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Joan Chittister Writer-in-Residence

Joan Chittister Writer-in-Residence Sarah Joy Gaines

Sarah Joy Gaines, the first 2024 Joan Chittister Writer-in-Residence, spent the month of April living at the monastery and working on a proposal for a book about reclaiming the sacredness of the body. The proposal is also the culmination of her work on a Master's in Women, Gender, Spirituality, and Social Justice. “The book is the product of my graduate studies, inspired by my decade of experience in the wellness industry and my journey of healing my relationship with my body. We live in a world that teaches us to focus on how our bodies look — that our physical appearance is what gives us value. Along the way, we lose sight of the power and wisdom of our bodies. We forget that the body is divine itself. The book intends to guide people to reconnect with that sacred essence, innate within us all,” she said.

Originally from Florida, Sarah now resides in Brooklyn, New York, where she has dedicated herself to helping others come to know the "miraculous wonder that is our human body." She does this through a blend of yoga, somatic release, and ecstatic dance that she developed herself and calls joyflow® and that she offers at a studio in Manhattan as well as online and at workshops, festivals, and other gatherings.

While she lived at the monastery, Sarah offered a joyflow® experience for sisters and guests. She explained to them that "joyflow® is a movement practice for reclaiming the sacredness of the body, of learning that we can move our bodies in a certain way or breathe in a certain way or make noises that allow us to shift and ground our energy and ultimately create a space for our own unique expression to flow." The energy in the room shifted as Sarah led the circle through breath movements to noise making, then shaking, and full-body movement or dance. It didn't matter if one was seated or standing, bodies moved, breath flowed, and laughter and joy did fill the room. "It was one of my best experiences leading joyflow ever," Sarah said afterwards. One of the beauties of the practice is that it can accommodate any body and any level of ability as was easily demonstrated with the wide range of abilities and bodies at the monastery gathering.

As writer-in-residence, Sarah spent her days researching, thinking and processing, and writing. Living at the monastery gives the writer an abundance of variety in reflection and work spaces, including the library, chapel, back patio, and community room as well as the possibility of long walks in the woods or to the lakefront. “Having a month away from my usual environment, immersed in the slowness and structure of life at the monastery — not to mention the support and encouragement from the sisters! — gave me the space and peace of mind to complete my book proposal with ease. I loved every minute of it,” Sarah said.

Sister Carolyn Gorny-Kopkowski spoke with Sarah in her latest podcast. Listen to their conversation here.

A characteristic of a monastery is a well-defined horarium that includes time for prayer, meals, and work. Sarah chose to follow the horarium, joining the community for prayer and meals. The opportunity to be enriched by longer-term guests like Sarah is a gift to the community of monastic hospitality.

To learn more about joyflow®, visit Sarah's website. Sarah offers an on-demand digital library of her joyflow® experience.

When offering joyflow® at festivals, Sarah experienced the use of glitter to enhance the feeling of joy and celebration. However, realizing that traditional glitter is made of plastic, she looked for an alternative and found cellulose-based glitter which she now makes available under the trademark of joydust®. Check out her joydust® website.

The Joan Chittister Writer-in-Residence program offers writers working on a project related to themes of feminism, justice, monasticism, spirituality, or religion a funded, month-long opportunity to live at Mount Saint Benedict Monastery and work on a piece of writing that is relevant to the work and legacy of Sister Joan Chittister. Poetry, doctoral dissertations, essays, masters theses, and short story collections are all among the acceptable forms of writing projects. The 2024 program is full. Sign up to receive the Vision and Viewpoint enewsletter if you want to receive notice when 2025 applications open.