Rhythms of Grace

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, August 28, 2016

One of the sweetest of lullabies has to be the reassuring evenness of rolling waves breaking on the shore, over and over again.  Anyone who has spent time by the ocean on a stormless day or night knows that familiar, gentle song.

This continual meeting of sea and sand opens the heart and mind to notice other rhythms as well.  Morning sun peeks over the horizon and evening sun sinks in a blaze of color.  A daily walk reveals the routine of animal companions who are creatures of the dawn and dusk: dolphins swimming back and forth on some kind of aquatic timetable; the cautious red fox, the family of skunks, the watchful rabbit, the Purple Martins fluttering in and out of their houses in day’s first light, all going about the tasks of scouting, feeding, caregiving.  Over and over, purposefully, with attention to their surroundings, following a pattern and pausing at regular intervals during the day.

Taking in the rhythms of the natural world reminds us that there are rhythms to the life of the spirit as well.  One of these is the Examen,  a way of reflecting on the events of the day and discerning the movement of our hearts, God’s grace at work in us, and how we have responded.  This way of reflecting is described by St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, in his Spiritual Exercises.

rhythm sunriseAn examen-type reflection can take place at any time.  You might pause midday to discern how the day is unfolding.  You might enter into it in the evening, taking a sacred break as night approaches.  It’s an invitation to become aware of how God has been present.  To savor one or more moments of the day, and give thanks.  To notice when you loved and when you were loved.  To express sorrow to God for anything you regret and to ask for forgiveness.  To look forward to a new day and to ask for God’s grace as you begin anew.

Over many years, I’ve been attentive to other expressions for reviewing the day.  Sometimes asking questions in a fresh, creative manner enables us to see with new eyes and hear as if hearing for the first time.  One of the  most compact distillations of an Examen I’ve ever heard came in the words of a small child, who reflected that when he said his prayers at night, he thought about “where I did good and where I messed up.”  What a great Examen!  Brother David Steindl-Rast practices an Examen of gratitude, where, at the end of the day, he names one or more new things for which he has never before expressed gratitude.

In To Bless the Space Between Us, John O’Donohue offers “At the End of the Day, A Mirror of Questions,” as a way to reclaim the sacred in your everyday moments.

Here are some of my favorite questions in that mirror at day’s end:

Where did my eyes linger today?
Where was I blind?
Whom did I neglect?
Where did I neglect myself?
What did I begin today that might endure?
Where did I allow myself to receive love?
From the evidence—why was I given this day? 

In Seven Sacred Pauses, Macrina Wiederkehr offers her own list of reflective questions, including:

Have I been a good memory in anyone’s life today?
Have the ears of my heart opened to the voice of God?  to the needs of my sisters and brothers?
What do I know, but live as though I do not know?
How have I affected the quality of this day?
Is there anyone, including myself, whom I need to forgive?
When did I experience my heart opening wide today?
What is the one thing in my life that is standing on tiptoe crying, “May I have your attention, please?” 

The invitation is before us to pause and reflect on what attracts us and grabs our soul,  on what we resist on any given day, on where we invite love to flow through us and where we place obstacles to love.  With God’s grace, may we develop or deepen the regular practice of prayerfully reviewing the day and take a sacred pause this day and in all the days to come.

Takeaway

Take a prayerful pause toward the close of this day.

Use an Examen that is part of your daily spiritual practice, or sit with one or two of the questions offered above.

Invite our loving God to speak to your heart.

Listen, and give thanks.

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Right Here, Right Now

by Chris Koellhoffer, August 14, 2016

This present moment, this sacred now, is all we really have.  Yesterday is unrepeatable and held in memory.  Tomorrow is not guaranteed to any one of us.  This train of thought has lingered with me since I visited the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City this past week.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was in New York beginning a certificate program in spiritual direction.  I spent the next 24 hours in the company of frightened yet compassionate strangers, all of us haunted by the eerie silence of a normally noisy city, all of us desperately searching for information and trying to find a way home.  Home for me at that time was the 10th floor of a high rise apartment in Jersey City, across the Hudson River.  From that perch, I prayed and wept for days as I looked out on the smoking, smoldering Manhattan skyline with its terrible, raw scar and its gaping emptiness.  I had not been able to return to the site of this overwhelming loss and grief until just this past week, some 15 years later.

Last week, spending time at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, I realized that I was once again in the company of strangers, all of us reverently trying to absorb the enormity of what we were witnessing.  There were a few hushed whispers, many quiet tears, but mostly, there was the remembering and the cherishing, especially in the memorial exhibition, In Memoriam.  Together, we entered a corridor and gazed up at the “Wall of Faces,” portrait photographs of the nearly 3,000 men, women, and children whose lives were taken by violence that day and in the February 26, 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.  We lingered over the touchscreen tables that offered a further glimpse into the WTC calla lily copyprecious lives commemorated through photographs, audio recordings, mementos.  Outside at the reflecting pools in the footprints of the Twin Towers, we searched for familiar names and let our fingers linger when we found them.

That day at the memorial and museum, I who am a writer and lover of words had no words.  No words.  Words were not enough for the bright lights snuffed out not only here in New York City but in all the places in our world that have experienced acts of violence and savagery.  No words.  Only a reverencing for all that had been so brutally taken away.  No words.  Just a sense of communion with the corporate ache and the collective weeping of the human family.

Since then I have carried with me a wondering at what those lives might have become, what gifts and graces they might have showered on a world that continues to mourn their absence but honors them by moving forward in hope.  Most probably, none of the beautiful, smiling faces filling wall after wall of the 9/11 memorial had any intuition that a September morning would be their last.  All they had, which is all we have, is the present moment.

Their faces, and the faces of the many who have known both the beauty and the brokenness of our world,  challenge me, impel me, plead with me:  “Live with awareness.  Don’t delay in sharing your love.  Be extravagant with compassion.  And do this right here, right now.”

Takeaway

Pause for a moment of quiet.

Name any loss which you are carrying today.
Ask God for healing for your own heart as well as the hearts of your neighbors across the world.

In the moments ahead of you today, how might you be invited to be a person of peace and tenderness?

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