by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM for February 28, 2016
One evening last week I went to blow out a red vigil candle I had been burning. Not sure what happened, but as I bent over to extinguish it, I knocked the candle off the table and onto the rug. Bright red candle wax splattered in a large puddle all over a pale beige rug. Not a welcome sight.
I tried several cleaning methods, but there seemed to be an unending supply of red wax absorbed into the rug. Finally, after a Google search, I put rubbing alcohol on a cloth, held the cloth over the spot, and once again ironed over both. Very slow work, but after another hour of ironing, there was significant progress. A visitor might have missed the site of the accident, but I would always know where that spillage had happened. And so would the rug.
It made me wonder about spills of every kind. About how some things in life can never go back to how they used to be, can never really be fixed or made whole again in the same way that they were before something spilled or was broken. And it brought me back to a column I had written, “Claiming the Gift of Beginning Again,” in the Fall 2012 issue of Journey, our IHM publication. I’d like to excerpt some of that here:
In her poem, “Because we spill not only milk,” Nancy Shaffer offers a litany of objects and experiences in our lives that, like a glass of milk accidentally knocked over, can never be recovered in exactly their original state. On her list of what can be broken, flawed, or lost, Shaffer names relationships.
She observes that ,
“…we spill whole lives, and only later see in fading light
How much is gone and we hadn’t intended it.”
…The question becomes, after the milk has been spilled, after the harsh word has been unleashed by us or towards us, after the misunderstandings are in place, after the conflict has been named, where do we go? How do we restore right relationship, which is another name for justice? We start over, we begin again, and we stay in the struggle, day in and day out.
This gift of starting over requires a particular courage, the courage of right relationship. In the ordinary and the everyday, it’s often unnoticed but always a sign of God’s reign breaking through into our own lives, into the lives of those who inhabit our corner of the world…
…nurturing and sustaining right relationship takes tremendous courage…all of us are called to the courage of the everyday, the courage to be in right relationship with family, friends, co-workers, all those who are an intimate part of our daily lives. Do we transform the hurt and wounds that have come to us, or do we transmit them to others in our relationships?
When we look at our world from a person-to-person perspective, we see myriad ways in which the call to right relationship is lived out: in the adult alienated by old wounds or selfish acts but working to look through the lens of love and forgiveness. In the husband or wife struggling to move beyond criticism or words thrown in anger to utter the first spoken syllables of a halting, healing conversation. In families faithfully tending to a rebellious child who lashes out, who slams the door and seems to refuse their love. In our emphatic choices not to flee the sad and lonely and wounded places of our intimate or familiar relationships, but to stay at the table and remain open to deep listening. In all the holy ones who pray and work for justice and who reflect on personal brokenness as an invitation to be in deeper communion with a wounded world.
As Schaffer observes:
“Because we are imperfect and love so
Deeply we will never have enough days,
We need the gift of starting over,
Again: just this constant good, this
Though we can’t change the fact that milk has been spilled [or red candle wax splattered across a rug], in God’s time it’s never too late to restore the justice of right relationship. Let’s keep on summoning our courage and starting over, again and again.
Have you ever broken something that was precious to you or another? Were you able to mend or fix it ?
Reflect on relationships in your life that may have been broken or fractured. How do you feel when you revisit them?
The word, “Lent,” means springtime, with connotations of freshness and new life. What would it be like to start over with another person or with God?