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.
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”:
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?
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
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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