From Woundedness to a New Way

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by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    January 26, 2020

Myrrh and the Magi started it all. I had never really pursued an understanding of that third gift of the visitors from the East, the one we can rattle off after gold and frankincense. But I learned recently that myrrh is a fragrant resin produced when certain small thorny tree species receive wounds that penetrate the bark and go deeper into the wood. The resin then gathers and hardens into crystals, and those crystals can be used for medicinal purposes. So myrrh, I discovered, comes from the wounds of a tree, the brokenness of a living thing, and from those wounds comes a new path towards healing.

We can stand in awe at the healing power of our bodies in the aftermath of wounds or fractures. Something as tiny as a paper cut can marshal blood vessels and platelets to tangle together, form a clot, and seal a wound. We can bow down in wonder at the way a fracture summons new bone growth, knitting together, forming a callus, and sometimes surpassing the unbroken bone itself in its strength. Our bodies intuitively seem to know that wounds and breaks, though in no way desired or sought after, are also not the definitive end of the story. They can be an invitation to unexpected new ways of looking at life and moving forward.

From woundedness to a new creation, from brokenness to agents of healing: that seems to be the invitation myrrh provides. Henri Nouwen offers an unusual perspective on our brokenness, the physical and emotional pain we carry from the multitude of ways in which the human family is capable of hurting one another. He acknowledges the reality of suffering and the reality that not everything can be cured or fixed. And in The Wounded Healer, Nouwen notes that the Christian community is a healing community for this surprising reason: “not because wounds are cured and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains become openings or occasions for a new vision.”

Nouwen suggests that our suffering in the present moment might in some way be the myrrhtree copyplace, the locus where God intimates a new creation. He believes that the pain we carry right now from the wounds of loss, rejection, failure, shame, and exclusion can open us to fresh ways of seeing and being in this world: perhaps a deeper listening, a more engaged relationship of prayer, a newfound patience, a heightened compassion for the pain of others.

The poet, Jane Hirschfield, further describes some of the avenues of healing and communion available to us in “For What Binds Us”:

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.

The way things stay so solidly wherever they’ve been set down–
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.

And see how the flesh grows back across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong than the simple, untested surface before.

There’s a name for it on horses, when it comes back darker and raised:
proud flesh, as all flesh is proud of its wounds,
wears them as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest –

And when two people have loved each other,
see how it is like a scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend. 

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Take a tally of any significant emotional or physical scars or calluses you carry in body and spirit.
Has the experience of adjusting to a new reality caused you to look at life in a fresh way?
What learnings have been part of your healing?
Spend time in conversation with the Holy One.
Pay attention to what you hear, and give thanks.

NOTE:
Thank you for remembering in your prayer all who were part of the retreat experience I led for the Board of Directors of the Haiti Solidarity Network of the Northeast this past week.

During the winter, I take one month to break from being on the road and devote myself to writing and creating and planning future retreat experiences. Please note that this year that will happen during February and I’d be grateful if you send your prayerful energies my way for that purpose. Thank you!

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Reframing Walls

diverse world

 

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    January 12, 2020

No, not that wall, but an equally divisive one. This past November 9 marked the 30th anniversary of the day in 1989 that the Berlin Wall came crashing down. Built in 1961 to keep disaffected East Germans from fleeing to the West, the Wall divided East and West Germany and became a symbol of oppression and division.

Jennifer Rosenberg, in “The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall,” describes the overnight erection of the Wall and the consequences of living in a separated Berlin:

“Just after midnight on the night of August 12–13, 1961, trucks with soldiers and construction workers rumbled through East Berlin. While most Berliners were sleeping, these crews began tearing up streets that entered into West Berlin. They dug holes to put up concrete posts and strung barbed wire all across the border between East and West Berlin. Telephone wires between East and West Berlin were also cut and railroad lines were blocked.

Berliners were shocked when they woke up that morning. What had once been a very fluid border was now rigid. No longer could East Berliners cross the border for operas, plays, soccer games, or any other activity. No longer could the approximately 60,000 commuters head to West Berlin for well-paying jobs. No longer could families, friends, and lovers cross the border to meet their loved ones. Whichever side of the border one went to sleep on during the night of August 12, they were stuck on that side for decades.”

And so it was. Perhaps the Wall is so etched in my memory because I remember very clearly announcing to friends during those decades of separation that the Wall, that formidable, indestructible symbol of a divided city, would surely never come down in my lifetime.

But on that November night in 1989, I was happily proved wrong. That night, the crashing of sledge hammers was accompanied by jubilant singing, ecstatic dancing, shouts of disbelief, and tears of remembrance.

There are two profound and moving signs of hope I hold on to about the Wall. It never occurred to me at the time to wonder what happened to the thousands of tons of cement that had once formed the solid, impenetrable symbol of division. I learned later that much of the concrete was pulverized, reformulated, and transformed into building material to construct roads for the newly opened city of Berlin and its suburbs. I love this image of reframing, taking something that had once symbolized a torn city and warring ideologies and turning it into an agent of communion, helping people to be reunited and move forward with ease, to travel to new landscapes, to be exposed to fresh ideas and to share common hopes.berlin-wall-anniversary-120000-ribbons-5-5dce81c4d9fc7__700 copy

The second sign of hope that touched me was the observance of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2019. Near the Brandenburg Gate, an art installation was set up. Thousands of strips of cloth, colorful fabric streamers named “Visions in Motion” held greetings, wishes, hopes and memories from Germans and from the global community. Now over the footprint of the menacing wall waved a thing of beauty, signaling welcome and spaciousness of heart and communion and hope.

As we’re in the early stages of this new year, the Wall might serve as an invitation to reflect on the promise of Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.” In this passage that we heard during the season of Advent, Isaiah insists that God can and does bring forth new life where none seems possible.

So if the year past has seen the building of personal walls as seemingly immovable as those built of concrete, may we commit to the tough labor of restoring cherished relationships severed by hurts or words spoken impulsively in anger. May we examine whatever exclusionary and unwelcoming walls have gone up in our own souls, in our families, neighborhoods, communities, relationships, nation. May we work, with God’s grace, to collapse those boundaries. May the Wall remind us of what a loving God repeats over and over: that it’s not too late, it’s never too late.

Happy and spacious new year!

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Might there be any walls of judgment, hurt, or anger residing in your heart at this time?
What inner soul work might it take to break down those barriers?
Ask the Holy One to sit with you and strengthen your hope that new life and new direction are possible.

PHOTOS:
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Vision in Motion

NOTE:
Please hold in your prayer the following events:

January 13-16: A guided retreat I’m offering for the Carmelite Sisters of Baltimore, Maryland.

January 25:  A day of reflection and discernment with the Haiti Solidarity Network of the Northeast (HSNNE) in Caldwell, NJ.

Thank you!

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Bearing Gifts into a New Year

gifts empty box copy

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   December 29, 2019

Perhaps you’re among the families who spent some time over the holidays moved and entertained by the utter excitement and squeals of delight bubbling up in children around you. Their absolute joy and the way they often show more interest in the box or wrapping a gift arrived in call us back to simpler days, to our own times of wonder and amazement.

In my own family, as a new generation of little ones is being welcomed into the tribe, I often gaze into their faces and remember the words of Rabindranath Tagore:

“Every time a child is born into this world, it comes bearing a message of joy. And this is the message: God is not discouraged!”gifts in hands copy

I don’t know that I ever thought of the possibility of God being discouraged, and yet, in the life of Jesus, we can point to a number of instances when he was. When Jesus prophesied his death (Luke 18:31-34), “the disciples did not understand any of these things.” When he tried to find words to describe the love that exists in the Trinity and the truth that the beauty of that divine relationship resided in him as well (John 14:1-11), Philip’s utterance of “Show us the Father and it is enough for us” summoned this frustrated response from Jesus: “Have I been with you for so long, Philip, and you still do not know me?” And then there’s the scene in the Garden (Mark 14:32-42) where three times Jesus asks his disciples to stay awake and watch with him. We can easily imagine both Jesus’ frustration and his disappointment when those closest to him simply did not get it.

Could this be why Jesus especially enjoyed gathering babies and little children around him (Luke 18:15-17) even as his followers tried to shoo them away? Could it be because in birth, in new life, in the efforts of beginnings, the Holy One, like us, finds great encouragement?

I have to believe that every time we work to enlarge our spaciousness of heart, this is the message: God is not discouraged. Every time we move through our day breathing compassion and kindness that may never be acknowledged or honored, God is not discouraged. Every time we ourselves bear those messages of joy–“wasting” a day in acts of justice or imagination, forgiving or extending a hand in welcome, practicing outrageous love or audacious hope, God is not discouraged.gifts two copy

As we stand at the edge of a new year, may we continue to bear these messages of joy, even in and perhaps especially in the midst of pain and loss and heartache. May we continue to know and to experience that the God who walks beside us is a God who is not discouraged.  Blessings of the New Year to you!

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on the signs of hope that you see around you.
Invite the Holy One to be with you as you name these encouraging moments, events, or people.
Give thanks, and hold in your prayer all those who at this moment are experiencing discouragement of any kind. 

NOTE:
Please hold in your prayer some upcoming events and all who will be part of them: 

December 30:
A planning meeting for the observance of the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Congregation of which I’m a member, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Scranton, PA). I’ll be offering the keynote for the August 1st celebration of this anniversary for the Sisters of IHM (Immaculata, PA)  

January 12-15:
A guided retreat, “Many Voices Made of Longing,” that I’ll be offering for the Carmelite Sisters of Baltimore, MD. 

Thank you!

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A God Who Savors

www.myfreetextures.com

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM     December 15, 2019

Once in a while, a misreading or misdirection can become an invitation to explore. While praying the intercessions that are included in the daily Scripture reflections I use, I misread one addressed as “Saving God, in your light we see light” and read it instead as “Savoring God…” I caught the difference almost immediately but remained enchanted by the image of a God who not only saves, but savors.

So much of our human savoring involves the senses: drinking in the rose-gold of a candyforchildren copyspectacular sunset; being stunned into silence by the soaring notes of a string quartet; appreciating the softness of newly laundered sheets or relishing the last few bites of (here name your favorite dish). We savor emotionally as well: the lingering embrace of a loved one; the encouraging hand on our shoulder; the words genuinely spoken in praise or affirmation or the uninhibited hug and kiss of a grandchild.

We know how savoring figures in our lives, but just how does the Holy One savor? For that answer, we can point to Jesus, the Word made flesh, the one who fully inhabited our human form, the one who makes visible what a savoring God might look like. This God relishes dinner with friends like Martha and Mary, with outsiders like Zaccheus, and with his followers in one last poignant Passover meal. This God is moved by a woman whose compassion impels her to enter the confines of a male-only gathering and touch his loneliness, wash his feet, anoint his head. This God appreciates fields of lilies and swallows flying overhead.  This God relishes fish cooked over a charcoal fire and bread shared in his disciples’ company.

I imagine Jesus, fully human like us, also savoring acts of spaciousness of heart and generosity and profound trust: a leper whose gratitude impelled him to turn back and voice his thanks; a widow dropping her last precious coins into the temple treasury; a criminal gathering his final painful breath and confidently asking to be remembered.

And what of us in our time and place? I simply can’t imagine or believe in a God who is beyond savoring our courage when we speak up for someone being ridiculed or bullied, or a God who doesn’t delight when a parent puts fatigue aside to sit with a weeping child. This God rejoices over our struggle to forgive and our efforts to find a few minutes of stillness to sit with the Divine.

We’re about to celebrate once again the blessed convergence of the human and the divine in the birth and life of Jesus. May we learn from this savoring God to notice and offer thanks for Presence and presence and presents. Christmas blessings!

candleglow

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Call to mind one thing you appreciate about being human.
Savor this blessing and tell the Holy One why you delight in it.
Give thanks and welcome Jesus who comes once again into the human family this Christmas.

NOTE:
So many of you have shared with me the ways you appreciate my blog posts through Mining the Now. Know how very grateful I am for your support and encouragement. May you and all those you love experience every blessing of this Christmas season.  

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A Season of Holding Space

Advent candles copy

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    December 1, 2019

Would it be safe to say we have diverse understandings of just what constitutes closeness or distance, based on our family culture and formative years? If you’ve never thought about your sense of personal space, notice how you feel on a flight when the passengers in front of you recline their seats to the furthest position, cutting off what little space is available to you. And then there’s the minivan, which I’ve always suspected was invented largely to put an end to children’s quarrels about who got to sit in the coveted space next to a window.

I was delighted recently to listen to an On Being podcast, “Your Life Is a Poem,” where Krista Tippett interviewed Naomi Shihab Nye and enlarged my sense of space through their conversation. The poet related that when she was working in a school in Yokohama, a student shared with her the Japanese concept of yutori, another kind of space, a sense of living with spaciousness. The student offered examples of yutori as budgeting your time so that you leave early enough to get to your destination and then have some moments to pause and look around. And another element of yutori: “After you read a poem, just knowing you can hold it—you can be in the space of the poem, and it can hold you in its space, and you don’t have to explain it. You don’t have to paraphrase it. You just hold it, and it allows you to see differently.”

How contemplative and how profoundly respectful, to allow for the pause after the period or the paragraph or the poem. To allow the thought of another to sit in our heart and seep into our consciousness. To not immediately or quickly move on to another word or idea, but to honor and to savor the richness or the mystery of what has just been read or heard or spoken.IMG_2061 copy

I often think of Advent as a season of space and spaciousness. Making space for the holy child whose family was turned away and told there was no room for them in the inn. Making space for the holy child who arrives at our borders or our parishes or our neighborhoods today in the homeless stranger or the desperate migrant looking for a restful pause and a safe and welcoming space.

As the consumer world is whirling around us, announcing sales and the dwindling number of days before Christmas and gift-giving, we can be challenged to find even a brief bit of space and stillness in which to ponder the mystery of Emmanuel, God with us. Perhaps this season is a time when we especially need the heart space where love lives and thrives, as Richard Rohr notes.

So what if we used the elements that are already part of our day-to-day lives and practiced yutori, a sense of living with spaciousness? Holding space when family members share the joys or challenges of their day and we stop multi-tasking to pause and truly take it all in. Holding space as we read or listen to national or international news and pause to allow what we hear to inform our prayer and action for justice. Holding space when we listen to the Scripture readings or the songs of this holy season and invite them to breathe in us. Holding space to listen to our own inner voice and the nudges of the Holy One calling us to rest or to reflect or to pause or to pay attention as we move through our day.IMG_2052 copy

As we enter into the season of Advent, may we be about exactly that: holding space for the Other and the other. May we practice yutori, enter into the pauses, and grow our spaciousness of heart. Advent blessings!

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Pause for several minutes and breathe slowly.
Savor a thought, a moment, an experience of your day.
Ask the Holy One to enter into, sit with, and bless this time of pausing with you.

NOTE:
Please hold in your prayer the Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor, the Sisters of St. Joseph, and the Cenacle Sisters who will be part of an Advent retreat I’ll be offering at Villa St. Joseph, Rockville Centre, NY, this weekend. 

During this Advent season, I’ll be holding space for all of you who continue to bless and support my writing for Mining the Now. Thank you!

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Digging Deep and Learning to See

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   November 17, 2019

A few weeks ago when I heard a meteorologist announce that this was the last time we’d see the sun set after 6:00 PM, he might just as well have told me to get ready for darkness, cold, and decay. Autumn, even with all its beauty here in the Northeast, also ushers in other elements and often feels to me like only the dimming of the light, the falling of leaves, and the slow transition from the swish and crunch of gold and rust and red under our feet to piles of damp, mushy, slippery decline.boyplaying inleavespexels-photo copy

I delight in the brilliant colors of autumn, but I confess that I’ve never completely  welcomed this season. Even with decades of proof that barren fields will eventually sprout new life, that trees will bud in defiant resurrection, my tropic-loving heart would rather choose warmth and greenness and emphatic signs that life is unfolding rather than seeming to disappear. fallingleaves

But we can’t pick and choose the seasons, can we? Parker Palmer recently spoke to this sentiment and then offered some fresh thinking and a new perspective. In “Autumn: A Season of Paradox”,  he noted that, “When I try to fabricate a life that defies autumn’s diminishments, I end up in a state that’s less than human. When I give myself over to organic reality—to the interplay of darkness and light, falling and rising—the life I am given is as real and colorful, fruitful and whole as this graced and graceful world and the seasonal cycles that make it so.” And then he noted, “…as I’ve come to understand that life ‘composts’ and ‘seeds’ us as autumn does the earth, I’ve seen how possibility gets planted in us even in the most difficult of times.”

Now there’s an image that could change my/our attitudes toward the visible decline that autumn underscores: compost. Though we might think of compost as merely garbage or refuse, as the things we don’t want and the things we throw out, this decayed organic matter, given the right conditions, can become something life-giving: a soil amendment that can actually improve the soil and help gardens green and grow. This decay that gardeners call Black Gold is actually sought after and valued for the ways it enhances and improves new life, so that what appears to be death-dealing is actually life-giving.

As we in the U.S. approach the Thanksgiving holiday and prepare to share our gratefulness for the blessings in our lives, I wonder if we might also want to reflect on and offer thanks for what may feel like “compost” in the life of the spirit, as Palmer does: “Looking back, I see how the job I lost pushed me to find work that was mine to do, how the ‘road closed’ sign turned me toward terrain I’m glad I traveled, how losses that felt irredeemable forced me to find new sources of meaning. In each of these experiences, it felt like something was dying, and so it was. And yet deep-down, amid all the falling, silently and lavishly the seeds of new life were always being sown.”fallingleavesforest

I suspect it’s not difficult for many of us to call to mind our experiences of brokenness, failure, or feeling that we didn’t measure up or that we were not quite enough. We sometimes carry these memories very near to the surface.

But with prayer and deep, inner soul work, may we begin to look with fresh eyes at the compost in our past: a painful detour, a door closed, a dream deferred. May we learn to see how those happenings have seeded the present moment in ways we could never have imagined. May we embrace all the moments of our lives and give thanks to the Holy One who accompanies us always, in seasons of both light and darkness.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Has there been a disappointment, a painful experience, a loss in your past?
Ask the Holy One to help you see how God was present to you at this difficult time.
What might this have “composted” and “seeded” in you?
Give thanks for all that has brought you to this present moment.

NOTE:
During this time of Thanksgiving, I offer my profound gratitude for your following and support of Mining the Now. Please revisit my blog post, “At the Table,” from Thanksgiving 2018 and be blessed at the many tables of your lives. 

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Choosing to Spread Our Love

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    November 1, 2019

Call it a broadcasting of seeds. Call it a leap of faith. Call it a casting of pebbles into a pond. Whatever we call it and however we name it, all these actions, taken with intention for good, have one thing in common: there’s no measuring where they end or how they affect the world beyond us.ripples copy

When we rise from sleep in the morning and set our intention to bless, when we begin our day exhaling healing energy, we are in the kind of space that Story People describes in “Invitation”:

“…There is only paying attention to the quiet each morning, while you hold your cup in the cool air & then that moment you choose to spread your love like a cloth upon the table & invite the whole day in again.”

When we choose to act with intention, this is the table we set, spread with love. This is the table where we invite the day to come in and join us. Though we live in a culture that values productivity and demands quantified results, we know that some things, like the life of the spirit or the impact of one good person living intentionally, simply can’t be calculated or measured. Whenever we wonder if choosing to give our lives over for the common good is making any difference in the world, may we remind ourselves that no act of love is ever lost, forgotten, or wasted. May we stake our lives in the sure knowing that the smallest and seemingly most insignificant act of compassion or justice is actually a courageous, emphatic statement announcing to the world:  That love is a life force. That love is the energy we choose. That love is not dismayed, that love does not give up, that love endures. Could there be any announcement more important for our world to listen to today?letting go stars copy

I have to believe this with my whole being. I have to believe that it was these same energies of love, for example, that enabled the Good Thief (Luke 23:49-42) and the Prodigal Child (Luke 15:11-24) to arrive at a graced intersection: a future full of hope still promised to them. Perhaps they didn’t fully grasp what was unfolding in those critical moments but they knew, in some intuitive way, that mercy and forgiveness and blessing surrounded them. That these energies were ultimately stronger than any negative, despairing forces, stronger even than their past. That they, like us, could imagine the arms of the Holy One thrown wide in welcome, waiting to gift them with their deepest longing: the doors of paradise flung open or a homecoming party celebrating their hoped-for return.

Hopefully, we’ve experienced the positive energies of love in our own lives and can produce a litany of the holy ones who have breathed just such a blessing to us. And hopefully, at least once in a while, we may get to stick around and see the palpable results of all the energies for good that we and so many are daily sending out into the universe.iceswirl

May we cherish and give thanks for every affirming moment that comes our way and shines a light on the power of healing presence and intention. But may we also never limit our actions only to those that will yield such concrete, immediate results. Instead, may we continue to choose day after day as the Holy One does, spreading our love like a cloth upon the table and inviting the whole day in.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Call to mind a person whose presence has blessed you.
Hold that person in your grateful heart.
Set an intention to bless them this day, and breathe a blessing to them.
Linger in that energy and give thanks.

NOTE:
Thank you for your prayerful support of the Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor, the Sisters of St. Joseph, and the Cenacle Sisters who were part of last week’s guided retreat in Rockville Centre, NY. Special thanks to Sister Joan McCann, CIJ, for her graciousness in tending to every detail of those days. 

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Groaning as a Spiritual Practice

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  October 19, 2019

What’s in a name? There are countless names for God, however we might choose to call the Holy One who lives and moves and breathes in us, between us, among us, around us.  inaideofpotteryreducedsizecopy 2

In Fragments of Your Ancient Name, Joyce Rupp offers 365 names of God culled from the world’s spiritual traditions and treasuries: the Psalms, Sufi saints, Hindu poets, Native American rituals, contemporary writers, the Christian gospels. Each name invites us to discover a new dimension of the Holy One.

When Richard Rohr was in hermitage in Arizona during Lent 2006, he had such a sense of the Sacred Presence that he was led to compose a Litany of the Holy Spirit to awaken and strengthen the presence of that same spirit in us. We can pray with these fresh and creative names such as Warmer of Hearts, Space Between Everything, Filled Emptiness, Inner Anointing, Deepest Level of Our Longing.sandwithhand copy

On another level, we know that it’s beyond our power to ever fully name God. In the Jewish tradition, the name for God—Yahweh—was never actually spoken aloud. That sacred name was breathed. Its correct pronunciation imitates our own breath, our inhaling and exhaling, so that every time we breathe, we are speaking the name of God.

Lately, especially on watching or listening to both national and global news, I’ve found myself doing a lot of groaning, either inwardly or aloud. It’s an expression of my knowing that sometimes there are simply no words that can adequately express the heaviness, the anguish, the collective ache and longing of our world. Perhaps this is why I sat up and noticed when I read a particular Spiritual Practice of the Day from Spirituality and Practice recently. This one was embodied in a quote from Muhammad found in Merton and Sufism by Gray Henry and Rob Baker:

The Prophet said, “Let him groan, for groaning is one of the names of God in which the sick man may find relief.”

Groaning is one of the names of God.

We can imagine Hannah, distraught at her barrenness, soundlessly moving her lips and pouring out her grief in groaning, uttering the name of the Holy One. (1 Samuel 9-19)

We can imagine Jesus, hearing the news of the death of his dear friend, Lazarus, being visibly troubled, weeping, saying name of the Holy One. (John 11:33-35)

We can imagine all creation praying, as St. Paul (Romans Chapter 8) tells us, because it’s “groaning in labor pains even until now.” (8:22) And how consoling that, when we don’t even have the words to pray, the Spirit intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings (8:26). Yes, when we’re so broken or bereft or weary that words escape us, the Spirit “does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.” (8:26, Message Bible translation).

These days, I hear myself groaning every time an image of the Kurdish people, scrambling in terror to find a safe and welcoming space, flashes on the news. Perhaps we may be groaning and praying the name of the Holy when we face irreversible losses: the death of a long-time partner or mentor; a cherished friendship that is eroding; a missed job opportunity we wanted so badly we could almost taste it; the fears we hold for our children, their safety, their well-being, their future; all those things over which we have no control but which can shake us awake at night in terror.Starsinsky copy

So may we notice and pay attention to our groaning, which reveals the deepest longings and wordless aches of our hearts. And when we groan, may we know the Holy One is so very near, praying always in us and through us. Always.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
If any experience, situation, or concern is an ache in your heart, name it.
Hold that ache and sit with it for a bit.
Ask for wisdom from the Holy One who aches with you.
Groan your prayer.

NOTE:
Your prayers for all who are part of a guided retreat I’m offering at Villa St. Joseph in Rockville Centre, NY, October 21-25, are gratefully received. Thank you, and know that we will be remembering you in prayer during these days.

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To Breathe and to Bless

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  October 6, 2019

Over the past year, I’ve spent a significant amount of time in doctors’ waiting rooms. Orthopedists’ waiting rooms, to be specific. So much time, in fact, that I’ve come to recognize the faces of other patients who are on a parallel schedule with me.breathe lungs copy

I think it’s a safe bet to say that the twenty or more people in that large room with me are in some sort of pain—physical, most certainly, dealing with fracture repair, the tearing and straining of muscles and ligaments, the wearing away of bones. Perhaps the pain is also emotional as people carry feelings of limitation or loss or uncertainty about a hoped for outcome. Financial as well, burdened with anxiety over insurance coverage or whether they can afford the treatment needed to restore their health.

Whatever the type of pain, all are joined in a fellowship, a club of those seeking healing. Although sitting in the waiting room–or waiting of any kind–can seem like a waste of time, it can also be approached as an invitation to stillness and intention. As I sit in that room for what can grow into an hour’s wait, I have a simple practice of prayer that grounds and stills me: gazing and breathing.

I subtly gaze at the faces of the people sitting with me. Gazing, Jan Vennard tells us, is a type of noticing. It’s a form of prayer that helps us to see through the eyes of God. Gazing helps us to pay attention to the holy that surrounds us in art, nature, and other people. So I notice, I subtly gaze at the faces of the people sitting with me.Breathe heart images copy

And as I gaze, I also breathe my prayer. Breathprayer is a way of praying based on our breath, our inhaling and exhaling. In essence it invites us to pause and take in a breath of God, to be in communion with God’s Spirit hovering over the waters of creation, breathing life into the universe; to be in communion with the risen Jesus appearing in the locked room to his frightened disciples and breathing the peace and reassuring presence of the Spirit on them. Breathprayer connects us to the practice of statio, where, instead of rushing from one thing to another, we pause, take in several long, slow breaths, and open up a space of intention where the Holy One can work. All of this is being repeated and recreated in that waiting room as, one by one, I gaze at my companions and breathe compassion and tenderness towards them.

Recently as I was quietly breathing my prayer, a woman whom I recognized as one of the regulars approached me.

“We like it when you’re here,” she said.

Unsure of her meaning, I queried, “Pardon me?”

“We like it when you’re here,” she repeated. “The room feels different. More peaceful somehow.”

And then she turned and headed back to her seat, leaving me speechless.

The room feels different.

Is it possible that one person’s gazing with love, one person’s breathing compassion might actually change the climate of a room in ways that are palpable? I believe this on the deepest, most intuitive, most primal level of my soul. But if we need further proof, perhaps we’ve experienced the other side of this, where we’re gathered with a group of friends, relaxing and enjoying one another’s company, when one additional person joins our group. Carrying negative energy. Don’t we immediately absorb that presence? And doesn’t the room feel different? So why could the room not also feel changed when we absorb the positive energies of tenderness and blessing? When we live the Christian vocation that Pope Francis described in a May 2015 homily, as “to remain in the love of God, that is, to breathe, to live of that oxygen, to live of that air.”

Whenever I lead a retreat and we gather as an intentional group, we breathe our prayer together. The power of our presence, our contemplative consciousness, is palpable. I imagine the force of this great river of lovingkindness bursting through the windows of our gathering space and sweeping over our beautiful yet wounded world, bathing it in compassion and healing.breathinhands

May each of us, in the many and diverse waiting rooms of our everyday lives, set our intention to be a peaceful presence, to breathe in and out in blessing the space around us and the space beyond us. May it be so.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One, the Breath of life.
Take time to center yourself.
Notice the rhythm of your breathing, your inhaling and exhaling.
Set an intention to bless, using words or the breath itself.
Breathe.

NOTE:
Thank you again for all the ways you have breathed the blessing of healing to me and on me. This month I’m resuming my mobile spirituality ministry and ask your prayer for: 

October 19-25, a guided retreat at the residence of the Congregation of the Infant Jesus, the Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor, in Rockville Centre, NY. Members of several other Congregations of Sisters who share the same residence will be part of the retreat also. Thank you!

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Living with Love for Our Mother

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   September 22, 2019

Today I’m mourning the slow dying of some dear friends. Many years ago, I spent time in the Canadian Rockies and visited the Athabasca Glacier, part of the Columbia Icefield. At that time, the glacier covered over two miles and at its thickest measured 980 feet deep.athabascagroupon glacier

Unaware of that comforting statistic, I wanted reassurance of the solidness of the ice before I put a hesitant toe on it. When I finally did venture onto the glacier, I was struck dumb. It was as if I had suddenly been plugged in to an ancient story. Centuries of ice formation, the patient growing of crystal beauty, the journey of flow and retreat: all this was under my feet and I was shaken by a deep, familiar knowing of my place in the universe. I have been in love with my glacial friends ever since that profound experience and have followed the news of their relatives worldwide.EPSON MFP image

So imagine my distress when I learned of the death of the Okjökull glacier in Iceland this summer. “Ok”, as it is now known, was Iceland’s first glacier to disappear, falling victim to warming summers over the past two decades. To commemorate this significant loss and to underscore the imminent possibility of further glacial deaths, geologists, activists, and politicians hiked up to the area that Ok had once occupied and held a solemn funeral service. Children installed a memorial plaque to the glacier that reads:

“Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as glacier. In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and know what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”

Only we and future generations will know if we listened to the cry of our Earth and stepped up to preserve her. Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si, makes a case for protecting all of our kin, including the great aquifers and glaciers. (38) We can no longer believe ourselves separate from and indifferent to the future of these dense bodies of glacial ice as well as the majestic mountain peaks, mysterious whales, and Amazon rainforests that are the lungs of our planet.

I’m reminded in this past week’s global Climate Strike of the central role of children and youth in returning us to right relationship with the family of creation. In mourning the death of Ok, children placed a plaque on her now invisible footprint. In the recent Climate Strike, students left their classes and swelled the streets of cities and towns worldwide to give voice to our Mother’s pain. I suspect young people, more recently birthed from the heart of God, might carry a fresher remembrance of all that’s cherished in that holy Heart. I suspect they intuitively know, without ever having stood on the Athabasca Glacier, that when you befriend someone, when you place yourself squarely in relationship to them, you must then give your life over to loving, praying, and acting  on the beloved’s behalf.

May the mystics, the lovers of creation, the children and youth of our world continue to call us to live in the right relationship lifted up in Marilou Awiatka’s poem, “When Earth Becomes an ‘It’”:

When the people call Earth “Mother,”
they take with love
and with love give back
so that all may live.

When the people call Earth “it,”
they use her
consume her strength.
Then the people die.

Already the sun is hot
out of season.
Our Mother’s breast
is going dry.
She is taking all green
into her heart
and will not turn back
until we call her
by her name.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Hold in tenderness and prayer our Earth, our Mother.
Tell her what you cherish most about our Common Home.
Commit yourself to caretaking, and give thanks.

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