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Calm in the Chaos: A Review of “The Soul’s Slow Ripening”

In the glow of the dawn light, I gaze at the green leaves thirsty for a fresh rainfall. I notice the longing of my heart in the quiet, the peace before another overpacked, life-to-the-fullest day. This is the time of year when I tend to reminisce, when my mind wanders back to the ease of summer in my childhood: belly crawls under berry bushes to pick the plumpest fruit in the pastures, campfire singalongs, itchy bug bites, Bible stories at a country church, stacks of library books, fingernails crusted with black soil, the scent of pool chlorine.

Now in adulthood, I somehow attempt to recreate the joys of summer even while my workload weighs down my schedule and crunches out the calm. My workload and life — along with the heartache and horrors of mass shootings and injustice, climate change alarms, sorrowful mysteries and disturbing polarities every which way — has me searching for my center, for stillness, for peace in the storm. I am slowly learning, though. Adulthood is good and beautiful and messy, for it allows me to know the calm in the chaos, to see the glories of God fully alive even while grief and fear hover close, insisting on surrender — a “yes” to the both/and of being alive.

There’s a bridge from my childhood to adulthood, though: my Irish heritage and the strength it offers to my spirit. Reading “The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred” by Christine Valters Paintner has helped me to settle into contemplative calm in the chaos, too.

Valters Paintner writes, “Discernment is essentially a way of listening to our lives and the world around us and responding to the invitations that call us to deeper alignment with our soul’s deep desires and the desires God has for us.” This is a call to listen, the call to calm in the chaos, the balm when breathing seems rushed because we’re simply too busy.

In her book, Valters Paintner offers prompts for much-needed sacred listening — for discernment — based on Celtic spirituality. A reader is invited into the story of Irish saints and the wisdom of sacred scripture, to a tour of spiritual practices with their roots in Ireland. I have never visited Ireland in person, but this book has helped me to know the land of my ancestors, to imagine how they may have prayed, to feel the transformation of pilgrimage.

My Irish ancestors knew the pathways to wonder and ripening, and my soul knows the journey from chaos to calm.

The spiritual practices explored within the book are familiar and ordinary, but until I read it I was unaware of how my soul’s desires and habits may be connected to my Irish-American identity. From “the practice of dreaming” to “the practice of blessing each moment,” a reader is invited to discover which practices will allow their soul to ripen and reset, to find the calm in chaos. Encouraged by the chapter about “the practice of solitude and silence” I am reminded that I can enter into the calm of my heart without going away to a hermitage for several days (like I want to). I can simply go on a contemplative walk, and I do.

Valters Paintner entitles the prompt “Finding Dysert Moments” (“dysert” being the Irish word for hermitage). After lunch I walk around the block feeling the heat of summer, the wind, some tension in my ankle. I hear the hum of air conditioners, the vibration of cicadas and the friendly chirp of birds. I encounter a neighbor and listen to his heartache.

And I take in the wonder of bright flowers, standing bold, claiming their sacred space, time, moment. As suggested by Valters-Painter, I snap a few photos and come home and play around with the words and feelings, allowing my soul to slowly ripen the ordinary beauty, the deep knowing within my heart.

Image by Julia Walsh, Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration

In the center of the dancing flowers, in the middle of another busy day and in the storms of my heart, I find the calm. There is much joy and delight in adulthood, after all, and as I mature and move through season after season I see it: The sacred is ordinary and within reach. I don’t need the bliss of childhood to know true joy. My Irish ancestors knew the pathways to wonder and ripening, and my soul knows the journey from chaos and calm. What is required to get there is listening and intention. When I follow this pathway to calm, I can enter in. Yes, Amen.

Image by Julia Walsh, Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration

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