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 and 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.
My 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?
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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