Leaning Towards a Larger Heart

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   February 23, 2019

There can be something of a hierarchy in ranking the desirability of neighbors of any kind. When it comes to the insect world, fuzzy bumblebees and butterflies might be near the top of the list.  But roaches, gnats, mosquitoes? What was the God of creation
thinking when they came into being? Add to that undesirable listing the stink bug family, 95% of which, according to today’s news, will be wiped out by the polar vortex if they’re unable to find warm shelter this winter. Knowing how unpopular agricultural pests are, I suspect there are few who might mourn that statistic.IMG_2017 copy

As someone who grew up surrounded by the wonders of creation spirituality, I tend to hold a tender spot for all of God’s creatures. When stink bugs occasionally appear in my apartment during cold weather, I pretty much leave them in peace, not so much out of an abundance of compassion as a leaning toward practicality. After all, I figure, their days are limited, so why not simply avoid stepping on them and give them a comfortable and safe spot in which to live their last moments on earth?

Strange as it may seem, this winter of living in peaceful cohabitation with an occasional insect roommate or two has offered me a learning. My careful, tentative coexistence with the much maligned stink bug has invited me into ruminations on a parallel experience in the human world. What must it be like, I wonder, to go through one’s life reviled, threatened, or shunned. To be the teenager in the school cafeteria socially ostracized and banished to a table for one. To be the child struggling to stand up under the weight of ongoing verbal abuse that destroys all sense of worth. To be the lonely adult whose unfounded reputation eliminates any possibility of experiencing spaciousness of heart. To be the refugee not understanding the language but accurately translating the tone of unwelcome underneath it. To be those people on the receiving end of bullying, name calling, ridicule, shaming, or worst of all, indifference.

In Jesus’ time, to be a leper, prostitute, tax collector, or foreigner was to be “those people.” To be designated as physically, mentally, spiritually, financially less. To be branded as poor, without power, prestige, or a voice. To be perceived as different, a misfit, vulnerable, outside the acceptable margins. That’s what it meant then to be “those people.” That’s also what it means today.

But to be among “those people” also meant that you had a unique relationship and home in the tender heart of Jesus. You had a reserved seat of honor at his banquet table. You held onto a deep knowing that you were branded not with the mark of a loser but with the sign of the beloved.

In an interview with Krista Tippett, Greg Boyle, SJ, the founder of Homeboy Industries, a ministry with former gang members, remarked that “the measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins [‘those people’] but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship” with them. “So how,” he asked, “can we seek a compassion that can stand in awe of what people have to carry, rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it?” That’s a question to mine for the rest of our lives.Heartradiating copy

“Those people” is a grouping in which no one desires membership. May we instead be about authentic relationship. May we align ourselves with God’s dream for our world where the category of “those people” no longer exists because they have become our people, in kinship with all. May we, with God’s grace, cultivate a larger heart that will move us from separation to communion today and always.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on a person or group currently branded “outsider.”
Welcome them into your prayer.
Place them and yourself in the heart of God.
Sit together in silence and in gratitude in that holy place.

NOTE:

Thank you to the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, NY for a graced retreat last week, and thank you to all who supported us in prayer.

May I ask you now to hold in your prayer a day of presentation and process I’m leading on March 2 for the women and men religious of the Diocese of Brooklyn, NY and the Diocese of Rockville Centre, NY. Thank you!

 

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Knowing Our Own Beauty

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  February 9, 2019

What do you see when you look in a mirror, in both the external glass looking back at you and the inner reflection mirrored within your heart?

eyewithheartWhen I worked as a communications director, I noticed several responses to this question. Seldom without a camera in hand, I observed how much people appreciated viewing photos. In scrutinizing pictures of a group in which they were included, individuals would often praise other members in the photo, complimenting them on their appearance. Those same individuals, however, would sometimes be highly critical of their own image, harping on what they perceived as flaws. This response happened with such frequency that it led me to wonder, what sets us up to be reluctant or hesitant in acknowledging our own beauty, both inner and outer? What makes us blind to the amazing creation each of us is?

One of the wisdom figures in my life witnessed for me a way of looking at herself with a healthy self-love while at the same time praising God’s artistry. She related that, when she gets up at dawn and stumbles out of bed, her daily practice is to look at her face in the bathroom mirror and greet what she sees with this pronouncement: “Good morning, beautiful!”

“Good morning, beautiful!” Perhaps the 15th century Indian poet, Kabir, was thinking along those lines when he wrote, “If a mirror ever makes you sad, you should know that it does not know you.” Another mystic, Catherine of Siena, spoke of the unintentional insult we direct to the Holy One when we criticize our appearance and worth and dismiss God’s handiwork:

“What is it
You want to change?
Your hair, your face, your body?
Why?

For God is
in love with all those things
and He might weep
when they are gone.”

If we believe we’re the creation of the Holy One, why not move away from destructive self-criticism and move towards praising and giving thanks for what God has brought to birth in us? Why not imagine the utter delight of the Creator as the divine artist pauses to contemplate what love has brought into existence in us? Why not pray and worship with the words of Alan Cohen:

“Dear God,
please help me to recognize
the truth about myself,
no matter how beautiful it is.”

One of the most powerful images of God’s delight in us appeared in a video clip that captured a baby held in his mother’s arms. For several minutes, the little one gazed at his mother with unblinking eyes as his mother returned the same ecstatic expression towards the child of her womb. In their uninterrupted gaze, I saw joy, of course, contentment and astonishment, yes. But also something else, something that could only be named pure, unfiltered, unmistakable adoration and worship. Love looking at Love. Beauty gazing at Beauty. On some deep, primal, intuitive level, the baby looking into the face of his mother and his mother returning that rapt gaze revealed the awe and delight with which the Holy One gazes at us.

The poet Hafiz described this as God saying,
“I am made whole by your life.
Each soul,
Each soul completes me.”

EarthheartcopyThis is Holy Mystery indeed! That we complete the Holy One’s creation. That we help to make whole and bring to fullness the divine artistry. Me. You. Every person made in the image and likeness of the Holy One. So let’s name this for what it is, aware that no matter what is happening in our lives, no matter what choices, regrets, shame, and brokenness we might be carrying, we are still and always a thing of beauty in the eyes of the Holy One.

Our challenge, it seems, is to see with the vision of the Divine. To see from the perspective of the creation account in the Book of Genesis. There, God gazes at everything created by Love. God sees that it is good. Very good. Good and beautiful and beloved. So it is, and so are we.

Takeaway

You might want to practice this while gazing into a mirror.
Settle yourself in stillness with the Holy One.
Take a long, loving look at your image as created by God.
Give thanks that in the eyes of the Holy, you are beloved.
Greet yourself as a reflection of the Beautiful One.
Bring that insight to everyone you see this day.

NOTE:
Thank you for your prayer for all who were present for the Directed Prayer Weekend at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville.

Please now hold in your prayer the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, NY who will be part of a guided retreat I’ll be leading February 11-15. Thank you.

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