Of Wounds Invisible

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, July 31, 2016

Sometimes the most ordinary of things can reveal a fresh way of looking at our world. For me, that ordinariness is a temporary boot.

In a strange way, I’m going to miss my boot. 15 inches tall, crisscrossed by Velcro, it has caused my usual steady, balanced gait to morph into something resembling the lumbering of an ungainly bear. I was dancing when a fracture occurred as I came down on the side of my foot—and wearing a boot was an unintended and unwelcomeboot consequence of that moment. But in the days since, the boot has offered a powerful spiritual practice to me.

Its “can’t miss it” size and shape have opened up constant conversations. “What happened to you?” often leads to stories about mishaps and encumbrances from friends and strangers alike. The attention it has garnered has deepened in me an awareness of a whole universe we simply can’t see: a world of brokenness that’s not visible. The boot has opened up for me a way to pay attention to the world of the unseen.

When I strap my foot in each morning, I pray for the many I will meet that day who carry wounds imperceptible. Among those I’ll encounter, I wonder who will hold hurts and have raw edges that aren’t announced by the outward signs of bandages or casts. I wonder:

Who might be putting on a brave smile and going out to meet the day with a broken heart?Who has been shattered by a cherished relationship abruptly ended, and not by choice? Who is mourning a beloved companion or partner taken by death?
For whom is loneliness so searing that it eclipses all other thoughts and emotions?
Who yearns to change patterns and habits that hold them captive?
Whose ability to experience joy has been threatened by a daunting diagnosis?
Who is imprisoned by regret?
Whose economic reality weighs them down with despair or wears them out with anxiety?Who struggles to climb out from underneath shame?
Who finds it nearly impossible to move forward with hope?
Who longs for the day to end in a movement toward healing and wholeness?

heart hidden hurt copySo my boot, initially an inconvenience and an irritant, has grown into a daily meditation of sorts, a reminder of the invisible brokenness, diminishment, and limitations in my own life and in the lives of the people who come into my circle of awareness each day. St. Paul wrote of desiring to have the same attitude as Jesus, to see as Jesus did, to put on the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5). In much the same way, the poet and mystic Rumi urged us to

“Borrow the Beloved’s eyes.
Look through them and you’ll see
The Beloved’s face…”

With or without the visible reminder on my foot that announces something has been broken, I hope to remember to learn to see from this Divine perspective, to slow down, to look below the surface into the hearts of everyone in our beautiful, yet wounded world.

Takeaway

Reflect on a time in the past when you may have carried hurts that no one else could see.

If someone responded to your pain with tenderness, give thanks for that gift of tenderness.

How might you deepen your own compassion for the wounds of others?

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Naming the Gate

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, July 17, 2016

Sometimes coming up with a reflection on a Gospel passage can be quite a challenge, especially around those passages that are far from “warm and fuzzy.”  At the same time, these hard words can also be an invitation to look beneath the text and dig deep.  Really deep.

In Matthew 11:20-24, Jesus is doing some of the prophetic work of denouncing.  He’s pointing out to the people around him what can happen when they fail to pay attention and so make the Holy invisible.  He reproaches the cities where most of his miracles had occurred.  Why?  Because, he says, they didn’t repent.  They weren’t doing the deep inner soul work that would have opened them to a change of heart, to a shift in their worldview.  They had been smack in the middle of holiness and miracles and not even noticed.  They couldn’t see what was right in front of them all along.

What had Jesus done that they hadn’t been able to see?  He called them to a deeper life.  He prayed and restored healing to their wounded hearts.  He offered compassion to all that was fragile and broken.  All that in plain sight, and yet they hadn’t been paying attention, noticing, listening.  And so they missed the miraculous, the signs and wonders, all around them.

So what does this have to say to us in our time and place?  Might it be a call to open ears, open eyes, open hearts?  A call to see and hear beyond appearances?

Perhaps Bobbie, a Golden Retriever, can offer us a visual.  My sister’s family lived in the suburbs with this beloved dog.   Every morning, someone would open the back door and let Bobbie out into a yard that was completely enclosed by a wire fence.  And this was Bobbie’s pattern:  he would wander around the yard and survey it for a few minutes.  Then he would amble over to the wire gate, sit down in front of the gate, and wait for someone to open it so he could go out and explore the rest of his doggie world.  This was his ritual for years.

Well, one day, the family decided that the fence was no longer necessary, so my brother-gate with golden copyin-law spent an entire day pulling the wire fence out of the ground.  At the end of the day, only one thing was left standing: the little wire gate.  Everything else was clear and open space, now without borders or boundaries.

The next morning, they opened the back door to let Bobbie out and he followed his usual pattern.  He ambled around for a few minutes.  He surveyed the yard that was now entirely open.  And then what did he do?  He went over and sat down in front of the only part of the fence that was still standing: the small wire gate.  In spite of the family calling out and gesturing to the fence-free yard, Bobbie wouldn’t budge.  He was stuck in his pattern of not noticing.  And so he sat there, refusing to move, until someone finally opened the wire gate.  Only then did he walk out of the yard that had been open to him all along.

Since then I’ve often reflected on what that might say to my life, to our lives.  All around us and within us, God is acting.  God is speaking.  God is continually pouring out love.  But often we don’t notice.  We fail to pay attention.  We’re unaware of the amazing and the miraculous right smack in the middle of our everyday lives.

So in reflection times, we might want to ask:  What is the gate in our lives?  What do we resist?  What is that one thing or things that stands in the way of freedom of spirit?  The one thing that keeps us distant from our searching, hurting world?  The one thing that blocks our path to the fullness of God’s dream for each of us?

May we continue to cultivate the practice of paying attention, noticing, living with awareness.  Because in our beautiful, yet wounded world, God is at work.  Grace does abound.  The miraculous is happening right here, right now, within us and among us and all around us.  Let’s not miss it!

Takeaway

Sit with the image of the closed gate in a totally open, unenclosed yard.

What is the gate in your life?
What do you resist?
What is that one thing or things that stands in the way of freedom of spirit?
What is the one thing that blocks your path to the fullness of God’s dream for you?

Today, every time you notice a gate or a doorway, ask God for openness of heart.

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NOTE:
My thanks for your prayer on behalf of all those who were part of the directed retreat at St. Mary by the Sea, Cape May Point, New Jersey, July 7-16.   Today’s blog is from a reflection I offered as one of the retreat directors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living into the Questions

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, July 3, 2016

Having begun my career as an English teacher, I’m pre-disposed to notice words of all kinds, including words in sentences.  So the types of sentences we learned in elementary English classes–declarative, imperative, interrogative, exclamatory—are embedded in my consciousness.  And when it comes to reflecting on the life of the spirit, I’ve found that the power of the question mark is a good place to start.

Some time ago, I was intrigued by the title of Warren Berger’s book,  A More Beautiful Question.  His thesis is that good questions are powerful.  They can reveal desire, purpose, and commitment.  They can be catalysts and create forward movement.  They can be transforming and life changing.  They can surprise, disturb, excite, inspire, and nudge us.  They can act like flashlights that illuminate where we need to go.

A More Beautiful Question made me pay closer attention to questions popping up everywhere, including in the Scriptures:

Why are you weeping?
How can this be?
Who are you looking for?
Why do you search for the living among the dead?

Just a few days ago we celebrated the birth of John the Baptist.  The same John, languishing in prison, who sent his followers to ask Jesus one of the most poignant questions in all of Scripture:  “Are you the one who is to come or should we expect someone else?”  In other words:  “Tell me, please.  Have I been wasting my time preaching, pouring out my life, and pointing to you?  Or are you the real thing?”

In Saints Peter and Paul, whose feast we recently celebrated, we’re reminded of some of questionsclouds copylife’s biggest questions, questions of identity and belonging.  Saul, who became Paul, first hunted Christians and threw them into prison.  Later he’s knocked off his horse by a blinding light, and what happens next?  He hears a question:  “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  And Saul answers the divine question with his own: “Who are you?”  Who are you?  Because he pays attention to these questions, Saul/Paul spends the rest of his life in pursuit of the change of heart this persecuted God invites.

In the Gospel passage for the feast of Peter and Paul, we see that Jesus holds some questions of his own.  It seems there are all kinds of rumors going around, and Jesus wants to know,  “What do people say about who the Chosen One is?”  In other words,  “What’s the word on the street about me?”  The disciples cough up the usual safe responses:  John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.

But Jesus wants more.  He invites fresh thinking and deep reflection.  He goes right to the personal, to the heart, and asks:  “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter responds, “You are the Messiah, the Firstborn of the Living God.”  Because he’s been trying to pay attention, to notice, to listen, Peter is able to live into this question at that moment and in the days to come.

What about us today?  We also are asked the question, “Who do you say that I am?”  Who is God for us?  How we identify the Divine, how we live into that question, will impact how we relate to all of our sisters and brothers—the joyful, the broken, the fearful, the doubting, the oppressed, the excluded, the searching.  Our call is to pay attention, to notice, to listen for the Spirit at work within us, among us, around us in the dailiness of our lives.

Questionmarks copyQuestions invite us to a deepened awareness.  As we pray and reflect on the stuff of our lives, we’re also tending to the interrogative, the question marks in our lives:

For what am I most grateful?
What is God grateful for in me?
What draws me or attracts me?  What grabs my soul?  What do I resist?
What is my deepest desire?
What is God’s desire for me?

The writer Jan Philips says that when we look at the brokenness and fragility of our world and the collective hunger and longing of the global community, the questions we listen to and notice are critical.  She says that the question we should be asking is not:

What is wrong with our world and how can we fix it?

The question is:

What does the world we want to live in look like?

Because if we can imagine that world, we can also, with God’s grace, give ourselves over to living out that question with fresh thinking, with creativity, with tenderness and compassion for all who inhabit our planet.  May we continue to contemplate sacred questions, alone and in community.  And may we pursue all this in good company and for the life of our beautiful, yet wounded world.

Takeaway

What question/questions are you currently holding in your heart?
How might God be inviting you to learn from or grow into these questions?
Take a moment to unite your own searching with the longing and yearning of our world.  Hold all of this in your prayer today.

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NOTE:

My thanks to all who prayed for those on the directed retreat I led at St. Mary by the Sea, Cape May Point, NJ, last week.  Please also hold in your prayer those who will be part of the next directed retreat at St. Mary’s, July 7-16.  Thank you!