The Balancing Act

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, June 19, 2016

Somewhere between the tightly held hand and the fingers opened wide, allowing us to move forward into an unknown future–that’s the undefined space in which we often stand in parenting the young and the fragile.  In celebrating Father’s Day, much will be written, spoken, sung, whispered, shouted in praise of fathers and those who protect, defend, nurture, teach, carry, mentor.

What I’ve been sitting with this weekend is a phrase from my IHM community’s Direction Statement, where “we invite others to join us in bringing about God’s dream for this beautiful, yet wounded world.”  That’s the world we live in, beautiful, and yet wounded.  And those words speak to an enormous challenge for parents, grandparents, guardians, mentors: the challenge of finding balance.  How to hold in one hand an awareness that ours can be a cruel and savage world, sometimes dangerous, often broken by rejection, pain, and injustice, a world where we desire to protect our vulnerable ones from all that is harmful and shield our cherished ones from all that is painful.  And then how to hold in the other hand the trust to let us go into a world that invites us deeper into wonder, feeds our imagination, reveals and affirms our longings, and sees our hopes and dreams unfold and blossom.

My Dad was an insurance executive, so I was raised with an awareness of how tentative life is: even with the most careful foresight, safety, security, and good health were not guaranteed to anyone.  Things could and did go wrong, plans could and might fail.  Buildings collapse.  Fires tear through a house.  Floods sweep away prized possessions.  Cars crumple on impact.  Hearts are broken.  This is fact.

EPSON MFP image
EPSON MFP image

Bringing my sisters and brothers and me into a world fraught with such dangerous and destructive possibility must have been an overwhelming concern for my father.  How, I often wonder, did his ever-present awareness of the uncertainties of life not force him to hold our hands so tightly that we could never live our own lives apart from his side?  Where did he find the confidence to let us make our own mistakes, navigate an uncertain terrain, and discover a world also filled with music, dance, poetry, Nature, and the transformative power of beauty and the arts?

Fathers are charged with shaping the worldview of their children, of imagining the kind of world they want to live in, and then dedicating their love and energies to moving that vision forward.  The other side of a dangerous world is a world where we have the courage to let beauty and wonder have their way as antidotes to fear.

Our Dad did this by waking us up in the middle of the night to climb out on the deck and meditate on a sky full of stars.  He told magical bedtime stories of the Lenape tribe who inhabited our woods long before us, who preserved and protected the land because one day, he would whisper, a family of very special children would move onto this same land.  He taught me the name of every rooted, winged, and running creature that shared our space, and then observed that, “They all have names for you, too.”  How could I not grow up full of wonder when I spent so much time in our back yard contemplating what words the tulip tree, the black snake, and the cardinal had chosen to describe me?

I don’t know if my Dad ever read Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things,”   but I do know that he lived these words and found solace and encouragement in their truth:

“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the space of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief.  I come into the presence of still water,
and I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.  For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

This Father’s Day and every day, let us give thanks for those who are able to hold the tension of what’s wrong with our world—violence, hatred, indifference—and balance that with a vision of a world suffused by the beautiful unfolding of God’s dream for all of us.  Let us be grateful for all who have the courage and the trust to risk bringing new life onto our planet and then giving their lives over to companioning, nurturing, and offering a vision of how beautiful this might be.

A Happy Father’s Day to all of you who bless us in so many ways!

Takeaway

Today, reflect on the influence of your own father or significant adults in your life.

Who has done the delicate dance of protecting you from danger and also opening you up
to a world that is beautiful?

Spend some time in gratitude for all of these gifts.

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Rooted in Love

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, June 5, 2016
Re-posted and formatted June 11, 2016 

Here’s to the ones who stay, who remain, who refuse–out of conviction or vision or selfless love–to abandon or give up on their commitments.  Stay.  Remain.  Accompany.  These are the words I imagined hearing as I was inspecting and tending my container garden on the porch this morning.

One of the pots in my patio garden is home to spearmint, a sturdy perennial herb.  It survived an early outdoor planting and the challenge of near freezing nightly drops in temperature.   In just two weeks, its leaves have filled the pot and its runner vines have sprouted, indicating a desire to grow beyond its boundaries and break out of its confinement.

I was reminded of a time when I lived on Long Island and enjoyed the scent of mint Mintwithrunnervinesgrowing outside the kitchen door.  One of my community members didn’t share my appreciation of this determined herb.  Over time, she tried every means available to eradicate mint from its coveted spot.  She pulled out its long tentacles of underground root runners, sprayed it, even crushed its leaves underfoot.  Still, knowing mint’s propensity for refusing to give up, I was unconcerned for its survival.  Every time I passed the patch of mint that was under threat of disappearance, it was as if I could hear it saying, “See you around.  I’m here to stay.”  And stay it did.

The fragrance and presence of mint is an invitation to reflect on the qualities of mint that we see in human form:  people who have stood with, remained with, and accompanied us in life.  Recently, I read a series of questions designed to highlight the people we remember most and the reasons why we remember them with affection and in detail.

Among the first set of questions were these:

1.Name the 5 wealthiest people in the world.
2.Name 5 Heisman trophy winners.
3.Name the last 5 winners of the Miss America pageant.

Reflect on those for a few minutes and see how many names you can recall.  Done? Not surprisingly, few of us remember the headliners of years past, even though they are accomplished and perhaps most acclaimed in their fields.  We know that even seemingly significant achievements and accomplishments can fade over time.

Now try these questions:

1.Name a teacher who aided you when you were in school.
2.List a few friends who helped you through a difficult time.
3.Name a person who made you feel special and appreciated.

Not surprisingly, it may have been easier for you to come up with names this time.  Clearly, the people we tend to remember most are the ones who have accompanied us, cared for us, loved us.  People who have refused to give up on us, who will not turn back and abandon us, no matter how difficult this accompaniment becomes.  People who remain, who stay while others go.  People who continue to show up.  People who persist.

Takeaway

Mint is tenacious (some might say stubborn or worse!), faithful, able to adapt to hardship and changing environments.  Its fragrant leaves are often used in teas and lotions to heal, to refresh, to soothe anxiety, to calm troubled hearts.

With what qualities of mint do you resonate?

Reflect on people you know who stand with others and remain with them through their pain, anxiety, and struggles.

What values do these people hold that you might wish to deepen in your own life?

Who or what helps you to persevere and to remain present to others?

 

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