Tending the Moments–Guest post from Christine Valters Paintner (plus book giveaway!)

 

Christine Valters Paintner

Christine Valters Paintner

 

You have undoubtedly had an experience similar to this: you are moving through a most ordinary day, when suddenly something shifts.  Where there was drudgery and habit, suddenly you become aware of the way sunlight is spilling across the living room rug and your heart breaks open at the splendor of it all.  Or you see a loved one in a new way and revel in their beauty.  Or maybe it is as simple as savoring the steam rising from your morning coffee, like incense lifting the longings of your heart.

We move through our lives, often at such speed, that our perception of time becomes contorted.  We begin to believe that life is about rushing as fast as we can, about getting as much done as possible. We are essentially skating across life’s surface, exhausted, and disoriented.

Contemplative practice calls us to change our perspective and awaken to a different reality, one that is governed by spaciousness, slowness, stillness, and presence.  Contemplation invites us to tend the moments.

Moments are holy doorways where I am lifted out of time and I encounter the sacred in the most ordinary of acts.  Moments invite me to pause and linger because there is a different sense of time experienced.  Moments are those openings we experience, where time suddenly loses its linear march and seems to wrap us in an experience of the eternal.

Mythologist and storyteller Michael Meade says the word “moment” comes from the Latin root momentus, which means to move.  We are moved when we touch the eternal and timeless which is available to us in each moment we are fully present. 

My work in the world is to invite people into this kind of awareness, something that is available to each of us, we just need to cultivate skills and practices to tend the moments.

Art and spiritual practice are how you find this moment of eternity, or better yet, how you allow the moment to find you. We only need to make ourselves available to them, to receive them as the gifts that they are, rather than seek them out as something we are entitled to.

Call to mind a time when you were so present to the moment, to the sheer grace of things, maybe watching a child giggle with delight or your dog romp playfully in a field.  And then perhaps, the thoughts broke in. The ones which seem to wield only criticism and dissatisfaction.  Maybe you remember the items still languishing on your “to do” list back at home and you felt an anxious dread. Contemplative practice cultivates our awareness of this pattern, so that we might be able to change it. So that when moments come to visit us, we find ourselves savoring and basking in wonder rather than reaching for what is next.

Contemplative practice also cultivates our profound awareness of life as an unending stream of gifts, and from this arises the impulse to create.  When we open ourselves to the sheer grace of things, we tap into a source of inspiration.  We feel moved to create something out of that gratitude.

For me, photography and writing are the ways I feel most often moved to respond to the generosity of life. Try this next time you feel overcome by beauty – pause there as long as you can without moving to do something else or complete another task.  And then, when there is a sense of fullness or completion, pick up a camera or a pen, and allow them to become the tools to honor what you have experienced and your expression of deep gratitude. Rather than “capturing” the encounter, let this be a prayer, so that slowly over time you might find yourself in an unending litany of praise.

Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice

Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, is the online Abbess at Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery and community for contemplative practice and creative expression.  She is the author of 7 books on art and monasticism, including her latest, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice (Ave Maria Press). Christine currently lives out her commitment as a monk in the world with her husband in Galway, Ireland.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thank you Christine!

The publisher has provided a copy of Christine’s book, Eyes of the Heart, as a giveaway to one of you! Leave a comment by Wednesday, May 22, 9 pm (est) to be included in the drawing. Please leave info for contacting you.

Interview with poet/musician Andrew Kreider (Plus chapbook give-away!)

Andrew Kreider and I met at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Elkhart, Ind.) in the mid-1990s. He was the student book store manager and, according to Andrew, I walked into the bookstore and we started talking of our mutual enthusiasm for Canadian singer, Bruce Cockburn. We’ve been buddies ever since.

Andrew was born and raised in London, England and  has lived in Elkhart, Indiana, since 1992.  He is married to the lovely Katie, with three children.  He is member of band The Minor Profits (http://www.reverbnation.com/theminorprofits) and he is a performer and poet – www.andrewkreider.com and poetry blog http://thepenguinpoet.blogspot.com

He kindly agreed to be interviewed for my blog, reflecting on poetry, humor, and the call to the creative life. He recently published the chapbook, answers like socks that includes a cd of Andrew reading the poems. I am offering a free copy to one lucky commenter (see below).

 When did you write your first poem? Can you share it with us?

Like many people, I wrote poetry as a school student.  I don’t have any of those early masterpieces any more.  I do, however, remember a line from a poem about “Autumn” I wrote for an English class when I was thirteen or so: “leaves squashed by Dunlop tyre” (note the English spelling!).  My teacher chose to put that poem on the board in the hallway, and I took a lot of ribbing about that inspired phrase.  That was pretty much it for my poetic career at that age.  Oh, the humiliation of it all. I think it’s experiences like that that make many of us give up creative work in high school – embarrassment, peer pressure, lack of subject material…

Really, it was only in my thirties that I was finally able to say out loud, “I am a poet,” and to begin to attend to the words rattling around in my chest.  I realized that I see the world with a poet’s eye – image, allusion, rhythm and color – all these are more important to me than straight lines or correct information.  Poetry is a wonderfully flexible medium for right-brained people!

Do you have a process or ritual when you write a poem?  And, is your process different for songwriting?

I love to write within a structure.  To have some form of limitation on my choice and volume of words.  For this reason, I often choose to follow a particular poetic form (sonnet, kyrielle, limerick, or whatever), or at the least to write lines of a set number of syllables.  Having to limit my words makes me much more careful about the words I choose, what I’m trying to say, and how I say it.  This is a lesson I learned back when I was a preacher – that often in a sermon, less is more.  Same with many forms of communication, including poetry.

I also have become a student of other writers, and try to copy their approaches.  There is so much to be learned from others!  This is true as a poet, and also as a songwriter.  One exercise I do regularly is to take a famous song, analyze its structure, and then write a new song following the same pattern.  It’s amazing to me how you can take the same structure and come up with something entirely different from the original, in sound, feel, mood.  For example, I’m not sure how Bill Withers would feel about it, but I have a modern-day classic just waiting to be discovered titled: “Doctor Love” which is based firmly on “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.”  Fans of the band I play in, the Minor Profits have endured this song many times by now.

Many of your poems have humor—or bemusement—on them. Is this intentional or just a reflection of your worldview?  

I believe in the power of small things.  I love to take tiny moments, or single elements, and then set them free to see where they want to go.  This is especially true in my longer pieces.  I am developing a whole show of monologues – funny pieces based on things that have happened to me.  For whatever reason, I seem to run into a lot of crazy situations, and they make a great jumping-off point for monologues that are (mostly) true.  There’s a genre of writing called “faction” (fact/fiction) – and I think that’s where I thrive, enriching true events for the purpose of entertainment!  You must know, though, that any stories I tell about my childhood are completely accurate – especially the one about practicing driving with my mother.

(Here’s Andrew reading, “Coming through in the clutch”)

http://youtu.be/ksONmcuubng

I do love to laugh, and to make others laugh, too.  My live performances have probably seventy five percent funny material, with just a few serious pieces thrown into the mix.  The contrast helps the serious pieces make an impact, without overwhelming the audience with the weight of the world.  Over the years I have come to the conclusion that most audiences want to laugh more than cry.  So… I meet them on common ground and then once we’re laughing, I say: “Here’s a more serious one – see what you think.”

You transitioned from full-time pastoring to pursue family time and creative pursuits. Can you tell us about this decision and how you discerned these “calls”?

Three years ago, my wife began medical school.  This was a huge shift in our family life – and there was no way I could carry on being a pastor without chaos ensuing at home.  It was a good time for me to move on, both for me and for the congregation – a wonderful group of people who have gone upwards and onwards with excellent new leadership.  Leaving the pastorate has allowed me to say, and do, things I never could have gotten away with as a minister.  As a preacher, I loved to dig into stories and let people find themselves in the details – I think this has carried over into my writing, but now I have even more latitude because the answer doesn’t always have to be “Jesus” (although that’s a fairly good answer in many cases, just not in stories about getting stuck in an elevator, or then again… but I digress).  Poetry allows the writer and reader to walk into the mist without insisting on a particular destination.  And I love that.

 Have you been able to find more time for creativity?

These days, I consider myself a quarter-time writer and performer.  I try to write every day, and perform regularly as a musician and a poet.  I am also relishing new connections in local community theater, onstage and behind the scenes.  Some spiritual guides counsel us to find a “rule of life” –  for me, creative work has become that life-giving rule: writing, blogging, rehearsing, performing.

 Do you have any wisdom and insights to offer others who want to seriously write poetry?

Read lots.  And write.  Write every day.  Make connections with other poets online or in person.  There are many wonderful communities of poets on the internet, and almost without exception people are very encouraging of each other in those places.  As time goes by, learn about poetic forms and practice writing in them.  Try lots of different angles.  And all the time, keep one ear tuned for your own voice.  Learn to recognize the moments when you have something special to say – the poems that no one else will or can write.  Turns out, my voice is often kind of crazy –it laughs a lot and loves to make people look at things in new ways.

Robert C. Dykstra wrote a book titled Discovering a Sermon.  There was one passage in that book that made a huge impact on me.  Basically, his point was that if you are listening to someone and you are becoming bored, this is an indication that the person speaking is not fully comfortable in themselves.   They are trying to be something they are not, trying to look right, trying to impress, but it’s not working for either of you.  This is a challenge to me with every performance and every piece I write – to be at peace with myself, to be authentic, and NOT to be boring!

Thank you Andrew!

To receive a free copy of Andrew’s recent chapbook, answers like socks, (including a cd of Andrew reading the poems!) please leave a comment. I will randomly choose a winner Friday, April 27, 5:00 p.m. (eastern time).