by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, July 16, 2017
Have you heard of the school no one ever wants to attend? A school with no fixed geographic location, no waiting list, no prospective students clamoring for admission. And yet it’s a school in which we will most probably find ourselves unexpectedly registered at some time in our lives, usually not by choice.
It’s the school of the wounded, the scarred, the broken, and the bruised. The school of loss, and limitation, and diminishment. And it appears that, for all who share our human condition, there are some lessons which can be learned only through attendance here.
I found myself enrolled in this school last week. In the midst of a full summer calendar of offering directed and guided retreats, I fractured my ankle as I grabbed a wooden chair and tried unsuccessfully to save myself from falling. Surprisingly, it’s not so much the broken bone that demands my attention; it’s the soreness and the swelling bruises on my side that cause me to cry out every time I make the slightest unconscious movement. I’m in the school of the temporarily bruised and I’m quickly learning a deepened awareness of my body and its limitations. In this school, I’m also remembering the wisdom of Pema Chodron: “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we needed to know.”
Bones can mend. Bruises can fade. What often takes longer, sometimes a lifetime, to heal are the emotional and psychological wounds, the profound inner brokenness, the shame carried in secret and deeply buried or known only to ourselves.
Yet even that unwelcome suffering can be a teacher, according to Rabbi Rami Shapiro. In Connection, the Newsletter of Spiritual Directors International, he writes: “It is when we are most broken that we become the most loving. When we are stripped of all we pretend to know; when our masks are torn from our faces; when our stories are ripped from our grasp; when the self we imagine ourselves to be is shattered; and when we are left with nothing to hold on to and nothing to hide behind; then we find the searing love of the Divine burning through us, melting the wax of ego, consuming the wick of self, and using the hope and horror of our lives to illumine the world.”
In the Gospels we find a parade of characters human and flawed who graduated from this school and who illumine the way forward: Matthew, the tax collector, with his unsavory reputation; Peter caught in his denial of Jesus by a maid; the disciples abandoning their crucified friend; and on and on. Their limitations can embolden us to bring our bruised hearts to Jesus and know ourselves welcome in his presence. After all, we might reason, if people like this could sit in the company of Jesus, there must surely be a place at the table for us as well.
What if the very limitations we struggle with, coupled with our efforts to follow Jesus, offer that same hope to us? What if, instead of hiding our wounds, we put them at the service of others? What if we refused to be dismayed by our own personal brokenness and the collective fragmentation of our world? What if we lived in the school of the human condition reflecting Nisha Moodley’s assertion that,
“I am no longer interested in becoming unbreakable.
I am interested in shattering with grace and courage,
and making art of all the broken pieces.”
For what scars or bruises of your body do you seek healing?
What are the wounds of our world you’re most drawn to tend and mend?
What art do you hope to make of all the broken pieces?
Spend some time seeking healing in the heart of the Holy One.
Thank you for your prayerful support of all who were part of the guided retreat for Sisters, “Our Work Is Loving the World,” at St. Francis Center for Renewal, Bethlehem, PA, last week.
Please hold in your prayer now those who are participating in the directed retreat at St. Mary by-the-Sea, Cape May Point, NJ, which begins tomorrow. Many thanks!
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2 thoughts on “A Lifetime Learning”
Tender and ponder worthy reflection, Chris! Holding you close in my heart and prayer as you journey toward graduating from this school!
I’m on the slow track, Joan, but on my way. Grateful for your tender words and care, and sending the same to you on your own journey.