When the Word Is Embodied

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, for December 24, 2017

Sometimes a word and a moment collide and their merging breaks open fresh meaning.

Not long ago, I had left the TV on and went to take a shower. As I was exiting the bathroom, I could tell, even without seeing the TV, that whatever program I had been watching earlier had now switched to the daily liturgy. Just as I was slathering Aveeno on my winter-dry skin, the words of the Eucharistic consecration filled the room: “This is my body.”

letting go arms

I stood up straight with recognition. Suddenly my hand filled with cream, my skin glistening with lotion, my fingers gently smoothing moisturizer over rough elbows—all were suffused in a moment of nuanced definition. It was as if a light had shone on my body and I was seeing my flesh for the first time. Yes, I thought, this is my body, the keeper of memory, the recorder of pain and delight and wounds and dreams. This is my body. And it is so much more.

My very flesh, my human flesh, my blessed and broken flesh is no ordinary thing, graced as it is by the Holy One. My flesh embodies the Holy One. In this season of preparing our hearts for the coming of a vulnerable Child, haven’t we been reflecting on what it means to have a body? What it means to take on our human condition as Jesus did, like us in all things save sin? What it means to incarnate the Holy in our own lives?

As we stand on the edge of celebrating the Nativity, we remember how God’s love, so great it could not be contained, expressed itself and became enfleshed in our humanity. This divine expression is Jesus, whose body shivered in the cold, succumbed to fatigue, hungered for bread and for fish, felt the sting of the whip and the weight of the cross, slipped away for quiet prayer, drank wine at a wedding, enjoyed the company of cherished friends. Jesus, who during his time living on this Earth gave flesh to the words, “This is My body.”

The Holy One, living in each of us right here, right now, continues to proclaim, “This is My body.” This is My body today, breathless at the sight of a sunset, crippled with arthritis, savoring a meal, parched with thirst in migration, perspiring during manual labor. This is My body, reading a story, writing an email, sleepless with worry, delighted in play, grieving a loss, longing for renewal.

Simeon the New Theologian (949-1022) has been trying to tell us this mystical truth for all of our lives. May we listen to him with a heightened consciousness these days as we pray his poem prayer, Awakening the Beloved:

We awaken in Christ’s body, as Christ awakens our bodies.
There I look down and my poor hand is Christ,
He enters my foot and is infinitely me.
I move my hand and wonderfully
My hand becomes Christ,
Becomes all of Him.
I move my foot and at once Mexican Nativity copy
He appears in a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous to you?
–Then open your heart to Him.
And let yourself receive the one
Who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
We wake up inside Christ’s body
Where all our body all over,
Every most hidden part of it,
Is realized in joy as Him,
And he makes us utterly real.
And everything that is hurt, everything
That seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
Maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged
Is in Him transformed.
And in Him, recognized as whole, as lovely,
And radiant in His light,
We awaken as the beloved
In every last part of our body.

Takeaway

Find some quiet time over the Christmas holidays.
If possible, pray near a crèche or Nativity scene and gaze on it.
Reflect on the wonder that is your human body:
For what are you most grateful?
What aspects of being human are challenging for you?
Share this with the Holy One as you sit in stillness and in gratitude.

You are in my heart and prayer for blessings for you and all in our beautiful, yet wounded world at this Christmas and into the new year to come.

IMAGES:
Modernday.org
Lettinggo
Chris Koellhoffer, Nativity from Mexico

NOTE:
Thank you for your prayerful support of the retreats and presentations that formed my Advent journey this year.
Please now hold in prayer my days of stillness and reflection during January as I prepare for a full calendar in the new year. Thank you.

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Moving Beyond the Limits

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM for December 10, 2017

Have you ever had to move? Whether that reality is recent or in the remote past, you may still remember what evolved in the wake of your decision-making: sorting through possessions, discerning which belongings to take and which to dispose of or leave behind. Packing and unpacking. Tending to your own emotional well-being in the transitioning. Feeling disoriented even after you settle in to your new home.

Whether the experience of moving is the outcome of your own carefully selected choice or was set in motion and dictated by circumstances you had no control over, one thing is clear: even in haste, there are discernments needing to be made about what to let go ofhandscoloredearth copy and what to make room for in your new residence as well as in your unfolding life.

In the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus tells us how discerning and deep listening fit into his definition of neighbor. The neighbor, he insists, is one who makes room, who stretches the boundaries of hospitality, who sets in motion a journey that fosters spaciousness of heart.

In reflecting on the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jon Sobrino says, “This meeting [between the passersby and the injured man] is where the human part is decided: Either you make a detour around the person who fell in with robbers, or you heal his wounds.” Either you cross to the other side of the street in an act of avoidance, or you make room in your heart for the presence and the stories of others.

In telling the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus indicates what he makes room for: the broken, the forgotten, the smelly, the bleeding, the overlooked, the wounded, the needy, the inconvenient, and on and on.

As we prepare for Christmas, we revisit the familiar passage in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 2:6-7) that recalls in two brief sentences the lack of space that greeted Emmanuel, the infant God-with-us, on his arrival:

“When they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Perhaps we’ve occasionally wished that we could have been present on that moving day, at the moments leading to Jesus’ birth. Perhaps we’ve reflected on how we would have re-written the story so that the circumstances of Jesus’ birth would have offered decent housing, warmth, ambiance, a welcoming environment. But Dorothy Day admonishes us to shift to another way of thinking about the Nativity, one rooted in our time and place:

“It is no use saying that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late.

Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts. But now it’s with the voice of our contemporaries that he speaks; with the eyes of the store clerks, factory workers, and children that he gazes; with the hands of the office workers, slum dwellers, and suburban housewives that he gives. It is with the feet of soldiers and tramps that he walks, and with the heart of anyone in need that he longs for shelter. And giving shelter or food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ.”

Where in our contemporary world do we see the realities of Jesus’ life echoed today?

Jesus, coming into a world that has no room for him.
Jesus, in forced migration, moving from Nazareth to Bethlehem while still in his mother’s womb.
Jesus, an outsider, finding no safety or shelter in the inn.
Jesus, a refugee, fleeing for his life in the company of his parents.
Jesus, finding no place to rest and lay his head during his public life.

We have to wonder what every one of these experiences of being an outsider did to Jesus. Did they grow his own spaciousness of heart? Did they make him even more tender in welcoming the outcasts and the misfits? Did they root in his heart and impel him to dream and work toward a world where all are welcome and none are turned away?

In Howard Thurman’s beautiful prayer, “Christmas Comes,” the call of this season is made clear:

“When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.”

During this Advent and the days to come, may we pay attention to the Holy One’s invitation to greater spaciousness of heart. May the Divine impulse toward hospitality take root and expand in us today and always.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness in the presence of the Holy One.
Reflect:

Who do you easily welcome into your heart?
Who is it challenging to welcome?
What one practice of hospitality might grow your heart and also make a difference in our world?
Ask our gracious God for greater spaciousness of heart, to hold in tenderness all that our world loves, pursues, and suffers.

Images:

faithlifeministries.net
handscoloredheart

NOTE: Thank you for your prayerful support of all the Advent experiences I’ve been privileged to lead in the past two weeks. Please hold in prayer these Advent programs I’ll facilitate or lead in the days before Christmas: 

December 11: Advent Penance Service, Christ the King Church, Springfield Gardens, NY
December 15: Advent retreat day for the faculty and staff of Our Lady of Port Richmond School, Philadelphia, PA

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