Knowing Beyond Sight

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, May 21, 2017

When we love deeply, we recognize, even from a distance, what we’ve cherished and accompanied and brought to life in any way. This noticing is one of the spiritual practices we’re invited to cultivate and deepen in the everyday.

I’ve always suspected that parents, teachers, and guardians were already highly skilled in cultivating this ability to recognize and name.  When my nieces and nephews were young, I sometimes accompanied them and their mothers to a  park or play area. There I would witness an amazing feat: my sisters’ ability to pick out a single, unique, high-pitched cry from among hundreds of children at play, and say knowingly, without needing to look up, “Oh, that’s Kevin” or “Alex sounds like he’s having fun.”  So familiar and intimate was the bond between them and their little ones that sight was almost superfluous.  Without seeing, they could recognize their own flesh and blood, their profound life connections.

In the house where I live, as I’ve come to know my downstairs neighbors more deeply, I’ve simultaneously become a bit more practiced in the skill of recognizing them by voice and sound.  My neighbors on the first floor are residents of a group home sponsored by St. Joseph’s Center, which offers a variety of services including residential programs for adults diagnosed with intellectual disability. Though none of the young adult men downstairs can speak language as most of us know it, they certainly can communicate.  Through cries and other sounds, they talk and express their feelings to one another and to their aides.  Having lived on the second floor of the house for some time, I’ve grown in the intuitive skill that comes from a close journeying together: I can hear and recognize their cries of insistence or delight or attentiveness and name the persons who uttered those sounds, even without seeing them.

At this time of year, when part of the world is bursting with all things green and beautiful-trees-4 copygrowing, we may feel the stirrings of this practice of noticing taken to another level.  In the created world, we experience the embodiment of Rainer Marie Rilke’s comment that, “All things sing him; at times we just hear them more clearly.”

Isn’t all of the creative world singing the presence of the Holy?  We hear it in the plaintive call of a mourning dove and the full-throated cry of a cardinal in search of his mate.  We hear it in the rustle of a breeze caressing the birch and the maple tree. If it’s possible to smell a song, that’s exactly what we do when we bury our nose in the fragrance of honeysuckle on a warm July evening. It’s all of nature chanting, “God is here.  God is here.  God is here.”

Yes, God is here.  Our reality is that sometimes we don’t notice the presence of the Holy right here, right now.  But might we be somewhat consoled by how this intimacy or the absence of it plays out in the post-resurrection accounts?  We read in the Gospels of how at first there was a seeming blindness or deafness that got in the way of opening eyes and ears to the presence of the Risen One.  Certainly, overwhelming grief and loss can do that.  We see a weeping Magdalene mistaking Jesus for the gardener until he utters two familiar syllables: “Mary.”  We witness two broken-hearted disciples so deflated by the death of a dream that they walk an entire journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus oblivious to the presence of Jesus.  Only at the end of that trek do they notice a flicker of familiarity, leading them to insist their companion remain and break bread with them. In that most elemental of gestures, they recognize at last the presence of the risen Jesus.  Just so do we often wait and look and listen and come to know the face of the Holy among us.

Our world is filled with signposts pointing to the presence of God at work in every moment.  In our human condition, we may easily miss those appearances, so let’s try anew each day to enter into and live the words of the song,

“Without seeing you, we love you.  Without seeing you, we believe.”

May it be so!


Where do you most easily recognize and point to the presence of God in your everyday life?

Might there be persons or places or things that challenge you to believe that God is present?

Spend some time in quiet and share your reflection during an Emmaus Walk with Jesus, a conversation about what is unfolding in your life. Listen more than you speak.


My deep thanks for your support of all who were part of the Directed Prayer Weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth in Wernersville, PA this week.  Special thanks to Brother Chris Derby, SJ and the staff of the Center for creating a spaciousness of silence and spirit that welcomed all of us.


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5 thoughts on “Knowing Beyond Sight”

  1. So deeply profound, yet simple. “Awareness of the Holy…Listen more than you speak.”
    Thanks so much, Chris, for providing refreshment for our thirsty souls!
    Gratefully, Mary Joan

  2. Look forward to being with you next month in Bethlehem, PA Am praying for you and others who will be on retreat during that week.

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