Dearest Readers,

Five values of a monk:Prayer, Silence, Solitude, Community, Work

Almost a year ago at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers Georgia, I attended a lay weekend retreat entitled “The Monk Within”. It was a taste of living a Cistercian (Trappist) monk’s life. I ate simple food in silence, slept in a clean no-nonsense room,
My room in the retreat house

 I walked the grounds, and prayed the rosary in honor of my mother while sitting by the lake.

 I rose at 3:30 am to recite the Liturgy of the Hours with the monks, praising God before dawn, 
and again in the evening. 
A monk sets out the liturgy and hymns to be recited before dawn
 I attended mass at daybreak.
Recessional of monks after morning mass before breakfast.

My group of retreatants and I attended two study groups  in which we learned the history of the Desert Fathers in the early years of Christianity and monasticism, and their desire to have a close connection with God without layers of dogma and church hierarchy. (I never knew that!) Another class dealt with that Sunday’s gospel story with its emphasis on radical generosity.
“If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also”. Luke 6:29

This provided lots of discussion and an example of a link between meditation, solitude and actually doing good in the community.

My current year and a half in rural Peacham Vermont is a continuation of that retreat, albeit a self-directed one. I’m figuring out how to balance contemplation, outreach and the use of the imagination of art as a way to find transcendence. I'm still unfolding how to go about this. 
I’ve come to the conclusion that living a life of kindness, simplicity and creativity offers openings to a spiritual path beyond religious rules and orthodoxy. 

The British x-Catholic nun and religious thinker Karen Armstrong explains that deep spiritual experiences occur when we as humans go beyond our conceptual grasp. In other words, transformation begins when we hit the wall and give up on logic.1   Zen Buddhists use the conundrum of koans which are word pretzels, like the famous “What’s the sound of one-hand clapping?” to crack open the mind beyond ordinary thinking. Christian monks in the Middle Ages employed deep reading of Scriptural texts to induce surrender from logic and enable passage into a state of open vulnerability and receptivity to insight.2

And so I sit and meditate to clear the mind, 
Contemplating the natural landscape in meditation

I make small intimate oil paintings in my studio depicting my essence as an ancient maple tree.
Painting Becoming a Tree #4
I play with imaginary maps and machines for processing monk-inspired text, like groups of gentle words, compassionate words,  kind and silent words, interacting with and influencing other monkish words
Scientific study of the flow and meaning of some monkish qualities in text

Closeup of a group of monk-related words in motion

I walk in the northern woods to feel the essence of nature, and prepare to move outward into the community.
A walking meditation in the snow

 Last week I installed 31 of my self-portraits on vintage family hankies at StudioPlace Arts, Second Floor Gallery in Barre, Vermont, expanding my art circle beyond  my small town of Peacham.The opening is this Saturday, January 24th 3:30-5:30, 201 North Main Street,  Barre VT 05641. Come if you are in the area.

 I printed my face on vintage family handkerchiefs, quilted them, added accents of acrylic paint, embroidery and sometimes glass beads – a form of meditative nightly lap-work.

"Day 13_Feeling Enlightened"
1. Parabola Magazine,Thinking”, volume 31, Fall 2006 p.21
2. Parabola Magazine, Thinking”, volume 31, Fall 2006 p.16

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