Everyday Revelations

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   January 17, 2021

Every year it’s the same. I ache with the expectant longing of the Advent Scriptures. I delight in the Christmas narratives with images of Emmanuel choosing to fully inhabit our human condition and become God-with-us. And then, in January, the Magi arrive.

Although we know few details about these ones we call “wise,” Matthew tells us (Matthew 2:1-12) that they came from “the East” and that they carried gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We assume they had an advanced knowledge of astronomy, since they “saw his star at its rising” and they followed that star “until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.”

But it’s their very appearance in the Christmas narrative that unleashes uneasy anticipation in me, because I’ve heard this story many times and the ending remains the same. After beginning their journey with honest and pure intentions, the Magi entered into their pilgrimage not fully understanding but drawn by a deep, mysterious longing. Directed in a dream not to make a return visit to Herod but instead to depart for their country by another way, these wise ones unintentionally set in motion tragic consequences. Their decision to circumvent Herod was the tipping point for the madness of a crazed despot. Terrified of being dethroned by a toddler, he ordered the snatching of other toddlers out of the arms of their powerless, wailing mothers in a scene of unimaginable slaughter.

Thomas Galler, Unsplash

So every year at the end of the Christmas season, there’s a sense of dissonance as we move from the relative calm and adoration of “Silent Night” to the sounds of Rachel rocking back and forth in utter desolation, keening and refusing to be comforted because her children are no more. The crèche and the bloody cobblestones, back-to-back. Bethlehem and Ramah, back-to-back. How are we to make sense of this contrasting placement, or are we?

We call the story of the Magi the Epiphany, the manifestation. So what might be being revealed here? The mystery of human suffering, certainly, and one beyond our ability to comprehend or explain. The welcome and inclusion God offers to all people, yes.  But could all of these events also be the Holy One’s leading us to an enduring truth: that, no matter what is happening, we are being accompanied at all times by the Divine. The Holy One is with us when we leap in delight, joy, and play, as well as in those moments when we’re brought to our knees crippled by pain, howling in rage, rendered mute by inconsolable loss.

God holding in tender arms the families whose loved ones have been brutally taken away by COVID-19. God rejoicing in the collaborative coming together of the scientific community to create a vaccine. God with us lamenting the violence that destroyed life and property last week at the U.S. Capitol. God with us applauding the swell of citizens gathering courage to voice their vote, to lead with compassion, to form a more perfect union.

In this imperfect world that so longs for wholeness and healing, the Epiphany manifests the simple truth that God is here, that God welcomes and accompanies. May we be blessed in this revealing.

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
You may find it helpful to gaze on images of both compassionate care and social sin in our world.
Name how light and shadow are reflected in what you see.
Ask the Holy One to bless your efforts to grow in spaciousness of heart as a person of peace.

Featured image: Inbal Malka, Unsplash

NOTE:
This coming week I was scheduled to be in Ocean City, Maryland, praying and reflecting with a women’s group. That experience has been canceled because of COVID precautions, but I ask you to hold in prayer all who would have participated.

Please remember in your prayer all who will be part of a directed retreat weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA, January 29-31. I will be one of the directors for this retreat. Thank you.

Please join me also in praying for a peaceful transfer of power with the inauguration of President Biden and Vice-President Harris and for the healing of the soul of the United States, as we pray also for a deepening of compassion throughout our beautiful yet wounded world.

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Good Company in Every Year

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM     January 1, 2021

The calendar reminds me that ten years have been counted off since I moved into my apartment, this place that I call “the womb” because it offers sacred space, a space that’s generative, contemplative, inspiring for me and hopefully, for our world. One might think that in ten years I’ve observed and learned quite a bit from interacting with my neighbors. Yet it’s taken this past year of living through the pandemic in lockdown, when I’ve largely stayed at home and worked virtually from home, that my neighbors and I really came to know one another.

I’m talking here not about people but about what we’d most probably name as objects, the seemingly inanimate things around us. These days I’m living with an intuitive knowing that in some primal way, soul remains in these neighbors. Soul, the life force of plants and animals. Soul, the creative energies and spirit of artists, inventors, craftpersons who have contributed to the creation of “things.” The cervical pillow that cradles my neck as I close my eyes at night. The electric blanket that warms and welcomes my ever-cold feet as I push them down to the bottom of the bed. I’m in conversation with the tea kettle that screeches in increasing decibels as I run from my office at one end into the kitchen at the other end where it waits for me. I can’t find words enough to convey my gratitude to the hot water that soothes me in the shower, or the cushions on the easy chair that embrace me, or the aging laptop that still springs into alertness at the push of a button.

Debby Hudson ahDojo, Unsplash

Every day of this pandemic year—and for all of my years, actually–I’ve been surrounded by such thoughtful neighbors. Yet I confess I’ve not always remarked on their faithful presence in my life, I’ve not always paused to thank them for their consideration, their quiet concern, their standing by at the ready.

So when I began to write the reflection today that I expected to be about the new year, these very neighbors intervened. “What about us?” protested the ottoman and the frying pan. “Share our story!” begged the hand mixer, the silverware resting in its drawer, the beloved oven, the busy desk. The clamor was deafening, so I cast aside my original plans and listened to the voices of collective wisdom. Perhaps you can hear them also.

Reading this, you may wonder if living in a pandemic has muddled my brain (it has). But please don’t conclude that my worldview is in any way shrinking. Quite the opposite! I believe that when we grow in awareness of the soul of any thing that has been touched by spirit, our universe expands. When we sense how our surroundings converge to nurture, protect, and support us, the only way forward is fuller gratitude. The only path ahead must be wonder and awe. The only response is living in profound appreciation for the collective soul and the quiet love Pat Schneider describes in “The Patience of Ordinary Things”: 

Ryan Riggins, Unsplash

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
In whatever space you may be, gaze contemplatively at your surroundings.
Let your eyes linger on any for whom you feel a particular affection.
Thank them, and thank the Holy One for the gift of such neighbors.
Treat these neighbors with thoughtful care today.

Featured image:  John Mark Smith, Unsplash

NOTE:
As we leave 2020 behind, we move forward holding in our hearts and in our prayer the many for whom this year has been marked by loss on many levels: the death of precious loved ones, the termination of employment, the curtailment of movement and interactions, the sense of safety and security. Still, we can be grateful because we move forward also with the memory of heroic care, extravagant kindness, moments of beauty, love in all its many splendid forms.

May the year to come be filled with the blessings of peace, hope, and good health for you and for our beautiful yet wounded world.

Blessings of the New Year, and thank you for following Mining the Now into 2021.

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