Telling It

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   June 1, 2019

Within each of us is the power of story. Not a single isolated thread, but a burgeoning collective of relationship, experience, circumstance, and dreams that speak to the richness and complexity of who I am, of who we are.

Each of us is owed the opportunity to share the story of our lives. And although it may not be theologically correct, I feel that when voices are silenced by forces beyond their control, the beauty of the Holy One is in some way diminished or obscured. When the story that is uniquely me is never breathed into life, is ridiculed or dismissed or ignored, is never allowed an opening to be spoken or heard, then some part of the universe is lacking, missing, incomplete. We are all in some way less for that un-telling.

IMG_2202 copyThat message was palpably present to me when I recently made a first-time visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, a dream I’ve held since it first opened in 2016. There was no way I could be present along with thousands of others walking through in reverent stillness without the power of story reverberating and staying with me.

There was a hush among the crowd who visited the museum with me, but the silence was not empty. It shouted of longing and desire to be heard. It sang of pride and anguish and loss and grief and rejoicing and committed protest. It celebrated full-throated spirituals and liberating dance and jazz and the music of poetry. It refused to remain untold or hidden away from history books. It stood rooted in abiding faith and the company of the ancestors. It was, for me, made holy by the multitude of voices speaking across time and space and echoing on every floor.

I can speak only to my own limited experience, which was that at times, my being at the museum was painful and humbling at what has been endured and at my often unconscious role in that suffering; at times, full of wonder; at times, filled with awe at the courage and perseverance on display; at all times, challenged at every turn to seek the fullness of justice for all. I couldn’t help reflecting how much less we would all be if these stories were left untold. Whenever we encounter and truly listen to another’s story, we are enriched. We cannot remain the same.

sjgroupme2What a grace and an enlightenment it is to know even a paragraph or a brief chapter of another’s journey. When we come face to face with what another has been shouldering, when we learn what is so precious to them that they hold it in trembling and tender hands, when we discover the spaciousness of heart another has had to grow into so that a larger story might come into being, we are surely standing on holy ground.

This is true of each of us and the stories we carry. In our families and relationships, our neighborhoods, our nation, our world, we hold many remembrances that are awaiting and deserving of a listening. May we honor and give thanks for the profound privilege it is to be invited into another’s life in this way. May our stories be both told and heard with honesty, with reverence, and with tenderness.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on these words from David W. Augsburger:
“Being heard is so close to being loved that for most people, they are indistinguishable.”

When have you experienced being listened to in this way?
When have you given another the gift of being fully heard?
Ask for the grace of attentive hearing.
Give thanks to the Holy One who is always present, always responsive.

NOTE:

Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of a guided retreat I’ll be leading for the Sisters of Mercy in Merion Station, PA, June 1 – June 7. 

May I also ask you to remember me as I enter into my own time of retreat beginning June 15. Thank you.

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The Holy Work of Self-Care

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  May 17, 2019

A day of full sun. Not generally notable except that in this continuously raw, rainy spring in the Northeast United States where I live, the appearance of a cloudless sky is an exception, a welcome one. This time of year, warming temperatures and greening landscapes often trigger dreams for a vacation of some kind. Spring ushering in the summer season draws out expressions of our longing for a break from routine, a chance to shed the trappings of bulky winter coats and woolen scarves and trade them in for summer apparel, a reminder to pause, to rest, to recreate and to re-create.Biddefordbench

We yearn for a different sense of time, a slowing down, a deeper listening to and noticing of our body’s rhythms and our sometimes unacknowledged need for renewal. A question I often find myself asking as summer approaches is: Why only now? Why limit our seeking of wholeness and well-being to just certain times of the year?

Could Jesus have had that question in mind when he articulated the mandate that follows the greatest commandment of loving God with all our passion and prayer and intelligence? Irrevocably linked is a second command: loving others as well as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:34-40).  It’s the last phrase, “as we love ourselves,” that seems to be neglected or forgotten. Just how do we love, respect and reverence ourselves as a wondrous and beloved creation of the Holy One?

Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew expression underscoring that we are here to repair the world, a world that is both beautiful and wounded. What’s easy to overlook is that we are the world. We are part of that beauty and that brokenness. We are named in Isaiah 58:12 as “repairer of the breach” and “restorer of ruined dwellings.” And so our call is not only to work to heal the brokenness of our neighbors but to repair and restore what is fragmented and worn and spent in ourselves.

What in us is crying out for attention and renewal? As we give our lives over to moving forward God’s dream for our world, how do we also love and care for ourselves as the Holy One intends? Do we live from the belief that self-care is as holy a work as any other? Do we listen to and act on the Message Bible’s translation of Matthew 11:28-30: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out…? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

We live very full, very rich, and often very busy lives where we move from one event to another. Might we integrate into the dailiness of life a simple step: a sacred pause to experience the unforced rhythms of grace, to pay attention, to listen to the wisdom of our bodies, to notice and assess how we are. To ask: What are we yearning for? What do we need more of or less of? Is there any area of our lives where we feel deprived? Can we name some blocks or hindrances that stand in the way of taking time to care for ourselves?capemayrocker

In this excerpt from his poem, “Things to Think,” Robert Bly suggests a refreshing and novel way to think about self-care and our place in the universe. May we carry his wisdom and his words into the days ahead:

Think in ways you’ve never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you’ve ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats…

When someone knocks on the door, think that he’s
about
To give you something large: tell you you’re forgiven,
Or that it’s not necessary to work all the time, or that
it’s
Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on an area of your life where you long for renewal.
Name what you need to feel restored.
Ask the Holy One to lead you in finding simple ways to integrate this in your everyday living.
Pray that all people in our world will also be graced with whatever they might most need to be renewed.

NOTE:
Thank you for your prayerful support of the retreat days I recently led at Our Lady of Grace Center, Manhasset, NY; Geisinger Holy Spirit Hospital, Camp Hill, PA; and the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA. I’m grateful to all who were part of those blessed days. 

This coming week I’m actually listening to my own wisdom (after all, what I write is usually pretty much what I need to hear myself!) and setting time aside for self-care and renewal. Thank you for supporting that desire with your prayer. 

Please also pray for the first of the summer retreats I’ll be leading and all who will enter into the retreat experience: 

June 1-7:  Guided Retreat for the Sisters of Mercy, Merion Station, PA.  Thank you!

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In Jubilee Time

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  May 3, 2019

We talk of keeping it, making it, spending it, saving it. We fear running out of it. We seem to never have enough of it. “It” is time, and already when we arrive at the end of this sentence, it will have passed from the second we began reading until we reached this present moment.

TimePerhaps you, like me, have heard yourself wondering, “Where does the time go?” or heard yourself exclaiming with astonishment, “Wow, this year just sped by.”

Those have been my sentiments as I entered into my year of golden jubilee marking fifty years since my first profession of vows as a Sister. I can distinctly remember, as a new, young community member, looking at the Sisters who were celebrating their silver (twenty-fifth) jubilee and noting how old they were and how it would be ages before I ever arrived at that milestone. Well, here I am today, times two, and arrival has been surprisingly quick!

In celebrating an anniversary of any kind, we may inevitably be drawn to reflect on time. We may survey the past and all it has held of memorable people and events, experiences of both exquisite joy and profound pain. We may extract meaning and wisdom from prayerful reflection on how the Holy One continues to live and move and breathe in our lives and in the lives of others whose paths have intersected with ours. We may look with hope or anxiety or wonder toward an unknown future.

A time of jubilee prompts us to ask how we might live like a jubilarian, that is, live more fully the themes of Biblical jubilee: letting the land lie fallow, forgiving all debts, freeing captives, and celebrating.

So what might this mean for any of us desiring to align our lives more closely with the witness of Jesus and all the holy ones? The particulars will be as unique as each of us is. As one who has orbited the sun many times before this jubilee year, I’ve been holding in my heart all those whose paths have intersected with mine through presence or prayer. As my way of contributing to the healing of the world this jubilee year, I’ve written to family, relatives, and long-time friends: Announcing Sabbath time to pause, reflect, and offer profound thanks for all that the Holy One has brought to birth in me for the life of the world these fifty years (letting the land lie fallow). Asking forgiveness for any way I might have contributed consciously or unconsciously to the brokenness and wounding of the world in them (forgiving all debts). Asking their blessing on the deep inner soul work that is still mine to do (liberating the captive). Asking their prayer that I might cultivate deeper spaciousness of heart and live from a place of love and tenderness in the years that are left to me (celebrating).

An anniversary or any time-related milestone is an invitation to look at our past with the compassionate eyes of the Holy One who sees the heart and bypasses our yardsticks and calculators, the Holy One who announces that it is never too late for forgiveness or homecoming, as David Ray imagined in “Thanks, Robert Frost.”

Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was… 

Jubilee is the time to look the past squarely in the face and name with humility our own omissions, limitations, regrets about loving indifferently or setting limits on our spaciousness of heart, but not as an act of self-flagellation; instead, as a profession of gratitude and astonishment at the Holy One’s ability to bring to completion what is lacking or unfinished in us.

In contributing to Prayers for a Thousand Years, Blessings and Expressions of Hope for the New Millennium, Gunilla Norris makes a case for how we might desire to spend time in ways that will contribute to the healing of our world:

When you love instead of kill, time grows long. When you preserve and create instead of use and destroy, time grows full. And when you give yourself to time, yes, when you open yourself to each moment—not avoiding either suffering or joy—then time is no time. Then time is forever time. Then you will be a stranger to nothing and to no one. Then time will turn your shimmering and fleeting life into love. You will be part of the Mystery that does not cease. 

timecelebrate copyJubilee holds an invitation to know ourselves as beloved, to live in the spirit of Kairos time, where no act of love is ever lost, forgotten, or wasted. Jubilee is the time to enter the present with an open and tender heart as Rumi advises,

This is now. Now is
all there is. Don’t wait for Then;
Strike the spark, light the fire.
Sit at the Beloved’s table,
feast with gusto, drink your fill… 

And celebrate jubilee time!

NOTE:

Please hold in your prayer these coming events I’ll be leading and all who will be part of them: 

May 4, Spiritual Spa Day, Our Lady of Grace Center, Manhasset, NY 

May 8, Carrying Treasure in Earthen Vessels, a day for Treasurers of Congregations of Women and Men Religious, Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse, Philadelphia, PA 

May 11: Spring Day of Prayer, Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA 

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on a time in your life when you have been particularly aware of the Holy One present and at work in you.
Does this call you to connect with any of the themes of Biblical jubilee: taking Sabbath time, forgiving all debts, liberating captives, and celebrating?
Set your intention to mine this and integrate it deeply into your everyday living.
Ask the Holy One to bless your desire for the life of the world.

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