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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The Things We Drop

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   September 7, 2019

We drop many things: toast on the kitchen floor; soap in the shower; pens and Smart phones almost anywhere. Sometimes the things we drop aren’t easily retrieved or restored, like keys down a storm drain grate; a toddler’s stuffed giraffe on its way  down a swirling toilet; a cast-off or shattered relationship.droppingBreaking shattered pot copyMy reflecting on the things we drop is largely a consequence of a post-surgical reality, the repeated warning not to bend over to pick up anything for fear of displacement of bones or metal. What to do, then, with the salad greens that have tumbled onto the floor or the paper copy the printer has spit out and that landed, of course, just beyond one’s reach? Enter the amazing and helpful Grabber, a long, stick-like device that can be viewed as an extension of one’s arm and that can latch onto and retrieve almost anything. Skilled as it is, though, the Grabber, like our lives, has its limitations in restoring to a rightful place what one has dropped.

I used to quickly bend over and automatically scoop up whatever had tumbled onto the floor. In my new normal, my restrictions have offered me a fresh perspective. I find myself pausing and finding a deeper meaning in the things we drop. This may sound like a shrinking of one’s worldview, but it’s actually an expansion, a challenge to live with greater mindfulness, a call to notice how the entire universe is present in the smallest, seemingly most insignificant of things. It’s an echo of the mystic William Blake’s desire “to see the world in a grain of sand.” It’s an imitation of St. Therese’s Little Way, making a blessing of the simple gesture of picking up a pin. It’s a reminder of Mary Oliver’s insightful words about “the first, the wildest, and the wisest thing I know, that the soul exists and is built entirely of attentiveness.”eyewithworld copy

So in noticing and reflecting on the things we drop, I’m reminded of the subtle, rather gradual falling away of relationships that sometimes occurs due to distance, making it difficult to sustain ties. Or the occasional, deliberate choice to drop a person from our list of acquaintances because of their toxic presence, their negativity, their anger. Or the parting from another in the wake of an intense argument or following harsh words uttered in anger. This dropping, as we know, may be temporary or may subtly grow into a state of permanence.

And what of our connection to the Holy One? In my ministry of spiritual direction and retreat work, I often hear persons confide that they feel guilty because they’ve “dropped” God from their lives. Sometimes that sentiment follows the sudden and tragic loss of a loved one, or a desperate plea for a miracle that seems to have gone unheard, or their general sense of the unfairness of their life and their consequent blaming of God.  Most often, though, I’ve found that when people talk about dropping God, what they generally mean is that they’ve forgotten or let go of the practices of daily prayer or meditation or that they no longer work at finding a few minutes of stillness each day in which to hear the Holy One speak. For any of us, this can start as an occasional happening and then simply melt into a routine forgetting. Yet we know that every relationship, both with the Holy One and with others, needs to be fed by making time to check in, share what’s unfolding in our lives, and then listen deeply to the other as well as ourselves. And the wonderful reality is that, no matter our lack of engagement, the Holy One never drops us. God is at every moment longing for our return, our desire to repair and restore, no questions asked.earth weknowyourdream.org

If we believe, with the poet, that our souls are built of attentiveness, may we then deepen our practice of pausing and truly noticing what is right in front of us—in the things we drop, in the things we retrieve, in the things that are beyond our reach, on where we are in the moment and on how the Holy One is present. May we grow in the practice of noticing and paying attention to the Divine at work in our world in our time and place.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Ask for the grace of awareness and openness to the people and events that may drop in and out of your life today.
What might these messengers be calling you to notice?

You might also, as you move through the morning, afternoon, and evening, reflect on anything you may drop in the course of the day. If you’re able, make the simple action of pausing and picking it up a prayer itself.

NOTE:
Thank you for your patience and understanding of my absence from writing for Mining the Now the past few months. I’m continuing my journey towards full healing which is many months in the future, but I hope now to return to a regular schedule of posting blogs. Your prayerful support is welcome and gratefully received now and in the months to come.

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Cultivating the Practice of Pearls

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  August 11, 2019

I’ve always been fond of pearls, the jewels associated with my birth month of June. I love their simple elegance: not showy, not gaudy, a classic statement of beauty. There’s also some sentiment attached to my fondness for pearls, because my mother often put on her Pearls copysmallerfaux string of pearls to complete an outfit for a special occasion. That gesture was sort of like the period at the end of a sentence, announcing, “Finished and ready. Go out and meet the world.” When no one else was interested in my mother’s costume jewelry after her death, I claimed her double string of pearls. I feel her nearness when I wear them, and I continue her ritual: pause for an observant glance in the mirror and then go out and meet the world.

Perhaps I’ve been so taken in by the loveliness of pearls that until recently I’d given little thought to the path of their creation. A path that begins in pain or discomfort. A path that is usually unexpected and pretty much unwanted—it’s an irritation, after all—but an irritation that brings forth treasure from an oyster.pearlinoyster

Oysters can filter fifty gallons of water in a single day, taking in whatever impurities of silt or sand the current sends their way and purifying that water. This discernment of sorts reminds us that pearls are formed inside a living, breathing creature. A grain of sand, a bit of debris is all it takes to initiate the forming of a new shape. An oyster immediately responds by covering the unwanted visitor with layer after layer of nacre, mother-of-pearl, until a new gem is formed. Pearls, objects of exquisite beauty, are born out of intrusion and the uninvited. Their singular beauty begins in a place of discomfort, a locus of accommodating newness.

In “Working Mindfully with Physical Pain,” Mark Coleman, founder of the Mindfulness Institute, notes that our experience of pain is influenced by the quality of our attention. “If we meet pain with resistance and fear, or with an agenda to get rid of it,” he notes, “it often feels worse because we grip in contraction against it. If we meet pain with a sense of surrender, of softening the contraction or the tight muscles around it, this can increase a sense of space or ease, even when the difficult experience continues.”

The practice of mindfulness—and it is indeed a practice—invites us not to run from the pain that comes into our lives. Instead, to name it and accept it with an open and kind attention, to reframe difficult experiences from being a burden into being a chalice of growth and understanding, to open our heart to ourselves and to broaden compassion for all those who suffer physically.

This has echoes beyond physical pain and offers parallels for the life of the spirit. The path of the pearl invites us into reviewing our day and asking:

What has been my response today to pain, to irritation, to newness? How have I embraced the interruptions that have come into this day? Where did I welcome the stranger who arrived in need but at an inconvenient time?

Today and every day, may we grow in our practice of facing whatever breaks us open, look within to our deepest talents, and ask for the grace of spaciousness of heart to welcome whoever and whatever each moment brings us.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.

“Pearls, objects of exquisite beauty, are born out of intrusion and the uninvited.”
Reflect on an experience in your life when you were challenged beyond your comfort zone: to welcome a person different from yourself, or to embrace a fresh idea, or to lean into a different way of doing things.

What did that invitation feel like? Look like?

How did the Holy One invite you to expand your worldview at that time?

Where might you be called to show spaciousness of heart now?

NOTE:
In case you’re wondering what happened to Mining the Now:

This blog was originally written to be posted on June 30. However, the day before, I slipped and badly fractured my femur, so I had to have emergency surgery to repair and reconstruct my thigh bone and at the same time to have hip revision surgery to relieve sciatic pain resulting from a compressed nerve. After 35 days in the hospital, rehab and physical therapy, I’m now continuing my recovery at home. I’ve canceled all my commitments for August and September while I enter into the slow work of healing, but I hope to begin offering new posts for Mining the Now sometime in September.

Thank you for your understanding and for the continued prayer and healing energies you send my way. I hold you in my heart and in my prayers of gratitude. Blessings!

Becoming Sabbath

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  June 16, 2019

Whenever a friend of mine sees me, she calls out, “How you be?” The way she utters my name, the way she inquires into the state of my soul immediately conveys that I’m approaching safe harbor and the shelter of a compassionate and listening heart in her. That I’m about to encounter someone who cares deeply for my well-being, someone who will accompany me through the changing terrain of my life.circle of arms copy

My friend witnesses what it means to actually become Sabbath. While we usually speak of observing, keeping, and honoring it, Barbara Reid, writing in Abiding Word, stretches our thinking when she explains, “Sabbath is so much more than regulations about how to keep from profaning it.  It is the space in which to enter into awesome mystery, to be embraced by the creative and liberating love of God, to give thanks together as a freed people, and to bring those gifts to birth in the remainder of our workaday world.” In a very real sense, Reid is also describing what it’s like to be in the presence of another who’s engaged in the deep inner soul work of embodying Sabbath. 

Sometimes it takes the primal intuition of a child to distill a definition down to its essence. When children were asked in a survey to answer the question, “What is love?” their responses also offered fresh thinking about becoming a source of Sabbath for others. One child evidenced a particularly profound recognition of what love is. “When someone really loves you,” the child wrote, “the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.”

When we offer others the certainty that their name and all they cherish is held as sacred by us, when we embody sanctuary, a space that honors and respects the secrets and the fears and the hopes our neighbors carry, we are becoming Sabbath. Clearly, Sabbath is so much more than the stillness and space in which we honor the Holy One, pause to reflect, and look inward as a way to provide self-care. It is extending spaciousness of heart outward by saying to the other, “There is room in my heart for you.” It is cultivating the ability to sit still in a room, ready to open the door to whoever knocks. It is entering into Mystery. It is echoing the invitation of Jesus, “Come to me, all who are burdened and heavy laden.” (Matthew 11:28) When we live from this sense of Sabbath, we are open to whatever comes into our lives.

In a post on Spirituality & Practice’s Spiritual Practice of the Day, Wayne Muller reflected on the call to enlarge our hearts. “At our best,” he wrote, “we become Sabbath for one another. We are the emptiness, the day of rest. We become space, that our loved ones, the lost and the sorrowful, may find rest in us.”heartincoffee

May we work at becoming our very best selves. May we keep the empty space so that the broken and the wounded, no matter when they enter our lives, will find room in our attitudes, our consciousness, our worldview. May we offer shelter and sanctuary and haven from the storm to all who are seeking a place to pause, to all who are battered by the fierceness of everyday living. Through the grace of the Holy One, may there be space enough and compassion enough and welcome enough in us so that we may truly become Sabbath.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on Sabbath as spaciousness of heart, a place to rest, a sanctuary.
Call to mind an experience of being welcomed and loved by another in this way or a time when you offered Sabbath through your attitude or action.
Ask the Holy One to deepen the practice of becoming Sabbath in you.
Close this time with a bow and with thanks to the Holy One who is forever a welcoming Presence.

NOTE:

Happy Father’s Day to all who are becoming Sabbath in your roles as nurturers, protectors, wisdom figures, mentors. 

Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of this upcoming event: 

June 23 – 28: A guided retreat I’ll be offering for the Sisters of St. Cyril and Methodius at St. Cyril Spiritual Center, Danville, PA. Thank you!

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Telling It

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   June 1, 2019

Within each of us is the power of story. Not a single isolated thread, but a burgeoning collective of relationship, experience, circumstance, and dreams that speak to the richness and complexity of who I am, of who we are.

Each of us is owed the opportunity to share the story of our lives. And although it may not be theologically correct, I feel that when voices are silenced by forces beyond their control, the beauty of the Holy One is in some way diminished or obscured. When the story that is uniquely me is never breathed into life, is ridiculed or dismissed or ignored, is never allowed an opening to be spoken or heard, then some part of the universe is lacking, missing, incomplete. We are all in some way less for that un-telling.

IMG_2202 copyThat message was palpably present to me when I recently made a first-time visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, a dream I’ve held since it first opened in 2016. There was no way I could be present along with thousands of others walking through in reverent stillness without the power of story reverberating and staying with me.

There was a hush among the crowd who visited the museum with me, but the silence was not empty. It shouted of longing and desire to be heard. It sang of pride and anguish and loss and grief and rejoicing and committed protest. It celebrated full-throated spirituals and liberating dance and jazz and the music of poetry. It refused to remain untold or hidden away from history books. It stood rooted in abiding faith and the company of the ancestors. It was, for me, made holy by the multitude of voices speaking across time and space and echoing on every floor.

I can speak only to my own limited experience, which was that at times, my being at the museum was painful and humbling at what has been endured and at my often unconscious role in that suffering; at times, full of wonder; at times, filled with awe at the courage and perseverance on display; at all times, challenged at every turn to seek the fullness of justice for all. I couldn’t help reflecting how much less we would all be if these stories were left untold. Whenever we encounter and truly listen to another’s story, we are enriched. We cannot remain the same.

sjgroupme2What a grace and an enlightenment it is to know even a paragraph or a brief chapter of another’s journey. When we come face to face with what another has been shouldering, when we learn what is so precious to them that they hold it in trembling and tender hands, when we discover the spaciousness of heart another has had to grow into so that a larger story might come into being, we are surely standing on holy ground.

This is true of each of us and the stories we carry. In our families and relationships, our neighborhoods, our nation, our world, we hold many remembrances that are awaiting and deserving of a listening. May we honor and give thanks for the profound privilege it is to be invited into another’s life in this way. May our stories be both told and heard with honesty, with reverence, and with tenderness.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on these words from David W. Augsburger:
“Being heard is so close to being loved that for most people, they are indistinguishable.”

When have you experienced being listened to in this way?
When have you given another the gift of being fully heard?
Ask for the grace of attentive hearing.
Give thanks to the Holy One who is always present, always responsive.

NOTE:

Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of a guided retreat I’ll be leading for the Sisters of Mercy in Merion Station, PA, June 1 – June 7. 

May I also ask you to remember me as I enter into my own time of retreat beginning June 15. Thank you.

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The Holy Work of Self-Care

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  May 17, 2019

A day of full sun. Not generally notable except that in this continuously raw, rainy spring in the Northeast United States where I live, the appearance of a cloudless sky is an exception, a welcome one. This time of year, warming temperatures and greening landscapes often trigger dreams for a vacation of some kind. Spring ushering in the summer season draws out expressions of our longing for a break from routine, a chance to shed the trappings of bulky winter coats and woolen scarves and trade them in for summer apparel, a reminder to pause, to rest, to recreate and to re-create.Biddefordbench

We yearn for a different sense of time, a slowing down, a deeper listening to and noticing of our body’s rhythms and our sometimes unacknowledged need for renewal. A question I often find myself asking as summer approaches is: Why only now? Why limit our seeking of wholeness and well-being to just certain times of the year?

Could Jesus have had that question in mind when he articulated the mandate that follows the greatest commandment of loving God with all our passion and prayer and intelligence? Irrevocably linked is a second command: loving others as well as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:34-40).  It’s the last phrase, “as we love ourselves,” that seems to be neglected or forgotten. Just how do we love, respect and reverence ourselves as a wondrous and beloved creation of the Holy One?

Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew expression underscoring that we are here to repair the world, a world that is both beautiful and wounded. What’s easy to overlook is that we are the world. We are part of that beauty and that brokenness. We are named in Isaiah 58:12 as “repairer of the breach” and “restorer of ruined dwellings.” And so our call is not only to work to heal the brokenness of our neighbors but to repair and restore what is fragmented and worn and spent in ourselves.

What in us is crying out for attention and renewal? As we give our lives over to moving forward God’s dream for our world, how do we also love and care for ourselves as the Holy One intends? Do we live from the belief that self-care is as holy a work as any other? Do we listen to and act on the Message Bible’s translation of Matthew 11:28-30: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out…? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

We live very full, very rich, and often very busy lives where we move from one event to another. Might we integrate into the dailiness of life a simple step: a sacred pause to experience the unforced rhythms of grace, to pay attention, to listen to the wisdom of our bodies, to notice and assess how we are. To ask: What are we yearning for? What do we need more of or less of? Is there any area of our lives where we feel deprived? Can we name some blocks or hindrances that stand in the way of taking time to care for ourselves?capemayrocker

In this excerpt from his poem, “Things to Think,” Robert Bly suggests a refreshing and novel way to think about self-care and our place in the universe. May we carry his wisdom and his words into the days ahead:

Think in ways you’ve never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you’ve ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats…

When someone knocks on the door, think that he’s
about
To give you something large: tell you you’re forgiven,
Or that it’s not necessary to work all the time, or that
it’s
Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on an area of your life where you long for renewal.
Name what you need to feel restored.
Ask the Holy One to lead you in finding simple ways to integrate this in your everyday living.
Pray that all people in our world will also be graced with whatever they might most need to be renewed.

NOTE:
Thank you for your prayerful support of the retreat days I recently led at Our Lady of Grace Center, Manhasset, NY; Geisinger Holy Spirit Hospital, Camp Hill, PA; and the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA. I’m grateful to all who were part of those blessed days. 

This coming week I’m actually listening to my own wisdom (after all, what I write is usually pretty much what I need to hear myself!) and setting time aside for self-care and renewal. Thank you for supporting that desire with your prayer. 

Please also pray for the first of the summer retreats I’ll be leading and all who will enter into the retreat experience: 

June 1-7:  Guided Retreat for the Sisters of Mercy, Merion Station, PA.  Thank you!

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