by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM October 6, 2019
Over the past year, I’ve spent a significant amount of time in doctors’ waiting rooms. Orthopedists’ waiting rooms, to be specific. So much time, in fact, that I’ve come to recognize the faces of other patients who are on a parallel schedule with me.
I think it’s a safe bet to say that the twenty or more people in that large room with me are in some sort of pain—physical, most certainly, dealing with fracture repair, the tearing and straining of muscles and ligaments, the wearing away of bones. Perhaps the pain is also emotional as people carry feelings of limitation or loss or uncertainty about a hoped for outcome. Financial as well, burdened with anxiety over insurance coverage or whether they can afford the treatment needed to restore their health.
Whatever the type of pain, all are joined in a fellowship, a club of those seeking healing. Although sitting in the waiting room–or waiting of any kind–can seem like a waste of time, it can also be approached as an invitation to stillness and intention. As I sit in that room for what can grow into an hour’s wait, I have a simple practice of prayer that grounds and stills me: gazing and breathing.
I subtly gaze at the faces of the people sitting with me. Gazing, Jan Vennard tells us, is a type of noticing. It’s a form of prayer that helps us to see through the eyes of God. Gazing helps us to pay attention to the holy that surrounds us in art, nature, and other people. So I notice, I subtly gaze at the faces of the people sitting with me.
And as I gaze, I also breathe my prayer. Breathprayer is a way of praying based on our breath, our inhaling and exhaling. In essence it invites us to pause and take in a breath of God, to be in communion with God’s Spirit hovering over the waters of creation, breathing life into the universe; to be in communion with the risen Jesus appearing in the locked room to his frightened disciples and breathing the peace and reassuring presence of the Spirit on them. Breathprayer connects us to the practice of statio, where, instead of rushing from one thing to another, we pause, take in several long, slow breaths, and open up a space of intention where the Holy One can work. All of this is being repeated and recreated in that waiting room as, one by one, I gaze at my companions and breathe compassion and tenderness towards them.
Recently as I was quietly breathing my prayer, a woman whom I recognized as one of the regulars approached me.
“We like it when you’re here,” she said.
Unsure of her meaning, I queried, “Pardon me?”
“We like it when you’re here,” she repeated. “The room feels different. More peaceful somehow.”
And then she turned and headed back to her seat, leaving me speechless.
The room feels different.
Is it possible that one person’s gazing with love, one person’s breathing compassion might actually change the climate of a room in ways that are palpable? I believe this on the deepest, most intuitive, most primal level of my soul. But if we need further proof, perhaps we’ve experienced the other side of this, where we’re gathered with a group of friends, relaxing and enjoying one another’s company, when one additional person joins our group. Carrying negative energy. Don’t we immediately absorb that presence? And doesn’t the room feel different? So why could the room not also feel changed when we absorb the positive energies of tenderness and blessing? When we live the Christian vocation that Pope Francis described in a May 2015 homily, as “to remain in the love of God, that is, to breathe, to live of that oxygen, to live of that air.”
Whenever I lead a retreat and we gather as an intentional group, we breathe our prayer together. The power of our presence, our contemplative consciousness, is palpable. I imagine the force of this great river of lovingkindness bursting through the windows of our gathering space and sweeping over our beautiful yet wounded world, bathing it in compassion and healing.
May each of us, in the many and diverse waiting rooms of our everyday lives, set our intention to be a peaceful presence, to breathe in and out in blessing the space around us and the space beyond us. May it be so.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One, the Breath of life.
Take time to center yourself.
Notice the rhythm of your breathing, your inhaling and exhaling.
Set an intention to bless, using words or the breath itself.
Thank you again for all the ways you have breathed the blessing of healing to me and on me. This month I’m resuming my mobile spirituality ministry and ask your prayer for:
October 19-25, a guided retreat at the residence of the Congregation of the Infant Jesus, the Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor, in Rockville Centre, NY. Members of several other Congregations of Sisters who share the same residence will be part of the retreat also. Thank you!
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