Everyday Revelations

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   January 17, 2021

Every year it’s the same. I ache with the expectant longing of the Advent Scriptures. I delight in the Christmas narratives with images of Emmanuel choosing to fully inhabit our human condition and become God-with-us. And then, in January, the Magi arrive.

Although we know few details about these ones we call “wise,” Matthew tells us (Matthew 2:1-12) that they came from “the East” and that they carried gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We assume they had an advanced knowledge of astronomy, since they “saw his star at its rising” and they followed that star “until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.”

But it’s their very appearance in the Christmas narrative that unleashes uneasy anticipation in me, because I’ve heard this story many times and the ending remains the same. After beginning their journey with honest and pure intentions, the Magi entered into their pilgrimage not fully understanding but drawn by a deep, mysterious longing. Directed in a dream not to make a return visit to Herod but instead to depart for their country by another way, these wise ones unintentionally set in motion tragic consequences. Their decision to circumvent Herod was the tipping point for the madness of a crazed despot. Terrified of being dethroned by a toddler, he ordered the snatching of other toddlers out of the arms of their powerless, wailing mothers in a scene of unimaginable slaughter.

Thomas Galler, Unsplash

So every year at the end of the Christmas season, there’s a sense of dissonance as we move from the relative calm and adoration of “Silent Night” to the sounds of Rachel rocking back and forth in utter desolation, keening and refusing to be comforted because her children are no more. The crèche and the bloody cobblestones, back-to-back. Bethlehem and Ramah, back-to-back. How are we to make sense of this contrasting placement, or are we?

We call the story of the Magi the Epiphany, the manifestation. So what might be being revealed here? The mystery of human suffering, certainly, and one beyond our ability to comprehend or explain. The welcome and inclusion God offers to all people, yes.  But could all of these events also be the Holy One’s leading us to an enduring truth: that, no matter what is happening, we are being accompanied at all times by the Divine. The Holy One is with us when we leap in delight, joy, and play, as well as in those moments when we’re brought to our knees crippled by pain, howling in rage, rendered mute by inconsolable loss.

God holding in tender arms the families whose loved ones have been brutally taken away by COVID-19. God rejoicing in the collaborative coming together of the scientific community to create a vaccine. God with us lamenting the violence that destroyed life and property last week at the U.S. Capitol. God with us applauding the swell of citizens gathering courage to voice their vote, to lead with compassion, to form a more perfect union.

In this imperfect world that so longs for wholeness and healing, the Epiphany manifests the simple truth that God is here, that God welcomes and accompanies. May we be blessed in this revealing.

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
You may find it helpful to gaze on images of both compassionate care and social sin in our world.
Name how light and shadow are reflected in what you see.
Ask the Holy One to bless your efforts to grow in spaciousness of heart as a person of peace.

Featured image: Inbal Malka, Unsplash

NOTE:
This coming week I was scheduled to be in Ocean City, Maryland, praying and reflecting with a women’s group. That experience has been canceled because of COVID precautions, but I ask you to hold in prayer all who would have participated.

Please remember in your prayer all who will be part of a directed retreat weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA, January 29-31. I will be one of the directors for this retreat. Thank you.

Please join me also in praying for a peaceful transfer of power with the inauguration of President Biden and Vice-President Harris and for the healing of the soul of the United States, as we pray also for a deepening of compassion throughout our beautiful yet wounded world.

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Good Company in Every Year

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM     January 1, 2021

The calendar reminds me that ten years have been counted off since I moved into my apartment, this place that I call “the womb” because it offers sacred space, a space that’s generative, contemplative, inspiring for me and hopefully, for our world. One might think that in ten years I’ve observed and learned quite a bit from interacting with my neighbors. Yet it’s taken this past year of living through the pandemic in lockdown, when I’ve largely stayed at home and worked virtually from home, that my neighbors and I really came to know one another.

I’m talking here not about people but about what we’d most probably name as objects, the seemingly inanimate things around us. These days I’m living with an intuitive knowing that in some primal way, soul remains in these neighbors. Soul, the life force of plants and animals. Soul, the creative energies and spirit of artists, inventors, craftpersons who have contributed to the creation of “things.” The cervical pillow that cradles my neck as I close my eyes at night. The electric blanket that warms and welcomes my ever-cold feet as I push them down to the bottom of the bed. I’m in conversation with the tea kettle that screeches in increasing decibels as I run from my office at one end into the kitchen at the other end where it waits for me. I can’t find words enough to convey my gratitude to the hot water that soothes me in the shower, or the cushions on the easy chair that embrace me, or the aging laptop that still springs into alertness at the push of a button.

Debby Hudson ahDojo, Unsplash

Every day of this pandemic year—and for all of my years, actually–I’ve been surrounded by such thoughtful neighbors. Yet I confess I’ve not always remarked on their faithful presence in my life, I’ve not always paused to thank them for their consideration, their quiet concern, their standing by at the ready.

So when I began to write the reflection today that I expected to be about the new year, these very neighbors intervened. “What about us?” protested the ottoman and the frying pan. “Share our story!” begged the hand mixer, the silverware resting in its drawer, the beloved oven, the busy desk. The clamor was deafening, so I cast aside my original plans and listened to the voices of collective wisdom. Perhaps you can hear them also.

Reading this, you may wonder if living in a pandemic has muddled my brain (it has). But please don’t conclude that my worldview is in any way shrinking. Quite the opposite! I believe that when we grow in awareness of the soul of any thing that has been touched by spirit, our universe expands. When we sense how our surroundings converge to nurture, protect, and support us, the only way forward is fuller gratitude. The only path ahead must be wonder and awe. The only response is living in profound appreciation for the collective soul and the quiet love Pat Schneider describes in “The Patience of Ordinary Things”: 

Ryan Riggins, Unsplash

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
In whatever space you may be, gaze contemplatively at your surroundings.
Let your eyes linger on any for whom you feel a particular affection.
Thank them, and thank the Holy One for the gift of such neighbors.
Treat these neighbors with thoughtful care today.

Featured image:  John Mark Smith, Unsplash

NOTE:
As we leave 2020 behind, we move forward holding in our hearts and in our prayer the many for whom this year has been marked by loss on many levels: the death of precious loved ones, the termination of employment, the curtailment of movement and interactions, the sense of safety and security. Still, we can be grateful because we move forward also with the memory of heroic care, extravagant kindness, moments of beauty, love in all its many splendid forms.

May the year to come be filled with the blessings of peace, hope, and good health for you and for our beautiful yet wounded world.

Blessings of the New Year, and thank you for following Mining the Now into 2021.

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Becoming the Manger

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM December 20, 2020

 “While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:6-7

Each year as the Advent season approaches, we listen to and enter into the Advent Scriptures and songs from the place where we stand, the place of our consciousness and awareness. Sometimes, we notice the ribbons of exuberant joy and expectation threading through the readings. Depending on what’s unfolding in our lives, we may be moved by the urgings to enter into deep inner soul work and change our patterns of thought or behavior. We may also be among those who have been numbed by despair in the disappearance of our jobs and our ability to provide for our loved ones, in the deep-seated divisions in our country, or in the now empty places at our tables. We may find it challenging to believe that the season of Advent has anything to offer us, anything meaningful to say to us.

At this moment, the daily headlines trumpet an alarming increase in the number of COVID-19 positive test results, the tally of hospitalizations, and the excruciating figure that lists those whose lives have been lost to this pandemic. Doctors, nurses, and infectious disease specialists raise the alarm that we are reaching hospital capacity, that there is no more room to accept the desperately ill.

Each time that very real fear is raised, I keep returning to the Nativity story where, over and over, Mary and Joseph were turned away by that same message, “There is no room.” We have no space. We have no resources. Look elsewhere.

Greyson Joralemon, Unsplash

Perhaps this Advent, the invitation before us is the creative response born of desperate circumstances that Mary and Joseph took: they laid Jesus in a manger. Let’s entertain no illusions. That manger had no porcelain figurines set up inside a warm, cozy home. That manger was a trough or open box designed to hold fodder for livestock. It was prickly with hay. It smelled. It was messy and cold. But it was there, and it was available and open.

Could the invitation of this Advent be all about something as earthy and simple as becoming the manger? Embodying a spirit of welcome and spaciousness of heart. Offering a soft space for the healing of wounds—our own and others’. Emptying ourselves of clutter and the rush of activity, so that we’re fully available. Making room for the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us, in whatever form the Holy One appears.

Dieter K, Unsplash

This season and always, may we witness to the root of the word, manger: Old French, mangier, to eat; Latin, mandere, to chew. May all who come to the manger of our hearts find nourishment and refreshment. May they be fed by our compassion, our hospitality, our presence. May Jesus, the Holy One of God born into our human condition, be welcomed into whatever manger we find ourselves able to offer this season.

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Imagine your heart as a welcoming space.
Pray that it may be so for Emmanuel, now incarnate and sharing our human condition.
Pray that this welcoming space may open to all people who come into your consciousness.
Bless and give thanks for the manger you continue to become.

NOTE:
This reflection, “Becoming the Manger,” was originally written for my IHM Congregation’s December newsletter, and it also informed several Advent virtual retreats I offered this month. I hope it continues to have something to say for followers of my blog.

Thank you for your prayer for all who were part of a virtual Advent Evening of Prayer for the Cornerstone Women’s Group of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, Ridgewood, NJ. Over 50 women participated! Special thanks to Nan Charters, Rose Sullivan, and Kristin Halvey who organized the evening and provided the Zoom wizardry that made our time together flow so smoothly. What a joy it was for me personally to once again have the grace of praying and reflecting and sharing the wisdom of this amazing gathering of cherished friends. You are all in my heart and prayer!

Unfortunately, the Directed Prayer Weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth in Wernersville, PA was canceled out of an abundance of caution. Please remember all who would have been present for these days.

May you and all those you love experience peace and continued good health as you celebrate Christmas and the New Year. I’m ever grateful to be going into 2021 in the graced company of those who follow Mining the Now. Merry Christmas!

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Outsiders Welcome

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM     December 6, 2020

Even after all these years, I’m still enchanted by Nativity scenes. When I was a child, my family had one, probably a standard set from a religious articles store. I cherished the ritual of setting it up and then playing with the figures for days afterwards. I remember the elaborate setting of the almost life-sized Nativity in our parish church, how the Infant was reverently carried up the center aisle to find his place in the manger at Midnight Mass. I gazed at those silent figures both at home, in church, and in outside scenes in our neighborhood many times, wondering what they were thinking. There was something comforting and reassuring in gazing at faces that looked as if they could have been my relatives.

Only many years later did I realize that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph most probably didn’t have my German/Scots Irish features. That the Holy Family might not quite have fit in in my suburban neighborhood. That God is not limited to a certain appearance, language, or skin tone. That the Holy One is so much bigger than my childhood imagination–and my limited adult imagination. That God wears many faces in our world and that our call is to recognize and welcome every one of them.

My Nativity set from Mexico

And that Christmas shows that the ways of God are often the opposite of what we might predict, that they seem inside out according to the measuring stick our culture uses as a standard of importance. In writing of the Nativity scene in “Inside Out?”, Peter Trow notes that the shepherds come from outside the city, spending their nights vulnerable with their flocks. Mary and Joseph come, Galilean outsiders with no reservations, and they’re refused room–because they’re poor? because they speak with strange accents? Jesus comes, born an outsider, living with outsiders, teaching and healing outsiders, even dying as an outsider outside the city.

And then I come, perhaps carrying my own experiences of being an outsider, of not always finding room in the heart of another or of struggling to hide my limitations for fear I might be less welcomed and accepted. And then we come, born into a world that is beautiful, yes, but also a world wounded, a world fragmented by division and longing for wholeness.

The Nativity scene will be set up for several more weeks. Long before it’s packed away for the next Christmas, Howard Thurman calls us to do the deep inner soul work of this season:

“When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among the people,
To make music in the heart.”

Kira auf der heide, Unsplash

May we embody this work of Christmas. May we prepare a place of welcome, a home for Emmanuel, God-with-us, the one who brings outsiders in and names them as welcome guests. And may this holy work begin right here, right now, in our place and time. Advent blessings!

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
If you have a Nativity scene set up, gaze at it.
Reflect on the outsider status of the Nativity characters
and on what is lost, broken, imprisoned or in need of music in our hearts and in our world today.
Ask the Holy One to grow your spaciousness of heart.

Featured image: Jon Tyson, Unsplash

NOTE:
Thank you for your prayer for all who were part of the virtual day-long Advent retreat I led through St. Cyril Spiritual Center, Danville, on December 5. Special thanks to Sisters Jean Marie Holup, Michael Ann Orlik, and Susan Pontz for giving graciously of their time and gifts to bring the day together.

Now may I ask you to hold in prayer all who will be part of 2 upcoming events:

December 9, Virtual Advent Evening for the Cornerstone Women’s Group, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, Ridgewood, NJ

December 11-13, Directed Retreat Weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA (in person). I’ll be one of the guest directors for this retreat. Thank you.

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Standing Our Thanks

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    November 22, 2020

It’s not only a difference in the verb–saying, praying, giving, or offering our thanks—but a difference of purpose. This Thanksgiving my family, like so many others, will be standing our thanks. Though our hearts are longing to gather at the site that became my parents’ home in their final years, this year my sisters, brothers, relatives, friends and I will all be standing apart, staying in our respective houses, condos, or apartments for the holiday.

We may attempt to replicate the recipe for Mom’s spoonbread or Grandma’s sausage stuffing wherever we are. We may decorate our own tables, trying to rival the inspiration and artistry my sister always brought to that task. We may try to carve a turkey with the expertise and sure hand of my brother-in-law. We may compose a personal, creative Grace before Meals like the one I usually offered as we gathered. But the day will not be the same. And that’s exactly the point, isn’t it?

Priscilla DuPreez, Unsplash

As we look around our tables wherever we are, we’ll be missing the usual physical closeness to familiar beloved faces. We’ll be standing our thanks, standing in our gratitude miles away—for some of us, states away–from family and friends. And that will be the profound act of love we offer one another this Thanksgiving holiday.

We range in age from twelve months to wisdom years. We have our share of elders, though I still can’t believe I’m considered one of them. We count among our relatives precious loved ones with compromised health issues. So for us, the decision was straightforward: we simply have chosen not to take the chance that COVID-19 might be an invisible, uninvited guest at the table.

I ache every time I realize that I haven’t seen any of these beloved ones since Christmas 2019. Christmas! And I miss them, miss them more and more as I try to hold them tightly while the calendar turns.

As we deliberately keep our distance from one another, we’ll be saying, in effect,
I love you, I care for you, I long to sit down beside you at the Thanksgiving table.
I long to hear your stories or laugh over the latest exploits of the little ones.
I long to enjoy those once-a-year side dishes rich with tradition and full of memories.
I long to catch your eye and see you smile across the table.
Read my absence as a sign that I hope to be sitting beside you for many Thanksgivings to come.

Pro Church Media, Unsplash

Wherever and however we may celebrate the holiday in 2020, may we be safe, may we and our loved ones stay well, may our list of reasons to give thanks grow longer and deeper.

Know that you are ever in my grateful heart as you follow Mining the Now.
Thank you, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Spend time holding in your heart your own personal litany of gratitude.
Savor and name the gifts for which you’re most grateful.
Tell the Holy One why you especially cherish these.
Offer a profound bow of reverence and gratitude.

Featured Image: Christo Doulou, Unsplash

NOTE:
Please hold in your prayer those who will be part of an all-day virtual retreat, “Entering the Advent Rhythms,” I’ll be offering through St. Cyril Spiritual Center, Danville, PA, on December 5. Thank you.

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Signing On to a More Loving World

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    November 8, 2020

Sometimes we scribble it without thought; sometimes, with careful deliberation. Sometimes, from a hesitant hand; sometimes, as a bold, emphatic statement. Though there are many ways we can sign our name, all of them are consequential.

Not long ago, I signed my name to my mail-in ballot, blessed it, and then dropped it off in a ballot collection box. Like so many of us, I was mindful of the significance of that gesture. In the days leading up to national elections in the U.S., I lived with awareness of the implications of voting and sought out many practices to nurture calm and a sense of hope. Breathprayer, a long-time daily practice, became an anchor for my own peace of heart. On Election Day itself, I silenced the TV and social media during the day. I signed on to the company of others who shared my desire for inclusion and welcome: a Prayer Vigil on Zoom offered by Shalem Institute; a prayer service with my IHM Sisters, Associates, and friends who gathered remotely wherever we were at 1:00 pm to enter into an intentional coming together for the common good. Perhaps you were able to join in the wave of prayer with people of good will from across the globe, all of us spending the day leaning into contemplative prayer.

And I did one other thing to sustain my hope. I searched for a story that might speak to the promise of which the human family is capable, even in—and perhaps especially in—times of crisis and division. Justin Turner met my search with a story about Chiune Sugihara, who was new to me. Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania at the time the Nazis began to round up Jews for deportation to death camps. His wife, Yukiko, is credited with suggesting to him a plan that would save the lives of their Jewish neighbors although also placing their own lives at risk.

The plan: to sign and issue travel visas to Jews. After attempting three times to receive permission from the Japanese Foreign Ministry to lawfully grant visas, and after being turned down three times, Sugihara began to grant visas against direct orders. Mindful of the Nazi presence closing in, he hand-signed visas 18 hours a day. According to witnesses, on the very day his consulate closed and he had to evacuate, he was still writing visas and throwing them out the window of the train as it pulled away. It’s estimated that the Sugiharas saved between 6,000 – 10,000 Lithuanian and Polish Jewish people by this single courageous act of resistance: signing unlawful travel visas.

The power of a signature

A year before he died in 1985, Sugihara was honored as Righteous Among the Nations and he and his descendants were granted permanent Israeli citizenship. Even with those honors, he died in near obscurity in Japan, leaving his neighbors shocked when people from around the world showed up at the funeral for this quiet, unassuming man.

Years later, in 1998, Sugihara’s widow, Yukiko, traveled to Jerusalem. There she was met over and over by tearful survivors of the Holocaust. Each of the survivors clutched in their hands a paper that held the difference between life and death: a yellowing travel visa bearing the signature of Chiune Sugihara.

Most probably none of us will ever need to sign our name at the risk of our lives as the Sugiharas did. But we are called to sign on to invest our lives in a more loving world:
whenever we parent a child into attitudes of service and kindness;
whenever we sit with a friend weeping heartbreak and disappointment;
whenever we exercise our right to vote in an election;
whenever we listen to a lonely neighbor tell the same story over and over;
whenever we add our signature to petitions supporting the needs of the most vulnerable among us;
whenever we hold a steaming cup of coffee or tea and breathe our morning prayer for the healing of our planet.

We thank you, Yukiko and Chiune, for your bold witness. We thank you in the name of all the neighbors for whom your signature made possible the promise of life and more life.

Remind us, please, to notice this day: 
Where are we being invited to sign our name with courage and compassion for a more just and loving world?

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Rest your hands on your lap, gaze at them, and bless them.
Savor the power that is yours to create, with God’s grace, a better future.
Ask the Holy One to grow your awareness of where you need to “sign” your name today.

Featured image: G Jao, Unsplash

NOTE:
On November 8, please hold in your prayer a gathering of my IHM Sisters, Associates and friends. We are hosting a tree planting ritual to commemorate the planting of 175 trees in honor of the 175th anniversary of our founding as Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In this ritual, we’re welcoming our neighbors of the tree and branch and bud families who have joined our Welcoming Space in Scranton during this anniversary year.

Please also remember all who would have been part of a professional day for spiritual directors I was scheduled to lead on November 12 at the Franciscan Spiritual Center, Aston, PA. That day has been re-scheduled to March 12, 2021.

And of course we continue to pray for hope and healing for these United States, as well as for our neighbors throughout our beautiful yet wounded world.

Looking ahead, you may be interested in these two Advent events I’ll be leading:

December 5, 10:00 – 3:00, a virtual retreat day on Zoom, “Entering the Rhythms of Advent” hosted by St. Cyril Spiritual Center, Danville, PA,  (570) 275-3581, https://sscm.org/spirituality/spiritual-center-retreats/2020-retreat-and-spiritual-presenters/

December 11-13, Directed Prayer Weekend, Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA. I’ll be one of the guest directors for this weekend. http://www.jesuitcenter.org/

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The Vibrations Remain

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   October 25, 2020

Just one more time. If we could only see a beloved face or hear a tender and familiar voice calling our name. Just one more time.

Here in the Northeast, as we’re approaching the somber days of November, we see orange, red, and gold leaves abandoning their homes and fluttering to the ground. Colors that remain are muted now. Green and growth give way to a season of decay and death. All around us in the northern hemisphere, the natural world speaks of letting go of the life that once was.

The stage is set to usher us into those quiet days of remembrance, All Saints and All Souls, when we celebrate precious lives but also grieve their disappearance from our view. We’ve most probably all lost someone dear to us. Perhaps we continue to grieve their death in new and sometimes raw ways.  And what we wouldn’t give to hear a loved voice, long silenced, call to us once again.

Jordhan Madec, Unsplash

John Bull and later Annie Reneau both tell a story that speaks to our personal and collective longing for “just one more time.” They note that, in the Underground system in London, there are many announcements a traveler hears, automated instructions and various recordings. Among those announcements is a voice that warns, “Mind the gap.” For decades, that same voice repeated the reminder to be cautious, but it was replaced by a new digital system in 2012.

Weeks later, though, the old voice was back. And it was back because of the kindness of Underground workers. Around Christmas time that year, the staff at Embankment Tube Underground station were approached by a woman who was clearly upset. She kept asking them where the voice had gone, but they had no idea what she was talking about.

“The voice,” she explained. “The man who says, ‘Mind the Gap.’”

The staff noted that all the old Underground messages had been replaced in 2012 by a new digital system featuring different voices with more variety.

Still distressed, the woman blurted out her reason for being upset at the change. “That old voice,” she revealed, “was my husband.”

In the seventies, Dr. Margaret McCollum explained, her husband, Laurence Oswald, had been the man who had recorded all the Northern Line announcements. He had died in 2007.

She was bereft, and only one thing seemed to console her. Every day, on her way to work, she got to hear Laurence’s voice. Sometimes, when her loss was especially raw, she found comfort in just sitting on the platform at Embankment and listening to her husband’s voice cautioning, “Mind the Gap,” over and over. Listening to his voice had been her routine for five years, and now the sound of his voice had been abruptly taken away from her.

The staff at Embankment were apologetic, offering to copy the original recording of her husband’s announcement if it could be found. She thanked them politely but knew that was unlikely.

But one day in the New Year, as Margaret McCollum sat in Embankment Station on her way to work, over the speakers she heard a familiar voice. It was the voice of a man she had loved so much and never thought she’d hear from again.

“Mind the Gap,” said Laurence Oswald.

Because it turned out that many of the staff at Embankment and within London Underground understood firsthand what it meant to lose loved ones. They knew what a consolation it would be if they could hear those beloved voices one more time. So they searched Archives, pored over old schedules, hunted for tapes, restored and digitized them. They held Margaret’s grief as their own. And together they gave her the gift of just one more time. And then some.

Michael Fallon, Unsplash

What about us? What voices do we long to hear? What hands do we yearn to hold again? Which of the holy ones who have walked among us and who now live in glory in risen life would we give anything to see and hear again, even if for just one more time?

As we remember our holy ones on the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, we may grieve, yes. We may weep, yes. We may feel an ache, an emptiness, a void, yes. But let us also give profound thanks that in this life we were loved so extravagantly by these friends of God, not just one time, but for always.

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Call to mind and hold in tenderness your deceased loved ones.
Tell them what you are most grateful for in them.
Spend as long as you like holding this graced memory.
Ask them to bless your life going forward.

Featured Image: Lewis Parsons, Unsplash

NOTE:
Please know that I hold in my heart and prayer the memory of your dear ones now living in resurrection light.

I also ask you to hold in your prayer the Grey Nuns of Pembroke, Ottawa, Ontario, with whom I would have been offering a guided retreat October 18-28. With the U.S.-Canada border closed and the pandemic surging on the U.S. side of the border, that retreat was postponed to 2021.

And, of course, please join me in holding in prayer the upcoming U.S. elections.

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Just Don’t Call It Little

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM     October 11, 2020

If you, like me, live with an awareness that every act is consequential, read on. If you hold to the tenet that no act of love is ever lost, forgotten, or wasted, read on.

Last week I drove to the Post Office and was approaching the front door when a man who was exiting held the door open for me. As I saw him, I realized I’d forgotten to put my mask on, so I murmured my thanks and said I had to go back to the car to retrieve it. When I returned a few minutes later, the man was still waiting for me and still holding the door open. I thanked him profusely.

“Oh,” he responded. “No need for thanks. It’s such a little thing.”

Not at all! I shared with this stranger that what he had done, an act of kindness in waiting patiently and holding a door open, was in no way a small thing in our world. It had consequences. It sent me into the day feeling noticed and valued. In my understanding of how the Universe is knit together, “little” should never be used by ourselves or another to downplay the force field of love that we can offer one another.

Joshua Earle, Unsplash

I confess, the word “little” is a trigger point for me, and not because I’m 5’2” and petite. I say “Yes” to little when it’s used to describe things that are actually small in size. But “No” to little if it’s being used to diminish or dismiss the worth of any act for good set in motion by the human family. I believe our Universe is bonded and held together by incalculable words and deeds of care and compassion that might seem slight or insignificant but that are the stuff of our lives. They enrich our everyday moments with blessing. And they are not little.

An attentive mother cutting her toddler’s grilled cheese sandwich into fourths because that’s the way she likes it.
An exhausted father reading a favorite bedtime story one more time.
A teacher spending extra time on Zoom to help a struggling student.
A caregiver finding a favorite song to play for an ailing parent.
A teenager bagging groceries with care.
A writer wrestling to bring to birth words that she hopes will inspire.
A housekeeper wiping down touchable surfaces to insure the safety and protection of customers.
An activist living with intention and protesting peacefully for the common good.
Any one of us pausing to pray while viewing the day’s headlines.

Alison Luterman calls much of what we’re about in our everyday lives “the slow invisible work that stitches up the world day and night, the slow unglamorous work of healing.” There’s nothing little about this! Childcare. Cooking meals. Nurturing the growing needs and gifts of a young child. Ferrying children from one sports event or dance practice to another. Creating art. Praying with intention and awareness. Seen or unseen, this invisible work makes the Universe a place of greater beauty and hope. And it is not little.

Last week I led days of retreat for forty-three Sisters from three different religious communities. We began every session with an extended period of breathprayer, holding in love and compassion the needs of our world and breathing peace and acceptance out the windows from our chapel space and into a world longing for welcome and inclusion. Perhaps you felt those energies of love.

William Recinos, Unsplash

I wonder if the poet, Hafiz, had that in mind when he wrote:
“Now is the time for the world to know
that every thought and action is sacred…
Now is the season to know
that everything you do
is sacred.”

Sacred, yes. But little, never.

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
If you are beginning your day, ask for blessing on your thoughts, attitudes and actions that you will carry into the hours ahead.
If you are near day’s end, review the actions that have been part of your day and name the energies of love that you have sent out into the Universe.
Ask the Holy One for a deepening awareness of the power of love and intention.

Featured image: Sai de Silva, Unsplash 

NOTE:
Thank you for your prayers for the October 5-9 guided retreat I offered for the Nursing Sisters, Sisters of St. Joseph, and Cenacle Sisters who reside in Rockville Centre, NY. Special thanks to Joan McCann, CIJ, for her amazing organization and hospitality, and to all the Sisters for their prayerful presence.

Before the limits put in place because of COVID-19 restrictions, I was scheduled to travel at this time to Pembroke, Ontario, to offer two guided retreats for the Grey Nuns, October 18-26. Please hold in your prayer all who would have been part of these days. The retreat has now been re-scheduled to 2021.

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Discovering the Holy Beyond Our Species

Humberto Braojas, Unsplash

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM September 27, 2020

When Basil Pennington wrote, “I am a place where God’s love turns up in this world,” might he also have been thinking of creatures beyond the human family? I like to think so.

Most recently I read about a female humpback whale who had become so entangled in hundreds of pounds of crab traps that she struggled to stay afloat. Her tail, her torso, her mouth were wrapped in ropes and lines. After a fisherman discovered her and radioed for help, a rescue team arrived, assessed her condition, and concluded that the only way to save her was to dive in and untangle her. An extremely dangerous attempt, because a simple slap of her tail could easily kill a rescuer.

After hours of cutting and removing lines, the divers successfully freed the whale, who swam off in circles, then came back to each rescuer, one at a time, nudged them and pushed them gently. Some divers said her movement, which felt like exuberant gratitude, was the most touching and profound experience of their lives. Certainly, the man assigned to cut the rope out of her mouth felt himself exposed to her soul. He said that the entire time he was freeing the line from her mouth, the eye of the whale followed his every move intently. He was so haunted by looking into that enormous eye that he says he will never be the same. He was shaken by soul.

In this story, the place where God’s love turned up in the world was in the skills and the care of the rescue team, certainly. But couldn’t it also be true that God’s love turned up in the jubilant dance of a freed humpback whale and the grateful gestures she offered to her awe-struck rescuers?

God’s love has turned up for me in a Golden Retriever who offered the wordless comfort of laying his head on my lap and nuzzling me at a time when I struggled with a painful dilemma from which I longed to extract myself.  God’s love has looked back at me in the unblinking, inquisitive gaze of a wild pony on Assateague Island. God’s love has appeared off the coast of Vancouver in the witness of a pod of orcas tenderly caring for their calves.

Steve Halama, Unsplash

Hopefully, we’ve all been moved by incredible acts of compassion and care offered by the human family. Might we not also expand our worldview to embrace our animal and plant kin, our relatives who also serve as that sacred place, that mystical reminder, of the presence of the Holy?

Where has God’s love turned up for you recently?

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
If you have a companion dog or cat or other animal, invite them to sit with you, if they’re so inclined.
If you’re without such a companion, call back the memory of a non-human creature you have loved or cared for.
Offer thanks to these creatures who reveal the face of God to us.
Offer praise to their loving Creator.

NOTE:
Thank you for your prayerful support of all who were part of a directed retreat at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth in Wernersville, September 21-27.

Now please hold in your prayer the Nursing Sisters, Sisters of St. Joseph, and Cenacle Sisters who reside in Rockville Centre, NY and who will be part of a guided retreat I’m offering October 5-9. Thank you.

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The Expectations of Beauty

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    September 13, 2020

Let’s hear it for words that open doors, invite exploration, encourage daydreaming. Let’s savor questions that send us down the rabbit hole to be transported into new, unexpected, and transformative ways of knowing. Let’s linger with phrases like “Why?” and “What if?” and “I wonder…” Let’s applaud parents, teachers, mentors, caregivers, friends, and so many others who have liberated our curiosity and imagination by encouraging our use of the question mark.

Goldenrod and New England Aster,
Burton Wetlands State Park

And let’s take in the wisdom of Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. In an interview with Krista Tippett she relates that when she entered forestry school as a young woman, she offered a question as her main reason for studying botany. Her why: she had long wondered why purple asters and chrome yellow goldenrod, often intermingled in the wild fields where she lived, looked so beautiful together. She was really asking her signature question, “Why is the world so beautiful?” In response, she was told “that that was not science, that if I was interested in beauty, I should go to art school.”

Fortunately for us, Robin Wall Kimmerer moved forward undeterred. She focused her deep attention on the living world of plants, seeking to know not only their names but also their songs. In time, she discovered a biophysical reason for why New England asters and goldenrod often grow together: the complementary colors of purple and gold, being opposites on the color wheel, are so vivid that they actually attract far more pollinators than if those two plants grew somewhere apart from one another. Each plant benefits from combining its beauty with the beauty of the other.

Kimmerer observes that she pays a price of sorts for what she notices in aster and goldenrod, because their beauty requests something of her. “When I am in their presence,” she reveals, “their beauty asks me for reciprocity, to be the complementary color, to make something beautiful in response.”

Perhaps you, like me, have sensed that expectation of reciprocity your entire life. Perhaps your formative years were grounded in what we now call creation spirituality. Perhaps you were encouraged, even expected, to “waste” time daydreaming. To ask sometimes unanswerable questions. To befriend tulip trees and marigolds and phlox. To ponder the caginess of crows. To wonder what the dog hears beyond our ears. To marvel at the industry of ants. To star watch.

Hopefully, these months of social distancing and showing respect for the human lives  around us have kept us all at a respectful space apart from one another. But happily, the same precautions don’t apply to our neighbors in the plant kingdom. Perhaps we’re among the blessed who have spent hours, maybe even days, inhaling the fragrance of a summer garden, or discovering mystery on a nature trail, or simply sitting and gazing and feeling ourselves welcomed into the plant kingdom.

New England Aster, The Hills magazine

If any of those are true for you as they surely all are for me, then clearly we have taken in an abundance of wild, extravagant artistry and grace these past months. And then Kimmerer’s question arises: What does such beauty ask of us? How are we becoming the complementary color? How are we making something beautiful in response to our immersions in awe, astonishment, wonder?

How are we continuing to embrace the question, “Why is the world so beautiful?” And what, then, does such beauty ask or expect of us?

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
If possible, do this in the presence of a living plant, flower, shrub, or tree.
Inhale their gift of healing oxygen.
Listen to and take in any wisdom they offer you.
Speak your profound thanks for their beauty.
Bow to the Creator of this green energy, this irrepressible life force.

NOTE:
I’m grateful for your returning to Mining the Now after a pause during August.
I’m grateful also for your prayerful remembrance of all those who were part of two retreats I led during August, a virtual guided retreat for the Sisters of St. Joseph, Brentwood, and a virtual directed retreat.

Please remember in prayer also those who would have been part of a guided retreat, “Many Voices Made of Longing,” that I was scheduled to lead August 27- September 3 at St. Mary by-the-Sea, Cape May Point, NJ. That retreat has been re-scheduled to August 26 – September 2, 2021.

Now may I ask you to hold in prayer all who will be part of these coming events:

September 18: A virtual Zoom Retreat for members of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

September 21-27: An in-person Directed Retreat at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA. I’ll be one of the guest directors this week. Thank you.

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