Longing Laid Bare

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, February 26, 2017

At some time or another, we may have had this startling experience: an accidental, unexpected glimpse into the eyes of another, a discovery that reveals the hidden depths of a person’s heart, that exposes their raw, unfiltered desire or longing.

It’s what I saw in the eyes of junior high school students, oblivious to the world unfolding around them and dreamily gazing at their first crush. “Even the back of her head is beautiful,” mumbled one of them when I interrupted his meditation on the girl who sat in front of him in class.

It’s what I saw in the eyes of my mother in unguarded moments when she thought no one was looking at her. After 43 years of marriage, she had outlived my Dad by ten years, and in those ten years without him, her face was sometimes suffused with a wistful longing tinged with sadness.

And it’s what I see every Ash Wednesday when I look into the faces of those lining up for the distribution of ashes. When I served in pastoral ministry at a parish in Southeast ash-wednesdaygetting-ashes-copyQueens, one of my favorite days was Ash Wednesday. Favorite, because I always noticed something different in the faces of people coming forward to receive ashes on this day. I saw hope and desire that was transparent, direct, immediate, and insistent.

On Ash Wednesday, I welcomed many unfamiliar faces, and although I didn’t know their names or their stories, I recognized, in an intuitive way, the longing that looked back at me. Longing for a change of heart. For more engaged prayer. For right relationship. For forgiveness. For a second chance. For God by whatever name one might call the Holy.

Perhaps we connect with Lent as a season of penance and fasting, a letting go of whatever might stand in the way of our largeness of heart and a greater capacity for tenderness and welcome. Perhaps we connect with Lent as an invitation to feasting, to being nourished by prayer and by God’s own desire for us. Lent is all of these elements, certainly, but for me, Lent is most of all forever married to desire and intention, a season when our deepest longings are laid bare.

I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps it’s finding ourselves in the Scriptural desert this season imagines. A desert where there’s no place to hide. A desert where the glare of the noonday sun exposes our illusions and distractions for what they are. A desert where we can’t carry allash-wednesday-ashes-copy the baggage we pack for other journeys and so we’re led to re-define what’s really necessary and important, what lives and makes a home in the heart of us.

What I suspect is that on Ash Wednesday, I’ll once again be looking into the eyes. What I know with a certainty is that I’ll be finding there a profound reflection of the deep desire God has for each one of us.

Wishing you every blessing on these Lenten days!

Takeaway

Spend some time in quiet reflection.

Name the longings of your heart.
Who or what has been nudging you, drawing you, and inviting you to pay closer attention?
What is God’s deep desire for you?

NOTE:

In the beginning days of this Lenten season, please hold in your prayer all who will be part of these retreats and days of prayer I’ll be leading: 

March 1, Ash Wednesday retreat day,  Diocese of Scranton, PA
March 4, Mount St. Mary House of Prayer, Watchung, NJ
March 5-10, Maryknoll Sisters, Ossining, NY
March 12, The Catholic Churches of Sullivan County, NY

Photo credits:  Pinterest; St. Clement Parish; Catholic Online

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Changing the Menu

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, February 12, 2017

A new year often brings resolutions designed to promote our well-being and good health. Perhaps more exercise. More regular sleep. More attentiveness to our diet, with changes reflecting healthy eating patterns. We may plunge into January with enthusiasm and resolve, and then sometimes notice a lessening of commitment as the days move forward.

At least, that’s what I observed about my own diet recently, although in a somewhat different way. After weeks of companioning and listening to so many people who, saturated by world news, shared their anguish, their fear, their anger, their dismay at deepening attitudes of exclusion towards the most vulnerable and fragile people in our world, I began to experience an indigestion of sorts, an agita that was both physical andmenuearth-copy spiritual. How did I not realize that I had been eating a woefully unbalanced diet, heavy on cynicism and despair and light on all the things that animate and inspire?

One Saturday afternoon, I had the television on while a figure skating program played out in the background. I wasn’t really watching it because I was focused on working on a project, but my attention abruptly changed when an ethereal piece of music began to play. I stopped what I was doing and looked up immediately. The beauty I heard invited my full attention. It was a Shawshank moment.

In one of my favorite films, “The Shawshank Redemption,” Andy Dufresne, a cultured man of refined tastes, is wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to life in Shawshank prison. For a man of his background, the experience of brutality, violence, and absolute lack of the beautiful makes prison life excruciatingly painful. Day after day, year after year, the same deadly routine, the same dull shade of despair.

One day, after months of requesting funds to update the prison library, Andy receives a donation, boxes of books and music. He immediately takes out a record, leans back in a chair, and plays “Duettino – Sull ‘Aria” from The Marriage of Figaro. Then, in quiet defiance of the prison authorities, he locks the office door and turns on the public address system so the music pours out into the entire prison. The soaring, operatic voices penetrate every cell, float out over the prison yard and into the infirmary. Longtime inmates stop in their tracks and let the music wash over them. Hardened faces become soft and tender. Not a muscle moves, not a word is spoken as the music saturates each inmate.   For a moment, Shawshank prison and everyone in it is transformed.

menu-copyMy Shawshank moment came at a time when hauntingly beautiful music grabbed my soul and transported me beyond the figure skating program on TV. The music invited me into an epiphany of sorts, for, like Andy Dufresne, I was also being held captive. I was imprisoned by a daily diet of news that trumpeted fear mongering and enemy-making, by feelings of helplessness, by an overwhelming sense of our collective paralysis to change direction. I needed to break out of this prison and feed myself with other sources of nourishment. I needed a change of diet. More engaged prayer. More thoughtful tending to my longing and hunger for the Holy. Upping my dose of connection to those who work for justice and embody peace. Increasing my daily intake of the arts, of music and dance and poetry and painting, food that offers a more hope-filled response to the wounds of our world.

So with God’s grace, I’m adjusting my daily diet. I’m eating more beauty and hope and tenderness and welcome. Care to try this menu with me?

Takeaway

Create a meal of the beautiful. Arrange a bouquet of flowers. Play a piece of instrumental music. Read some inspiring words of poetry out loud. Gaze at a work of art. Walk under a canopy of trees. Savor stillness.

After a period of absorbing and digesting what’s before you and around you, take some time to reflect:

Give thanks for all that is beautiful in your life.
How has the experience of beauty changed you and set you free?
Hold in your prayer those whose worldview is limited by despair or fear of change and of fresh thinking.

NOTE:  Please remember in your prayer all who will be part of a retreat day, “Taking Heart,” that I’ll be facilitating at Our Lady of Grace Center, Manhasset, NY, February 18. Many thanks!

 

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Cultivating a Crossroads Heart

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, January 29, 2017

This past weekend, in our chapel at the IHM Center in Scranton, those gathered witnessed the incorporation of a Sister from another community into the fullness of life of our IHM congregation.  This tender, beautiful ceremony formally welcomed our Sister Elvia to transfer her perpetual vows from the community she had originally entered and into our IHM community, as a Sister, Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Scranton, PA).

The ceremony was also a celebration of what it means to cultivate a crossroads heart, to pay attention to Holy Mystery, to live in a state of readiness for whatever unfolds in the ordinary and the everyday.  I’m still holding close to my heart the emotional impact of witnessing Elvia’s leap of faith and trust.  And her incorporation has invited me to reflect on similar journeys in my life, times that called for thoughtful and sometimes challenging discernment.  I invite you also to enter into today’s reflection and find the parallels to your own efforts of sorting out and responding to God’s path for you. 

One of the most profound graces of my life came about many years ago when I was applying to study to become a spiritual director.  As a requirement for acceptance into the program, I was asked to write a spiritual autobiography.  There were guidelines and a suggestion of what we might want to include, so it seemed that for a writer like me, this would be an easy assignment.  Not so!  I struggled with it for days right up until the deadline.  When I sat down to read what I had put to paper,  I was stunned at the map of my soul’s landscape that spread out in front of me.

That map revealed that very little in my life had moved forward in a straight, unwavering line.  There were seeming detours and interruptions, roads taken and not taken.  As in any life, times of both heartache and delight, emotional pain and loss, as well as blessings too numerous to count.  What stood out in my map reading was the outline of God’s presence in my life, the traces of the Holy that marked each step.  There was discernment large and small, the messiness of decision-making, the struggling with ambiguity and the longing for absolute certainty.  There were times of paralysis.  There were periods of desperately waiting for a burning bush or a blinding light to knock me off my imaginary horse.

Or an eyebrow.  Once, when I was companioned by a spiritual director in a long discernment process about a major life change, I kept coming to the edge of a final cheyebrow-copyoice—and then I’d back away, frozen in immobility.  The retreating had nothing to do with logic and everything to do with fear.  The path I was already on was comfortable and familiar, but not life-giving for me, yet it was the one I knew.  The possible path ahead appeared to hold the abundant life God dreams for each of us, but it was unknown.  So back and forth I went.  Observing this back-and-forth dance over and over, my director finally asked, “Chris, what is it that you really want?”  I heard myself say, “I want an eyebrow!”  I explained that I wanted to see on my director’s face some indication of the path I should embrace and choose.  I wanted her eyebrow to go up or down, revealing what she thought was the better choice for me.

As a now long-time spiritual director, I know it’s not the role of a spiritual guide to provide an eyebrow or a quick and easy answer, but to listen with and companion another with attention and intention.  In Discernment, a Path to Spiritual Awakening, Rose Mary Dougherty notes that, “The habit of discernment fine-tunes the ear of the heart so that we hear more clearly the invitations to love intrinsic to every moment of life.  In the habit of discernment, our choices are again and again refined by the invitations to love.  Gradually we come to know what is consonant with love, what we need to do or need not to do, and, with grace, we are free to respond.”

What is consonant with love: that’s the question  Deuteronomy (30:19-20) poses to us:

“I call heaven and earth to witness the choice you make.
Choose life, that you and your descendants may live.”

In discernments large and small, may we choose what is consonant with love.  May wechoicesoldnew discern wisely and well, gathering the best information and wisdom we can and summoning, with God’s grace, the courage we need to move into the unknown.  May we listen with openness to the present moment and so cultivate a heart always ready for the crossroads ahead.

Takeaway

Reflect on a time when you were faced with a significant choice in your life.
What factors were involved?
Who or what helped you to choose?
How did prayer figure into your decision-making?
What were the consequences of your choice?

Spend some quiet time in prayers of gratitude for God’s presence and the accompaniment and support of others at that time of decision-making.

NOTE:  Thank you to all of you who held in your prayer the directed retreat weekend at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville.  Special thanks to Brother Chris Derby, SJ, Susan Bowers-Baker, all of the Center staff, directors, and retreatants who contributed to making the weekend a graced experience in that holy place.

 

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Witnessing by Another Way

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, January 15, 2017

Cast a pebble into a still pond and then linger on the banks.  Watch as the ripples widen and widen in expanding circles as far as the eye can see.  And when the outermost edges of that ripple escape your sight, remember what science tells us: that beyond the range of what we can perceive, movement and motion continue to cast larger circles out into the universe.

The poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, might have been describing this phenomenon on a personal level when he wrote,

“I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not ever complete the last one,
but I give myself to it.”

Recently, the image of ripples on a pond re-surfaced when Pope Francis spoke of “a spirituality of influence.”  A life given over to love, compassion, and witness in a rippling effect.  A movement, a direction that’s not dependent on physical or mental ability, on social status, prestige, or wealth.  A circle made continually wider by the largeness of one’s heart and the reach of one’s compassion.

In the announcement of Detective Steven McDonald’s death just this past week, I saw up close such a sphere of spiritual influence: the ongoing ripples that emanated from the ripplesmcdonaldlegacy of a good and holy man.   I was living in New York on July 12, 1986, when Officer McDonald, a young New York City policeman, was shot three times by a teenager whom McDonald had stopped while on patrol.  The shooting left the officer paralyzed from the neck down for the remaining thirty years of his life.

On the surface, it might have seemed that in the aftermath of the shooting, the sphere of Steven’s influence had narrowed dramatically and significantly.  Not so!  The ripples of his spirituality were just beginning to spread out across the city, the nation, the world in witness to God’s grace at work in the human spirit.

Because Steven McDonald didn’t stop giving his life over in love and tenderness.  He didn’t spend a single second in self-pity, anger, or resentment.  He made peace with the cross he would shoulder for the rest of his life, with the fact that, though he might leave the hospital, he would never be able to leave his wheelchair, never be able to play catch with his son, Conor, born a few months after the shooting.  How telling that at his father’s funeral, Conor, now himself a police officer, called his father “superman,” the most tender, caring Dad a child could ever hope to have.

In the face of incalculable limitation and loss, Steven chose to grow his presence, to enlarge his heart, to expand the good he could contribute to the world.  He embraced the countercultural act of forgiving Shavod Jones, the teenager who had changed the course of his life with a bullet, when he stated early on through his loving, supportive wife, Patti Ann: “I forgive him and hope he can find peace and purpose in his life.”

Steven  became a counselor and inspiration to other wounded police officers.  His influence stretched beyond geographic borders as he traveled to Bosnia, Northern Ireland,ripples-copy Israel–areas of intense conflict and deep-seated, decades-long enmities—witnessing to the healing power of reconciliation.  He chose to move forward on a spiritual journey marked by love, compassion, and forgiveness.

At Steven’s funeral liturgy this past week, Police Commissioner James O’Neill noted the ripples that continue to emanate from Steven’s life.  “The cycle of violence that plagues so many lives today can be overcome only by breaking down the walls that separate people,” he observed.  “The best tools for doing this, Steven taught us, are love, respect, and forgiveness.”

Thank you for being an extraordinary teacher, Detective Steven McDonald.  May you rest in peace among the holy ones.  May the witness of your life given over to hope and courage and profound faith continue to ripple out into our beautiful, yet wounded world.

Takeaway

Prayerfully reflect on the phrase, “a spirituality of influence.”
Give thanks for the great cloud of witnesses who make visible the face of God among us.

In whom have you experienced the Holy?
Whose words or actions have shaped your life and reflected the face of God to you?

As you reflect on the days ahead of you this week, where might you be called to be a force for good?  For compassion?  For forgiveness?

 

NOTE:  I’ll be serving as one of the directors for a retreat weekend beginning January 27 at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, PA.  Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of this prayerful experience.  Many thanks!

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The Hunger Names

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, January 1, 2017

No, this title is not a typo. I didn’t misspell the reference to a popular film. I didn’t fall victim to sugar overload or fuzzy thinking from one too many Christmas cookies (although I certainly did indulge). It’s not the result of a late night of ringing in the New Year.

So why The Hunger Names? Because it occurs to me as we stand peering into the year before us that so often the beginning of a new year centers around resolutions focused on what we want to let go of: extra pounds, unhealthy habits, toxic situations, and more. I wonder what might be revealed if instead we chose to spend time discerning what it is that we long to fill ourselves up with. What if we dug a bit deeper and named that for which we truly hunger? What if we spent some time early in this new year mining our deepest desires as well as God’s desire for each one of us?

There is great power in naming. Naming connotes belonging: parents often devote hungerpregnancy-copyconsiderable time to choosing the perfect name for the child of their hopes and dreams. Naming shows connection: new owners may search for just the right title as they bring an adopted pet into their home. Naming witnesses to the intimacy and closeness of relationship: we tend to name what is significant and meaningful in our lives. And naming sometimes offers us a liberation of sorts when we’re able to voice what we hold in our hearts.

Not long ago, I was gifted with Joyce Rupp’s Fragments of Your Ancient Name. The book, subtitled “365 Glimpses of the Divine for Daily Meditation,” highlights names by which God is known around the world. The names are drawn from many faith traditions, rituals, and contemporary writers, and the author explores each name in a brief meditation followed by a simple sentence as a takeaway into one’s day.

Of course, when it comes to naming the Divine, we come face to face with our limited understanding of the One Rabbi Rami Shapiro calls “The Reality Beyond Naming,” the One of whom Dorothee Soelle acknowledges, “There are never enough names and images for what we love.”

Edwina Gately bumped into this human limitation in a hermitage conversation. She recalls, “When I asked my God if I could come and stay with Him for a while, She said: ‘Yes, but don’t bring your God with you.’ Oh, how easy it is to clutter up the path to the Holy Spirit with my images and preconceptions of God! The mystical heart lets go of all images, icons, and expectations of God.”

Gately wasn’t dismissing or discouraging our attempts to name who God is for us. She was hungerheartinhands-copysimply acknowledging the truth that God is so much bigger than we can ask or imagine and that we don’t ever want to close ourselves off from fresh revelations of the Divine. When we pay attention to the names of the Holy which most resonate with us, we can come to a revelation about who God is for us at this time in our lives: Dreamer? Lantern of Love? Mother of the Weary? One Who Weeps? The Opener or Beckoner? Sanctuary? Flute Player? Laughing One? Shelter? Friend of the Poor? Disturber? Lord of the Dance? Other?   (a sampler from Fragments of Your Ancient Name)

Imagine what might happen if we widen the space of our tent and invite in words and images beyond our usual consciousness. Being open to the new in other cultures and faith traditions offers a fresh way to look at what God hopes and dreams for all people on this planet.   Which names make us sit up, pay attention, and notice? Which names grab our soul? Which names shake our complacency? Which names stretch our borders? Which names do we find particularly tender, consoling, exciting, affirming, disturbing? And why?

As we search for words and images to describe the Holy One, our prayerful reflection may reveal something of our deepest desires for this new year and beyond. May it also reveal how God desires to be present in every moment of every day of this year ahead for all of our beautiful, yet wounded world.

Takeaway

Sit in God’s presence and reflect on your images of God.

What names of the Holy speak to you at this time in your life?
Which ones do you imagine might especially amuse or delight God?

For what are you hungering in this new year?
What is the Holy One desiring in you for the life of the world?

 

Happy New Year! Thank you for following or discovering this blog and for praying with me for a new year marked by peace and a deepened sense of the Holy in our world.

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Making Room

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, December 18, 2016

Is it strange that one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of the Advent season is space?  Driving to and from New York City, which I do fairly often, I pay close attention to the electronic highway signs warning of accidents, detours, and traffic delays.  I pay particular notice when the word, “heavy,” prefaces any report of what’s ahead and warns me of exactly how I’m going to be spending the next several hours of my life.  At this time of year, however, the electronic message is pretty much the same every day:  “Gridlock Alert.  Take Mass Transit.”  Translation:  Too much going on.  Too many cars.  Too little space.  Not enough room.

I read that as an Advent announcement, a contemporary signs-of-the-times sort of message.  Make room.  Let go of what’s no longer life-giving, but don’t stop there.  Stretch your heart.  Expand your worldview.  Take a close look at what you’ve made room for and what you’ve kept out. roomhearthands-copy

“Enlarge the space of your tent!” Isaiah urges us.  “Spread your tent cloths unsparingly.  Lengthen your ropes and make firm your stakes.”  The Message Bible provides a contemporary translation of Isaiah’s message as, “Clear lots of ground for your tents!  Make your tents large.  Spread out!  Think big!  You’re going to need lots of elbow room for your growing family…You’re going to resettle abandoned cities.”

Isaiah’s message is echoed as we prepare to enter into the Nativity story, holding up for our reflection a young couple desperately seeking space, safe space, space that will welcome not only them but the fragile, newborn life Mary carries within her.

Isaiah’s message is echoed today in the news accounts of desperate refugees seeking safe shelter.  We see people in the besieged city of Aleppo, targeted and shelled and bombed into oblivion.  From a world away, we hear heart-wrenching pleas for help.  We see parents consumed with grief beyond words as they cradle the lifeless bodies of their children.  We read their text and video messages as they ponder what may very well be their last words to our world.  We may weep and wonder: is there no space that will welcome them, hold them to their heart, tell them they can sleep in peace tonight?

Isaiah’s message is also echoed in our everyday lives as we reflect on the choices we’ve made and are making about what to let go of and what to take in.  About how we have made room for more engaged prayer, more thoughtful relationships, more experiences of beauty, more actions for justice.  About how we have accepted the invitation for our worldviews to expand to fuller hospitality toward others who look different, or sound different, or share customs and traditions that are strange to us but cherished by them.

Isaiah’s message is echoed in an invitation recently offered by my IHM community to anroomboxes-copy evening of contemplative dialogue promising a safe, sacred, non-judgmental space for people to gather following the U.S. elections.  It was an experience of practicing Isaiah’s admonition to enlarge the space of our tent.  In this space, we committed to make room for the other, to listen and share with openness and respect around 3 questions:

  • Where is your heart now?  (A question of feeling) 
  • What has your heart heard?  (A question of noticing after a round of sharing and listening) 
  • How does your heart hope to move forward?  (A question of desiring and acting after a second round of sharing and listening)

We are drawing close to the feast of Christmas.  We are nearing the ultimate example of the Holy making space: Emmanuel, God-with-us, fully inhabiting and embracing our human condition with all its hopes and its brokenness. May our desire and our choices to make room be a sign of hope for our beautiful, yet wounded world.

Takeaway

Spend some quiet time in these last days of Advent, gazing with love at our world and reflecting on these 3 questions:

Where is your heart now?
What has your heart heard?Hand held out copy
How does your heart hope to move forward?

Wishing you every blessing of Emmanuel, the Holy One who always makes room, in this Christmas season and always!

 

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Sticking with Love

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, December 4, 2016

For a few weeks before this season of Advent began, we listened to many readings about the signs of the End Times—you know the ones:  nation rising against nation; earthquakes, plagues, and famine; desolation; suffering, persecution, and death.  I confess these have never been my favorite Scripture passages—I’m much more of an Advent kind of spirit.

But this year, in the aftermath of what we’ve seen unfolding in our nation and world, I found that the readings of the End Times felt somehow closer to my spirit than the hopefulness of Advent.  In our world this past year, we’ve witnessed a long and brutal election process, bullying, legitimizing hatred, demonizing immigrants, excluding or acting violently toward Muslims, the LGBT community, people of color, women—anyone who is perceived as different or outside the margins of power.

So many of us—including me—might not be feeling the Advent dream right now: that vision of the peaceable kin-dom with the wolf playing with the lamb.  With a dead stump blossoming into new growth.  With a desert drenched in rain and turning green.  With no more crying or weeping or mourning.  With images of rejoicing and dancing and feasts of fat, juicy food with enough leftovers to feed the entire planet.

handscradlingcandleThese Advent images stand in stark contrast to what many have expressed as their feelings going into this season.  In conversations, in faith sharing, in companioning people in spiritual direction, I’ve heard a litany of the same anguished life questions over and over:  How can this be?  What does this mean for people we love and care for, for people who feel unwanted and unheard?  How are we called to be?  And especially, where is God?  I can resonate with all of these questions.  Perhaps you can as well.

Each time I prepare to act as a spiritual guide with another, I pray to God, “Show me Your face.”  I’m asking to be present to the movement of the Holy One in the other person and in me, in what unfolds within and between and around us.  Lately as I’ve been listening to people share their pain, what they’ve been sharing is not a showing of God’s face but an absence: they feel the face of God is turned away, distant, silent, and invisible, as if God has completely disappeared.

I suspect this is what John the Baptist (Matthew 11:2-6) was feeling as he sat in prison and wondered if his life and his witness made any difference.  So at this moment, in this Advent, if we’re not quite ready to move into rejoicing and hopeful expectation, that’s okay.  We may want to first take a contemplative pause.  Be still.  Ground ourselves in Love’s presence as we reflect on the loving way to move forward.

And then perhaps we might sit with John the Baptist in silence and in stillness.  From thejohnhandsonprisonbars-copy dark prison where he’s languishing, John the Baptist asks one of the most poignant questions in all of Scripture:  “Are you the One who is to come, or should we look for another?”  We can imagine the fragile hope, maybe desperation, behind John’s questions.  As if he were really asking, “Tell me, have I been wasting my time?  My life?  Am I pointing in the right direction?  Give me a sign!  Show me your face!”

And we listen to Jesus’ indirect answer:  “Go and tell John what’s happening:  those who couldn’t see are opening their eyes; those whose ears were closed are listening to my voice; those who couldn’t find a way forward are now taking steps towards a more just, inclusive world.”  Do we believe this is possible?

I’ve read that after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, he was criticized because some said his words were naïve, that they presented a rose colored vision of the future, an impossible dream.  I suspect those who said that would also notice echoes of Dr. King’s words in the Advent readings with their dream of a peaceable kin-dom where all are welcome and none are turned away.

A year before he was assassinated, Dr. King took some reflective time away from the demands of the civil rights movement.  He rented a house without a telephone in Jamaica where he could work undisturbed.  He dedicated his time to crafting a vision of America’s future: he imagined better jobs, quality education for all, affordable housing, respect for the dignity of every person, an end to global poverty and suffering.  He not only imagined this; he committed his life to working with God’s grace to bring it about.  He poured out his passion in a speech called “Where Do We Go from Here?”–a question that resonates in 2016.  “Where do we go from here?” His answer in the face of social sin and violence:  “I have decided to stick with love.”

Dorothy Day also decided to stick with love.  She wrote, “Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife which may at any moment become for all of us a time of terror, I think to myself, ‘What else is the world interested in?  What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships?’…Even the most ardent revolutionist, seeking to change the world…is trying to make a world where it is easier for people to love, to stand in that relationship with each other of love.”

God needs us to stand in a relationship of love with each other.  There is gift in naming and sharing our vulnerability, our unknowing, our uncertainty about what to do and how to be.  God needs us to show the face of the Divine to our world, because none of us can see the face of God except through others and the way we live our lives as people of peace and compassion, as people of justice, of right relationship with God, with others, with all of creation.   When we show the face of the Holy One and when others reflect that face to us, we are giving and receiving the gift of justice.  Only from this place of Love can we truly act with God to move forward God’s dream for our world.

About that world Tennessee Williams wrote, “The world is violent and mercurial—it will have its way with you.  We are saved only by Love—love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend.  We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”

So let us decide to stick with Love.  I can’t think of a better gift we could offer our world and give and receive from each other, this Advent and always.

NOTE:
This reflection was written for an Advent Evening of Prayer at Christ the King parish, Springfield Gardens, NY.  It’s offered here in a slightly modified format. 

My thanks to the many gathering for the Evening of Prayer and to all of you who prayed for us.  Advent blessings to all! 

TAKEAWAY

In discerning how to move forward in challenging times, Martin Luther King, Jr. concluded, “I have decided to stick with love.”
What helps you to be and to sustain a loving presence?

Who has shown the face of the Holy to you?

To whom have you imaged the face of God? 

 

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