The following is an excerpt from The Soul’s Slow Ripening by Christine Valters Paintner. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers. Join Christine and friends for Virtual Celtic Pilgrimage: The Wisdom of the Irish Saints Brigid, Ciaran, & Gobnait!
The ancient Christian monastic traditions, especially desert, Celtic, and Benedictine, offer great wisdom for the journey of unfolding. They understood that the soul’s ripening is never to be rushed and takes a lifetime of work. The gift of the contemplative path is a profound honoring of the grace of slowness.
We can grow impatient when life doesn’t offer us instant insights or gratification. We call on the wisdom of these monks to accompany us, to teach us what it means to honor the beauty of waiting and attending and witnessing what it is that wants to emerge, rather than what our rational minds want to make happen. The soul always offers us more richness than we can imagine, if we only make space and listen.
In 2007 my husband John and I traveled to Ireland and I began to fall in love with the path of Irish monasticism. I discovered stories and a way of moving through the world that felt more spiral and less linear, more organic and less structured. The early period of Irish monasticism is quite unique in that it was less influenced by the Roman church and desire for uniformity of practice. The Irish monks integrated Christian teachings with the Druidic wisdom of their ancestors and created a spirituality that was much more earth-honoring and indigenous to the place they lived.
We have found in Ireland an even richer immersion in Irish culture and ways of being in the world, which are decidedly less controlled, structured, and planned than the American ways we are used to. We have learned to embrace an Irish understanding of time with more fluidity. This is challenging at times, but ultimately invites us into a way of being that is more relaxed and spontaneous. Even the lack of street signs invites us sometimes to get lost and disoriented and find our way anew.
Discernment is essentially a way of listening to our lives and the world around us and responding to the invitations that call us into deeper alignment with our soul’s deep desires and the desires God has for us. When I work in spiritual direction, often people come at a time of discernment and transition. They have been thrust onto a threshold, often not of their own choosing, such as loss of a job or relationship. But sometimes it is born of a sense of needing a change.
Sometimes they are seeking a clear answer, they want to know the path God is calling them to, as if we had to figure out the one right thing. My sense is that God is much more expansive than this, and calls us to what is most life-giving, but this might take several forms, many opportunities and possibilities. Often directees want to know their life’s call, but more often than not, we can only discern what is appropriate for this particular season of our lives.
Through this journey of the last several years, I have come to embrace words like ripening, organic, yielding, and unfolding as ways of understanding how my soul moves in a holy direction. There hopefully comes a time in our lives when we have to admit that our own plans for our lives are not nearly as interesting as how our lives long to unfold. That these plans are as the poet David Whyte writes “too small for me to live.” That when we follow the threads of synchronicity, dreams, and serendipity we are led to a life that is rich and honoring of our soul’s rhythms, which I have discovered is a slow ripening rather than a fast track to discernment.
The rhythms of the seasons play a significant role in my own discernment. Honoring the flowering of spring and the fruitfulness of summer, alongside the release of autumn and the stillness of winter, cultivates a way of being in the world that feels deeply reverential of my body and soul’s own natural cycles. We live in a culture that glorifies spring and summer energies, but autumn and winter are just as essential for rhythms of release, rest, and incubation. When we allow the soul’s slow ripening, we honor that we need to come into the fullness of our own sweetness before we pluck the fruit. This takes time and patience.
The Irish tradition is deeply rooted in the landscape and the seasonal rhythms of the year. The year begins in November, as we descend into the womb of darkness. It honors wandering “for the sake of Christ” where a person may take years of journeys before settling into the “place of their resurrection.” Another significant practice is walking the rounds at holy sites. Instead of a linear path straight to blessing oneself at a well, first one must walk the rounds in a “sunwise” direction, in harmony with cosmic forces. Walking the rounds helps us to arrive, to ask permission to be there, and to slowly receive the gifts that come. Dreams show up again and again in the stories of the Irish monks as guidance for the path ahead.
The ancient Christian monastic traditions, especially desert, Celtic, and Benedictine, offer great wisdom for this journey of unfolding. They understood that the soul’s ripening is never to be rushed and takes a lifetime of work.
Praise for The Soul’s Slow Ripening
“What a delight to encounter this rich, multi-layered text in which we are given practices informed by Celtic spirituality and the lives of the Celtic saints. Meant for savoring, this book invites us to remember insights treasured by Celtic Christians, and to incorporate those ways of praying into daily life.”
—Mary C. Earle, Author of Celtic Christian Spirituality: Essential Writings and Holy Companions: Spiritual Practices from the Celtic Saints
“Christine Valters Paintner has written another excellent book for spiritual seekers desiring insight, encouragement, and inspiration on their spiritual paths. In The Soul’s Slow Ripening, she provides readers a series of practices inspired by the Irish traditions that will help readers, as she says, live into ‘new ways of being’ by pursuing such helpful practices as working with dreams, going on pilgrimages, having a soul friend, and seeking solitude. I cannot recommend enough this practical guide to soul-making.”
—Edward C. Sellner, Author of Wisdom of the Celtic Saints
“Celtic Spirituality is an embodied spirituality—a path of poetry, creativity, and intuition. Christine Valters Paintner guides the wisdom of the Celts straight into the heart with her wonderful mix of stories and practices. The Soul’s Slow Ripening shows us the way to walk this ancient path today.”
—Carl McColman, Author of Befriending Silence
“The Soul’s Slow Ripening is a threshold experience you didn’t know your soul was longing for. But then, you crack the cover, turn the pages, and watch in wonder as Christine Valters Paintner takes you gently by the hand and invites you to walk in, and through, and around twelve heart-expanding Celtic practices. Along the way, you realize that you, too, have a wild and sacred Celtic heart.”
—Janet Conner, Host of The Soul-Directed Life and author of Find Your Soul’s Purpose
About the Author
Christine Valters Paintner is the online abbess for Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery offering classes and resources on contemplative practice and creative expression. She earned a doctorate in Christian spirituality from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and achieved professional status as a registered expressive arts consultant and educator from the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association. She is also trained as a spiritual director and supervisor. Paintner is the author of seventeen books on monasticism and creativity, including Sacred Time; Earth, Our Original Monastery; The Soul’s Slow Ripening; Water, Wind, Earth, and Fire; The Artist’s Rule; The Soul of a Pilgrim; Illuminating the Way; The Wisdom of the Body; and two collections of poetry. She is a Benedictine oblate living in Galway, Ireland, with her husband, John.