Staying a Little Empty

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM,  July 22, 2018

Hopefully, we’re all blessed with the pause that renews. The dictionary describes vacation as “an extended period of leisure and recreation, especially one spent away from home or in traveling.” Personally, I gravitate more towards the Latin root, “vacare,” to be free and empty, to take rest and freedom from any activity. In that understanding, perhaps the British term, “holiday,” is closer to the original Latin root of what it means to take a vacation.dawn copy

To be on vacation is to vacate in some way: to leave a place that we’ve previously occupied; to give up possession or occupancy of something; to release ourselves, even briefly, from an activity or occupation. At the heart of vacation is a sense of emptying out. Making space for what restores and refreshes. Adding to our diet a daily dose of peace or solitude or whatever feeds our well-being.

Whether our vacation is a week in some exotic setting, time spent experiencing fresh adventures, a few days at home replenishing our energy, or an afternoon sitting on a deck or strolling through a park, we are called to let go in some way. Even if we haven’t physically moved or relocated to a new place, vacation urges us to mentally, attitudinally, and spiritually move. To let go of some everyday routine or habits. To listen and tend to the rhythms of our body and spirit. To enter into a space where we can be refreshed, restored, and renewed. To pause and reflect, as the Creator did, on the work of one’s hands and heart, and to find signs of both goodness and blessing in that holy work.

The reality is that we all need some ceasing, some halting, some pausing, and certainly some emptying out for the deeper meaning of vacation to take hold in our hearts. May we find time and space in the days ahead for a deepening spirit of wholeness and well-being, and when we find that place, may we remain there in some way even as we return to our everyday living.

I’ve often, at the end of a retreat, introduced Steve Garnaas-Holmes’ blog post, “Don’t Come Back Soon,” as a reminder of our call to enter wholeheartedly into whatever renews our spirit—vacation, Sabbath, retreat—and to come out of such experiences moving a little more slowly, pausing a little more regularly, and holding a space of peace as we return to the dailiness of life. Garnaas-Holmes writes:

“Back from a week in cabin on the coast of Maine. I’m all slowed down. The thing now is not to jump back up into fifth gear and start hurrying and fretting and multitasking and plowing all night long. Don’t come back from vacation and fill up with stuff. Stay a little vacant. Keep the empty place. Stay slow. Keep paying attention, keep being deeply present.

The thing as I rise from prayer is to stay in prayer. The purpose of prayer, or vacation, or Sabbath, or sleep is not just to come up for air so you can go back into the fray but also to slow down so that what you go back into isn’t a fray.

Even when things around you are chaotic, you can be at peace. Even when others are panicking and hurrying and demanding or when they aren’t doing anything at all and it’s all falling to you, even when the house is afire and you have to move quickly, you can stay rooted. You can do one thing at a time. Even when you’re not at your prayers, you can still be in prayer.

Go on vacation, or into prayer, or on Sabbath, early and often. Go there now. And don’t come back soon.”armsopenwide

With thanks to Pastor Steve, I’m about to take a summer break myself and follow this wisdom. I hope to hold the empty space and live with renewed intention. Know that I wish that same blessing for each one of you in abundance.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on an experience or practice that restores your soul.
Give thanks for this blessing.
How might you incorporate it more deeply into your everyday living?
Express your desire for the renewal of all creation.

NOTE:
As is my custom, I’ll be taking a break from blogging during the month of August to allow time for my own retreat and self-care. There will be no new blog posts in August, but I’ll look forward to being back with you again in September. 

My deep thanks to the wonderful Sisters of Mercy and Associates of the New England area, with whom I was privileged to spend this past week of retreat at Marie Joseph Spirituality Center in Biddeford, Maine. Thank you to all who held us in your prayer during that time.

May I ask you to also prayerfully remember these days in August: 

August 18-24:             Guided retreat for the Sisters of St. Joseph,  Hampton Bays, NY
August 25:                  Installation of new IHM Leadership Team, Scranton, PA
August 27:                  Retreat for faculty and staff of Waldron Mercy Academy, Merion Station, PA

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Of Bliss and Basking

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM July 8, 2018

What ushers you into a state of bliss and where do you go from there?

This is the question I was holding after observing a bee who visited my tiny garden, now a riot of vibrant pink, deep purple, golden yellow. A bumblebee—you know, the delightfully fat, furry, and friendly species—had hovered over and inspected my entire lavender patch before selecting just the right landing space.bumblebee in lavender copy

In writing for Living Faith recently (June 27, 2018), I described this visit as a bee Examen of sorts, where the bee hovered as if discerning where to pause, where to pay attention, what to give time and energy to, and whether a stop at a particular flower would fulfill its needs for a flourishing life. Bumblebees, unlike honeybees, make only small amounts of honey for their own food. There’s no carrying it off to the hive to produce mass quantities for the colony. So am I too far off base in wondering if, in the case of this particular bumblebee, this visit was not only a practical one to replenish food and take a bit of rest, but also a blissful one? The bumblebee remained unmoving for hours, submerged in what I would have to name as purple ecstasy.

In the butterfly world, there’s a parallel practice to this nurturing pause, but with a different purpose. Butterflies don’t generate enough heat themselves to provide the energy needed to fly, so they engage in what’s called reflectance basking. They use their wings like solar panels, capturing the energy of the sun by exposing the surface area of their wings directly to the sun’s rays. After landing on a leaf or a flower, they often engage in opening their wings fully to achieve maximum exposure to the warm rays of the sun. This enables them to warm themselves, gain energy, and fly. Practical, yes, but if you’ve ever seen a butterfly basking, you may agree with me that there seems to be an element of bliss involved in that stillness.

Bumblebees, butterflies, and us. Perhaps what propels us into bliss is as individual and unique as we are. I have a long list of what takes me out of myself and leaves me wordless and overcome by awe and wonder. My bliss might be a quiet look of love, the hand of a friend in mine, surprising acts of tenderness and peacemaking, the subtle beauty that grabs my soul and saves the world, the unexpected graces that make me sit up and gratefully take notice. When experiencing bliss, I desire to linger and to bask in those transformative moments. And then to return, as I surely must, to the seemingly ordinary and everyday, the routine that Jack Kornfeld and Corita Kent both describe as “After the ecstasy, the laundry.” And oh, what glorious laundry it is!

Like the bumblebee fed by its lingering in lavender, like the butterfly fluttering to new heights after its momentary pause, aren’t you, as James Houghton notes, “closer to glory leaping an abyss than upholstering a rut?” Once you’ve experienced joy and rapture of any kind, how do you remain with that? How do you mine it and let it feed you for the lean times which will certainly enter your life at some future point? Where do you store bliss so that it continues to bless not only you but all who will come into your field of energy and consciousness?
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So, tell me: What ushers you into a state of bliss? Where do you linger and bask? How do you return to the dailiness of life in some way transformed, and then how are you called to share that blessing with the world both near and far?

Takeaway

Bask in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on an experience of beauty, of bliss, that still resonates with you.
What might that experience have offered you of fresh ways to engage in your daily life?
Give thanks to the Holy One for this graced experience.

Images
beautifulflowerspict.blogspot.com
Chris Koellhoffer
Chris Koellhoffer

NOTE:
Please continue to hold in your prayer my IHM community as we enter into our Chapter (governing body of the Congregation) and elections of new leadership this week. 

Please also remember in your prayer writing projects and a retreat I’m leading for the Sisters of Mercy in Biddeford, Maine. Thank you.

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