by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM April 25, 2021
Some time ago, I was part of a reflection process where we explored how the quality of our presence impacts fields of energy wherever we go. We were invited to share a story of a time when our intention to live as the presence of love softened the relational field around us.
I was immediately taken back to the years when I visited a New York detention center where refugees were held while awaiting deportation or asylum hearings. After receiving clearance to visit an inmate (no name given, simply an identifying number), I met Greg and learned that he had fled his African homeland at the height of a brutal civil war. With no papers or documents, he was picked up at Kennedy airport and brought to the detention center.
I was stunned to see the conditions under which these traumatized, fragile, desperate people lived and waited. The converted former warehouse was windowless, offering no chance to glimpse sky or trees, no chance to feel the sun’s warmth, no chance to connect to a world beyond the walls, which were painted a dark, drab olive. A single TV blared loudly for twenty-four hours a day. The atmosphere was so depressing that I almost expected to see Dante’s inscription on the gate to hell—“Abandon hope, all you who enter here”—posted over a door.
Greg was deeply spiritual, so when I asked him what I might bring to relieve his suffering, he replied, “A Bible.” No problem, I naively thought. So as I was leaving, I told the guard that next time I visited I would bring a Bible for Greg.
“No, it’s not allowed,” replied the guard. “You could smuggle drugs in that.”
“How about a rosary then?”
“No, he might take out the metal links and injure someone.”
I went through a list of possible items that might bring comfort to Greg.
“No.” “No.” “No.”
Exasperated, I exclaimed, “Well, what am I allowed to bring in here?”
“Just yourself. That’s it. Only yourself.”
I left, deeply distressed. On the long ride home, I put myself in the place of the detainees and thought that, if I were confined where they were, the total absence of beauty would be terribly deadly for my spirit. And then I hatched a plan.
The next time I visited Greg and every time afterwards, I was a kaleidoscope of color. My most sparkly, glittering earrings. Blouses that were lime green or canary yellow or bright fuchsia. Socks of such fluorescent hues they almost glowed in the dark. Was it my imagination, or did the gruff guard on desk duty show the faintest smile as I checked in? Did the eyes of other inmates light up suddenly as they glimpsed me entering the visiting area? Greg confirmed my intuition with his broad grin and his comment, “Ah, color. I’ve been missing it so much.”
Anne Frank, whose diary written during her time in hiding from the Nazis continues to inspire us today, once wrote, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” There’s no excuse for standing around expecting to be tapped on the shoulder for some heroic act or lifesaving measure that will make a difference. Opportunities of that dimension are rare.
But we can be faithful to the seemingly small gesture, what I like to name “The Sparkle Effect.” We can carry comfort or beauty or kindness or presence or a smile into the everyday. We can leave affirmation and encouragement and restored hope in our wake. And yes, we can set our intention to vibrate as the presence of love, to soften the relational field of energy around us. It is from just such faithful ripples that the currents of love expand and reach out to heal the Universe.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Hold in your heart a being who may be most in need of compassion and deep listening. (Since this is Earth month, you may want to remember Earth, our Common Home, or some part of the created world).
Spend several minutes with your intention to be an agent of healing presence today.
Ask the Holy One to bless your intention.
Featured image: Sharon McCutcheon, Unsplash
Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of a virtual evening of prayer sponsored by Villa Pauline Retreat Center that I’ll be leading April 27. Thank you.
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