Listening as an Act of Love

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM for February 4, 2018

 

When were you last deeply listened to by another?

Listened to without unsought advice being offered or judgment being expressed? Listened to by someone who wasn’t simply counting the seconds until your pause or intake of breath created an opening for the listener to jump in and offer you the wisdom of their years of experience? Listened to without being told, “I know just how you feel,” listeninghandtoearfollowed by the listener’s recounting of their story, perhaps a similar parallel event, but one that was not your story. When were you last so fully and attentively heard that you felt not only listened to but also valued and affirmed?

Many years ago in a survey, people were asked to recall a moment when they felt most deeply loved. Most of the responses indicated a striking similarity, for the moment of feeling most deeply loved was often also the moment when respondents were in the presence of someone who had the gift of profound listening. A listening that’s the kind David Augsburger describes when he writes, “Being heard is so close to being loved that, for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”

Quite an equation, isn’t it? Being heard = being loved in some way. Hopefully, all of us have the graced opportunity to have in our lives a friend, a mentor, a teacher, a spiritual guide who has the particular gift of accompanying us in this way no matter what is unfolding in our lives. Henri Nouwen described so well the qualities of this person of presence and deep listening in Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life:

“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 advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm 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 a friend who cares.”

That level of caring and attentiveness can also be found in spiritual direction, sometimes called spiritual guidance or spiritual companionship. For the director, it’s a call to a listening so deep that it mirrors and reflects the unfailing presence of the Holy One who is the third person—along with the director and directee–in that meeting. This way of spiritual coming together is about the “stuff” of one’s life and how the Holy One is moving in all that “stuff.” As spiritual guides open their hearts to the sacred story of another and act as spiritual companions, they’re in a privileged place. Here they get to witness the unfolding story of how God is present and acting in another’s life and how the other is noticing the presence of the Holy One there.

In accompanying others as friends, mentors, teachers, spiritual guides, all of us must also come face to face with our own powerlessness and must own our inability to save others from their pain, to take away their losses, to mend their fractured relationships, much as we desire to do so. As listeners, we’re not called to enact what is beyond our human abilities. We practice the limits of living in that space of “not knowing, not curing, not healing.” We grow in trust in the power of the Holy One whose faithful presence we hope to mirror for others. We offer what is ours to give: spaciousness of heart and a safe place where others can lay down burdens, share what delights and draws them, and speak out loud their unique story, all with the assurance it will be received with reverence.

The following prayer by Jay McDaniel resonates with our hopes for becoming deep listeners. It’s one of the Prayers for a Thousand Years, a collection of hopes and  aspirations written as we moved from the end of the twentieth century into the twenty- first century, into these next thousand years:

earth weknowyourdream.org

In this century and in any century,
our deepest hope, our most tender prayer,
is that we learn to listen.
May we listen to one another in openness and mercy.
May we listen to plants and animals in wonder and respect.
May we listen to our own hearts in love and forgiveness.
May we listen to God in quietness and awe.
And in this listening,
which is boundless in its beauty,
may we find the wisdom to cooperate with a healing spirit,
a divine spirit,
who beckons us into peace and community and creativity.
We do not ask for a perfect world, but we do ask for a better world.
We ask for deep listening.

Takeaway

Sit in a place of stillness.
Call to mind the last time you were fully and lovingly heard.
What did this experience feel like? Look like? Sound like?
When have you offered this same gift to another?
Ask the Holy One to listen with love in you, and give thanks.

Images:
Fotolia.com
Fluentu.com
Earthweknowyourdream.org

NOTE:

Please remember in your prayer all who are part of a week of guided retreat for the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (PBVM) taking place February 4-9, in Dubuque, Iowa. Thank you!

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Breaking into Beauty

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM for January 21, 2018

 

The possibility of breakage is part of everyday living. In our bodies, we can break bones and split open skin. With our words, we can both affirm and wound. Promises and relationships can be nurtured or shattered. Carelessness, inattention, accident, indifference–all can break both objects and hearts.

A perfection-seeking consumer culture finds little or no value in things that are imperfect, flawed, in need of repair. This culture tells us that what is damaged, split, or smashed must be hidden, kept out of sight, or discarded and tossed into the trash.

We know from experience that returning broken heirlooms or artifacts to anything resembling wholeness can be an especially difficult task. Antiques Roadshow admonishes us that telltale cracks or chips or well-intentioned touch-ups can greatly diminish the worth of treasured objects, causing them to lose whatever value they might once have held.Breaking shattered pot copy

We name things that are spilled or spoiled, burnt or torn, as “ruined,” with little hope of restoration. To mend or alter is much more challenging than to create from scratch. To rescue the soup into which a shaker of salt has tumbled requires skills bordering on the miraculous.

Yet there can also be a form of beauty in what is broken or worn or in need of repair and restoration. What if, instead of lamenting the flaws in our possessions and ourselves, we approached them as teachers pointing the way towards a new practice of wholemaking? Our spiritual traditions emphasize the call to treat people and animals and also inanimate objects with respect, care, and reverence, no matter what their condition. Our efforts to recycle, to see the potential in what is old or used, remind us that we are reincarnating something that would otherwise be forever lost or forgotten. In memorable lyrics, composer Leonard Cohen makes the case for the lessons of breakage and the imperfections in our lives by renaming them as graced: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

The Japanese art form, kintsugi, finds profound beauty in what is broken. Kintsugi is believed to date back to the 15th century when the favorite bowl of a shogun was shattered. Efforts to repair the bowl with metal staples, the custom of the time, diminished the bowl’s appearance, so the disappointed shogun enlisted a craftsman and charged him with this task: find a method of restoration that not only repairs the bowl but actually enhances its original beauty.

That method, kintsugi, uses lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum to fill in the cracks. The precious metals don’t hide the damage that’s been done but instead actually highlight and draw attention to what is cracked, transforming what was viewed as a flaw into a prominent part of the new art form.

There’s a contemplative dimension to the practice of kintsugi. It invites the artist to spend time with brokenness, not to fear it but to mine its depths, to become intimate with it. Kintsugi demands that the artist listen to and learn from the past history or spiritual background of the item being restored. It requires a worldview that is able to discover in the broken, the old, and the seemingly useless a surprising witness to a new and profound type of beauty.

Today and every day, may we embrace the artistic and spiritual practice of kintsugi. May we see beyond surface appearances. May we open ourselves to a way of looking at the universe that finds potential for the beautiful in what is damaged and flawed in ourselves and in others. May the Holy One who holds us in tenderness show us our own beauty even when, perhaps especially when, we look at the fragments of our lives and cannot imagine any dimension of the beautiful in them. May this same Holy One continually fill in the cracks and lead us and our world into a place of wholeness.

breakingpinterest.co

Takeaway

Sit in a place of stillness.
Place before you a photo of an item that is visibly broken, or hold in your hands an object that is cracked, chipped, worn. Gaze at this.
What moves within you as you spend time in the presence of brokenness or imperfections?
Where in yourself or another have you recognized the potential for a new dimension of the beautiful?
Ask the Holy One to reveal to you your own singular beauty, and give thanks.

Images:
katieminami.blog
pinterest.co.uk
Chris Koellhoffer

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

January 26-28:   Directed Prayer weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA

February 4-9:    Guided Retreat for the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (PBVM) in Dubuque, Iowa.

Many thanks for your remembrance of all of us!

 

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Nurturing a Winter Soul

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM for January 7, 2018

What is the gift of winter? After more than a few days of fierce wind, snow measured in feet rather than inches, sputtering car batteries, and layers of ice so thick it laughs at the puny scrapers with which we threaten it, we might be tempted to utter an incredible “Gift? You call this a gift?” Understandably, our recent winter experiences here in the North might easily tempt us to name this season as more of an inconvenience, a disrupter of plans, a foe of travel, an enforcer of hibernation, and nothing more.wintersingleflake

True, our sister, winter, brings all of these experiences to many of us. The deep freeze, the unrelenting cold, the snowy blanketing of landscapes, the slowing down or absolute halting of plans. As we experience all of these harsh realities, might we also acknowledge that winter comes bearing gifts? Sabbath time, hush and stillness, fierce beauty, rest, gestation and deepening. Winter reminds us that, no matter what appearances seem to imply, the universe is always invested in healing and growth and renewal, gifts of this season.

Winter is not a season of standstill. She often moves below the surface and the seen, ushering in a time of contemplative, expectant waiting, of dreams and inner visions. She calls us into a slowing of our steps, into mindful movement, into a hush of silence, into a rhythm of seeming to do nothing but go deeper. She offers us the grace to mine her presence, to reflect on the bareness of trees, the stillness of landscapes, the darkness of star-filled nights. She invites us into sacred rest. Most of all, she challenges us to foster and nurture a winter soul.

In “Winter Spirituality,” a guest post for the Monk in the World series, Nancy L. Agneberg reflects on her own preference for the gifts of this season and on having just such a soul.

“I value the harvest of fall, the energy of spring, the secure lingering of summer,” she notes, “but even more I covet the lairs of winter, the hidden passages, the unlit corridors, the streamlined views, the bareness of the horizon. The action coldly stopped, frozen without conscious time. I’ve done what I can all those other days and months and now it is time to leave what is undone and to unwind the sweater til once more it is yarn. It is sheep. It is essence.”

wintersheepcopySo especially during this season, may we cultivate patience to listen to the unresolved questions frozen in our hearts. May we believe in our resiliency when we are wintered. May we trust the love and mystery deep within ourselves and others. May winter reveal to us the hidden, the invisible, the heart of what really matters. May we foster a winter soul.

Takeaway

Take a few minutes to sit in the stillness of this season.
If you are in a wintered area, gaze out the window or walk outside if it’s safe, temperature-wise. What do you see?
What are the challenges, places where you feel frozen, stuck, or hardened in your life? Where in your life might you be dreaming of a softening or awaiting a thaw?
Invite the Holy One to winter in you.

Images:
hdwpro.com
livescience.com
animalsaustralia.com
pixabay.com

Wintercopy

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