A Season of Holding Space

Advent candles copy

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    December 1, 2019

Would it be safe to say we have diverse understandings of just what constitutes closeness or distance, based on our family culture and formative years? If you’ve never thought about your sense of personal space, notice how you feel on a flight when the passengers in front of you recline their seats to the furthest position, cutting off what little space is available to you. And then there’s the minivan, which I’ve always suspected was invented largely to put an end to children’s quarrels about who got to sit in the coveted space next to a window.

I was delighted recently to listen to an On Being podcast, “Your Life Is a Poem,” where Krista Tippett interviewed Naomi Shihab Nye and enlarged my sense of space through their conversation. The poet related that when she was working in a school in Yokohama, a student shared with her the Japanese concept of yutori, another kind of space, a sense of living with spaciousness. The student offered examples of yutori as budgeting your time so that you leave early enough to get to your destination and then have some moments to pause and look around. And another element of yutori: “After you read a poem, just knowing you can hold it—you can be in the space of the poem, and it can hold you in its space, and you don’t have to explain it. You don’t have to paraphrase it. You just hold it, and it allows you to see differently.”

How contemplative and how profoundly respectful, to allow for the pause after the period or the paragraph or the poem. To allow the thought of another to sit in our heart and seep into our consciousness. To not immediately or quickly move on to another word or idea, but to honor and to savor the richness or the mystery of what has just been read or heard or spoken.IMG_2061 copy

I often think of Advent as a season of space and spaciousness. Making space for the holy child whose family was turned away and told there was no room for them in the inn. Making space for the holy child who arrives at our borders or our parishes or our neighborhoods today in the homeless stranger or the desperate migrant looking for a restful pause and a safe and welcoming space.

As the consumer world is whirling around us, announcing sales and the dwindling number of days before Christmas and gift-giving, we can be challenged to find even a brief bit of space and stillness in which to ponder the mystery of Emmanuel, God with us. Perhaps this season is a time when we especially need the heart space where love lives and thrives, as Richard Rohr notes.

So what if we used the elements that are already part of our day-to-day lives and practiced yutori, a sense of living with spaciousness? Holding space when family members share the joys or challenges of their day and we stop multi-tasking to pause and truly take it all in. Holding space as we read or listen to national or international news and pause to allow what we hear to inform our prayer and action for justice. Holding space when we listen to the Scripture readings or the songs of this holy season and invite them to breathe in us. Holding space to listen to our own inner voice and the nudges of the Holy One calling us to rest or to reflect or to pause or to pay attention as we move through our day.IMG_2052 copy

As we enter into the season of Advent, may we be about exactly that: holding space for the Other and the other. May we practice yutori, enter into the pauses, and grow our spaciousness of heart. Advent blessings!


Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Pause for several minutes and breathe slowly.
Savor a thought, a moment, an experience of your day.
Ask the Holy One to enter into, sit with, and bless this time of pausing with you.

Please hold in your prayer the Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor, the Sisters of St. Joseph, and the Cenacle Sisters who will be part of an Advent retreat I’ll be offering at Villa St. Joseph, Rockville Centre, NY, this weekend. 

During this Advent season, I’ll be holding space for all of you who continue to bless and support my writing for Mining the Now. Thank you!

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4 thoughts on “A Season of Holding Space”

  1. I really look forward to your writing and always make ‘space’ for it as soon as it appears online!

  2. Hi Chris,
    Just what I need at this moment!!! Yutori is a beautiful and wise concept. I`ll practice it right now by taking 5 minutes out of busy- ness to sit in the sun and look at the beautiful mountains, corn plants and flowers all around me.
    Love to you!

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