Longing Laid Bare

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, February 26, 2017

At some time or another, we may have had this startling experience: an accidental, unexpected glimpse into the eyes of another, a discovery that reveals the hidden depths of a person’s heart, that exposes their raw, unfiltered desire or longing.

It’s what I saw in the eyes of junior high school students, oblivious to the world unfolding around them and dreamily gazing at their first crush. “Even the back of her head is beautiful,” mumbled one of them when I interrupted his meditation on the girl who sat in front of him in class.

It’s what I saw in the eyes of my mother in unguarded moments when she thought no one was looking at her. After 43 years of marriage, she had outlived my Dad by ten years, and in those ten years without him, her face was sometimes suffused with a wistful longing tinged with sadness.

And it’s what I see every Ash Wednesday when I look into the faces of those lining up for the distribution of ashes. When I served in pastoral ministry at a parish in Southeast ash-wednesdaygetting-ashes-copyQueens, one of my favorite days was Ash Wednesday. Favorite, because I always noticed something different in the faces of people coming forward to receive ashes on this day. I saw hope and desire that was transparent, direct, immediate, and insistent.

On Ash Wednesday, I welcomed many unfamiliar faces, and although I didn’t know their names or their stories, I recognized, in an intuitive way, the longing that looked back at me. Longing for a change of heart. For more engaged prayer. For right relationship. For forgiveness. For a second chance. For God by whatever name one might call the Holy.

Perhaps we connect with Lent as a season of penance and fasting, a letting go of whatever might stand in the way of our largeness of heart and a greater capacity for tenderness and welcome. Perhaps we connect with Lent as an invitation to feasting, to being nourished by prayer and by God’s own desire for us. Lent is all of these elements, certainly, but for me, Lent is most of all forever married to desire and intention, a season when our deepest longings are laid bare.

I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps it’s finding ourselves in the Scriptural desert this season imagines. A desert where there’s no place to hide. A desert where the glare of the noonday sun exposes our illusions and distractions for what they are. A desert where we can’t carry allash-wednesday-ashes-copy the baggage we pack for other journeys and so we’re led to re-define what’s really necessary and important, what lives and makes a home in the heart of us.

What I suspect is that on Ash Wednesday, I’ll once again be looking into the eyes. What I know with a certainty is that I’ll be finding there a profound reflection of the deep desire God has for each one of us.

Wishing you every blessing on these Lenten days!


Spend some time in quiet reflection.

Name the longings of your heart.
Who or what has been nudging you, drawing you, and inviting you to pay closer attention?
What is God’s deep desire for you?


In the beginning days of this Lenten season, please hold in your prayer all who will be part of these retreats and days of prayer I’ll be leading: 

March 1, Ash Wednesday retreat day,  Diocese of Scranton, PA
March 4, Mount St. Mary House of Prayer, Watchung, NJ
March 5-10, Maryknoll Sisters, Ossining, NY
March 12, The Catholic Churches of Sullivan County, NY

Photo credits:  Pinterest; St. Clement Parish; Catholic Online

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10 thoughts on “Longing Laid Bare”

  1. The Holy Longing. Thank you Sr. Chris for this thought provoking column as we enter into the Lenten season. Praying for all the hearts and souls you will be touching in the upcoming retreats. If you have time, the beautiful hymn, There is a Longing….https://youtu.be/SYCly-kqQcs
    I think it fits with what you wrote.

    1. Thanks, Kathy. We’re on the same wavelength and you’re so right: I’m using that beautiful, haunting hymn, “There Is a Longing,” multiple times in the next 2 weeks. It speaks to the kind of longing that’s beyond words, doesn’t it? Wishing you every blessing on all you desire for this season.

  2. Dearest Chris, Your reflections keenly touch that mysterious intersection uniting God’s deepest desires with our own groping human longings! Thank you for sharing from your heart. So often I think of commenting,…but please imagine that each time you share and I absorb, you can feel a profound connection between our spirits. Thank you from my heart!

  3. I am really enjoying your blog, Christine. It gives me something to think about and meditate on in my daily life. Thank you.

  4. Maybe it’s more apparent than on other days, ordinary or special, but this past Ash Wednesday as we all gathered together, poor and wealthy, young, old, and middle, on time and late, in groups and those alone, it seemed to me that there was thread running through us all, as tears welled up in my eyes, and I dropped my head to pray. Poor in spirit, longing for the help that we all need. Thank God.


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