Showing Up

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, May 27, 2018

Where our feet take us reveals something about us. Where we choose to invest our time and energy underscores both the desires of our heart and the beliefs we cherish. So where have our feet taken us lately?Backpackeronroad

Perhaps to the same place that Rabbi Abraham Heschel’s feet took him in the march in Selma. Remembering that time of joining Martin Luther King as they walked together, he noted, “My feet were praying.” He implied that the act of marching for the sake of a more just, inclusive world was itself a prayer. His feet were showing the world what he valued, how he wanted to invest his time, and where he simply was compelled to be.

Recently, the collective feet of sisters in my IHM community led us to show up in ways far beyond our usual patterns of living. We experienced the death of one of our sisters and a dear friend and co-worker through an act of domestic violence by a relative, who also died. As we prayed for healing from our own raw wounds and the ache of our inability to locate our sister’s remains, there was no question where our feet had to take us. As IHM Sisters we proclaim an unshaken belief in the unconditional love of God, a God who insists we are each better than our own worst act. How could we not be open to praying for both victims and perpetrator? How could we not reverence the remains of all who were part of this tragic story? How could we not witness to the never-ending mercy of the Holy One and follow where our feet led us: offering comfort, receiving condolences, weeping with our neighbors, attending every wake service and funeral, and praying for all that is broken and wounded in ourselves and in our world?

This, for us, was an extraordinary experience of witness and of what it means to show up when it counts most. Yet all around our beautiful yet wounded world, in the seemingly ordinary and everyday, we hear the footsteps of holy feet showing up to advocate, to demonstrate, to pray, to forgive, to empower, to speak truth, to console, to celebrate, to accompany.

Our own feet are leading us in the dailiness of life, leading parents and guardians and teachers and siblings to show up in support, to remain through the ongoing cycles of sports events, recitals, academic programs. All this so that we can be the face of love our children and students will glimpse as they scan the crowd and find, in that sea of faces, one that belongs to them.

Casting a look back at the past week, where else have our feet taken us to tend to the needs of others or to tend to our own self care? Perhaps we’ve been tutoring or helping with homework. Perhaps we’ve written a letter, made a phone call, carried a sign on behalf of an immigrant or a farm worker or a Dreamer. Perhaps we’ve stood at the bedside of a loved one or been the sole visitor for a lonely stranger in a hospital or nursing home.Jesus feet copy

May our feet lead us to navigate this world with care, with attention, with tenderness. May our feet lead us to show up, prayerfully and lovingly. May Isaiah’s words be spoken of us: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring the good news of peace.” (Isaiah 52:7)

Takeaway

Sit in silence with the Holy One.
As you review the past week, reflect on where your feet have led you as you “stood in” as a messenger of peace.
Into what acts of compassion or beauty or accompaniment have your feet taken you?
What did you learn from the places you stood?
Whether you are in good health or have limited mobility, show some extra care for your holy feet in the days ahead.
Bless them and the Holy One who fashioned them with love.

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When Words Are Not Enough

 

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  May 13, 2018

A brilliant sunset. A newborn’s first emphatic cry of arrival. The seemingly sudden budding of an orchid we had given up on. Sitting in front of the ocean’s vastness. Hearing a dreaded diagnosis. Losing our beloved.questionsclouds copy

Wonder and awe can leave us speechless. Tragedy, grief, the enormity of life can also render us mute. As a writer, I can feed on almost anything, yet I’m quick to admit that there are times when words are inadequate, when words are not enough, when there simply are no words. We’ve probably witnessed the well-intentioned offerings made at wake services or in the face of profound tragedy or loss—the softly mumbled condolences, the awkward searching for a meaningful phrase. We want to believe our words make a difference, that they can somehow salve the fresh wounds of loss and profound heartache. I suspect that, more than the words we utter at those times is our statement of witness: that we are here, that we have chosen to show up, that we desire to offer the only gift that is ours to give at these moments: the gift of being present to another even as we own our inability to save them from the heartache that summoned us to gather.

What to do, how to be, in the aftermath of the stunned silence that comes happily in the wake of profound beauty yet also sadly in the wake of profound loss? Our faith assures us that, just as the Holy One holds us in tenderness always, so we are called to a faithful presence. This may play out in real time as sitting by the bedside of a loved one as their breath becomes more labored on their final journey. Or deep listening to a friend whose pain spills out in torrents and underscores our inadequacy to reduce their suffering and loss. Or entering the stillness and allowing ourselves to feel our smallness before a mountain ridge, a midnight sky heavy with stars, a moon hung so low and large on the horizon that we just might believe we can touch its roundness.   The challenge is not to run away from Mystery but to remain, to accompany, to open ourselves to new learnings.

When words are not enough, I bake. Others cook and drop off casseroles, or babysit, or make phone calls or arrangements, or sit with in silence, or hug, or companion in a multitude of ways. These are all expressions of the presence Henri Nouwen describes in Out of Solitude.

“Still, when we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is the friend who cares.”

That is our call when words are not enough. We pray, we sit, we listen, we accompany. We show up in our powerlessness. We remain even as we feel our inadequacy and own our inability to save.

When words are not enough, we are present. It is sometimes all we can do, and it is everything.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness in the presence of the Holy One who remains with you always.
Invite into the stillness someone for whom you desire to be more fully present.
Surround this person with a field of compassion and affirmation.
Entrust him or her to the tenderness of the Holy One.

NOTE:
I’m writing this blog post while sitting in a lanai on Sanibel Island for a few restorative days. You have been present to me in my sitting and I send you blessings from this place of beauty and peace. 

Please hold in your prayer these upcoming events I’ll be leading: 

May 17:           Evening of Reflection for Women and Men Religious, Diocese of Scranton, PA
May 19:           Spiritual Spa Day, Our Lady of Grace Center, Manhasset, NY
May 23:           Social Justice Ministry, Christ the King Church, Springfield Gardens, NY

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