About a year ago, I had the pleasure of publishing an interview I did with Christine Valters Paintner, who runs the Abbey of the Arts. Christine earned her doctorate in Christian Spirituality from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and is a Registered Expressive Arts Consultant and Educator. Her way of looking at the world draws deeply from her Christian (Catholic) faith, but she has a broad appreciation of contemplative wisdom drawn from many other traditions.
Christine’s work explores the intersection between spirituality and creativity. Recently, Paintner had her fourth book published, which is entitled The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul With Monastic Wisdom. I was excited when she asked me if I’d review the book on my blog, since everything I’ve read that she has produced has been a tonic for my artist’s soul.
The Artist’s Rule is framed by Christine’s life as Benedictine oblate – that is, a person (including a layperson) who makes a commitment to the prayer life and spirituality of a particular monastery. Christine, who is married and lives in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, uses this book to introduce artists and those who aspire to live a creative life, to explore the interplay between their “inner monk” and “inner artist.”
There are 12 chapters to the book, and each is intended to be read and digested over the course of a week, so that the entire volume is with the reader for an entire season. Each chapter includes suggestions for practicing lectio divina (or reading and interacting with sacred/holy texts), engaging in contemplative practices, and engaging in process-oriented arts exercises, using mediums such as poetry, journal writing and visual arts/crafts. She also includes guided meditations in chapters on embracing one’s limitations and imperfections and envisioning one’s creative work as a vocation and act of holy service.
What I really loved about the book was the way that Christine is able to remain true to her Benedictine tradition, and explain its essentials clearly to those of us who are not from a Catholic background, and present it in such a way that any artist on a consciously spiritual journey can appreciate. I also loved the balance that the book advocates for the reader – using the seasons as a reference, she discusses why adopting a practice of engaging mindfully with the changes that come throughout a single day, season or year can be a good idea for creative people:
“In our culture of constant productivity, it can be difficult to honor these natural rhythms …. Even our art may be affected as we wonder how many books, paintings or workshops we can create…. Embracing our inner monk in part means we can perceive mental blocks and spiritual or artistic dryness as periods of uncertainty, of incubating, of trusting the seeds deep beneath the surface.”
Christine is a master at using texts from other wisdom traditions beyond Christianity to explain the point she is trying to make in each chapter. This broadens the audience that will benefit from this book considerably. It also reinforces a key element in Benedictine thinking, which is to engage the stranger (the person who is not necessarily a member of the same church or subscribes to the same philosophy as the oblate) as a person of holy worth and deserving of hospitality. I would imagine this point of view also pays dividends to the creative person exploring the exercises in The Artist’s Rule, as it may enable them to become increasingly comfortable with both themselves and others (and The Divine, if they believe) as whole entities, which cannot help but create richer, fuller, more “real” works of art.
Although the book is intended to be connected with over time, it is a wonderful bedside book to dive into for a quick bite of inspiration as well. It would be possible to enjoy reading the text, then saving the artistic explorations for another pass through the book. It’s a volume I expect to return to again and again as I continue my own spiritual/creative travels through life.