A Fragrance That Remains

 

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, June 24, 2018

Have you ever remembered, seemingly from out of nowhere, a person or place of significance in your life that you might not have thought of in years? Sometimes scent can be the trigger for such dormant remembrances coming to consciousness.

Scent is evocative. What we inhale through our olfactory system has the power to bring strong images or unexpected feelings into our awareness, transporting us to another time, place, or memory. For me, talcum powder, Coty L’Aimant, and Old Spice are emotional triggers. I get a whiff of any of those and suddenly my grandmother, my mother, my father will appear before me.
honeysuckle

Last week I was thinking of all that scent evokes as I strolled the Promenade in Sea Isle City, NJ during a retreat for a group of women religious. Within seconds of stepping onto the walkway on a June morning, I was enveloped by the scent of honeysuckle hanging heavily in the air.

It wasn’t much of a leap to make the connection between that delicate, pervasive scent and the witness of the women praying and reflecting during the retreat. Like the fragrance of honeysuckle, their lives given over in love and service lingered and filled our meeting space. I imagined the prayers of blessing sent out into the universe by all the holy ones. I imagined every life ever given over in love and compassion as a gracious anointing that carried healing and affirmation and tenderness, blessing people on the other side of the globe. That image lingers with me still and invites a deeper mining.

I wonder, what is the fragrance, the holy perfume, for which our beautiful yet wounded world longs? How might the fragrant witness of our lives fill not only this present moment but also envelop and bless an uncertain future? How might our very presence leave behind a familiar and comforting scent? How might we embody the meaning of the words,

“You are here.
That is good.
You are not here.
The fragrance remains.”

The fragrance that remains most certainly could describe the woman who anointed Jesus on the edge of his suffering and death. She is the one remembered not only in the pages of the Gospels but in the memorable scent left behind by her extravagant act. To two of the Gospel writers (Mark 14:3-9; Matthew 26:6-13), she is nameless. Only John names her as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 12:1-8). In telling her story, only John adds the phrase, “The house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” Another translation describes the aftermath of her act by noting, “The sweet smell of the perfume filled the whole house.” Clearly, her act of anointing was not only fragrant but extravagant, generous, enduring, memorable.

This woman seems to be the only one of Jesus’ followers who truly heard his prediction of his coming death and was moved to comfort him. Like the rest of us, she discerned the place of need and did what she had the power to do. Perhaps she trembled. Perhaps she knew she would be judged and criticized. Perhaps she suspected her anointing  would be misunderstood. But the voices of love and compassion were louder than the voices of her fear. Love emboldened her. Compassion compelled her. And the sweet smell of her perfume filled the whole house, and lingered there.

rosegarden

What about us? What are we leaving behind? What anointings will be told in our memory? For what extravagant, loving acts will we be remembered?

IMAGES:
pastorfest.wordpress.com
floweringinfo.org
pinterest

Takeaway

Spend time in stillness before the Holy One.
Reflect on a person whose presence in your life has blessed you and whose memory lingers with you.
Hold that person in love and gratitude today.

NOTE:
Thank you for continuing to pray for all who will be part of the next summer retreat I’m leading: 

June 25 – July 1:     Directed Retreat at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA. I will serve as one of the directors for this retreat. 

Also, I’d be grateful for your prayer as my IHM community enters into our annual Assembly and our Chapter and Elections beginning July 5.

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Practicing the Way Forward

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, June10, 2018

Many of us follow a daily practice of prayer, and there’s a reason we call it a practice. We need to return to it over and over, connecting ever more deeply on a soul level with the Holy One. Whatever the practice, we hope to enter into a contemplative space where we can most clearly notice the Spirit at work in our lives, where we can open ourselves to listen to whatever the day may offer. We may follow a routine including meditation, morning and evening prayer, lectio divina, or pausing during the day to review how the Holy has accompanied us and how we’ve responded to that presence.franklin_trees_01

We may also engage in informal practices that have a contemplative feel to them although we might not name them as contemplative prayer. Does sitting on the beach gazing at the ocean restore your soul and invite you into stillness and wonder? How about breathing in the scent of mock orange, lavender, or freesia? Pulling weeds or broadcasting seeds? Filling the kitchen with the aroma of baking bread? Sitting back and inviting the sounds of a loved piece of music to spill into a room?

One of my favorite spiritual practices is walking, walking any time but especially in the early part of the day. In a rural area, that’s the hour when nervous rabbits nibble and curious fawns move on shaky legs, their mothers standing, statue-like and ears erect, nearby. That’s the hour when honeysuckle and phlox are shaking off the night’s rain, when all of creation seems to wake, to come alive, to wait expectantly for what the unfolding day may bring. In a busy city, that’s the hour when the work of renewing the face of the earth is revealed in trash collectors clearing a path on sidewalks, maintenance workers hosing down pavement, delivery persons dropping off bundles of the morning paper, and grocers arranging symmetrical rows of apples, pears, and other produce. While life is bustling all around, that’s the hour when it still feels as if there’s a hush and the fresh promise of something new.

Whether we stroll or saunter, walking—as any spiritual practice that renews our soul—offers us many gifts. Walking mindfully is sometimes described as massaging the Earth. I’ve come to believe that when the body is in motion, the rhythm of walking liberates the mind and engages the unconscious. The steadiness of the pace, the mindfulness of our steps, can open up creative space and offer a pathway to centeredness and peace.  This spiritual practice can jump start our imagination and deepen our awareness of the world around us and our place in it. Whether we walk alone or in the company of others, whether we are in silence or engaged conversation, walking invites us into a space of listening, noticing, paying attention, all elements of a spiritual practice.

Walking was one of the few methods of transportation available to Jesus. He trekked up mountainsides, strolled the seashore, wandered the desert, and walked through the small towns and villages of his time. Sometimes he walked alone enjoying the stillness; other times he trudged the dusty roads of Nazareth and Nain and Bethany surrounded by his disciples or the crowds that were drawn to him.

After the chaos, confusion, and heartbreak of Jesus’ passion and death, and during that period of intense mourning before his rising became known, what were two of his grieving disciples doing? Walking on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Luke tells us that while they were conversing and debating about the horrific events they had just witnessed, Jesus himself drew near, and what did he do? He walked with them. And what a conversation came out of that walk!

In How to Walk, Thich Nhat Hanh shares that the Buddha was also a walker. “During his forty-five years of teaching,” writes Hanh, “he visited and taught in perhaps fourteen or fifteen countries of India and Nepal. That was a lot of walking. Many of his teachings, many of his insights, came from his time of walking everywhere.”  IMG_1967 copy

 So what about us? How and when and where do we pray most easily? What helps to create or support a graced space for our own growth and for a deeper understanding of our place in the universe? What slows us down, pushes our “Pause” button, renews and restores our soul?

While you’re mulling that over, please excuse me. I think I have to shut down my laptop, go outside, and practice. It feels about the right time for a good, long walk.

Takeaway

Sit in a relaxed stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on your own spiritual practices.
What do you currently engage in that nourishes and restores you?
Might there be anything new that seems to be inviting you to deepen your way of praying?
Offer thanks for the practices of renewal that are part of your life at this time.
Now, go out and practice!

NOTE:
Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of these events I’ll be leading in the near future: 

June 9 – 16, Guided Retreat, “Bearing Witness to the Holy,” Sisters of Mercy, Sea Isle City, NJ 

June 20, Social Justice Ministry, Christ the King Church, Springfield Gardens, NY

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