by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM July 4, 2021
In some way or another, we are all seeking it. It lives and finds expression in our shared longing for the place where we can lay down our burdens, where we can be accepted as our true selves, where we can breathe deeply in safe surroundings. It’s the place we can call home.
This past week, I stayed at the IHM Spirituality Center (Immaculata, PA) to offer a guided retreat. Every morning early in the day, and every evening towards dusk, I walked outside in anticipation. There they were, across the road. A family of deer, cautiously leaving the cover of the woods to feed on grass and alfalfa clippings on the center’s beautiful and welcoming land.
I usually spotted what I presume was the mother–carefully watching every move–and at least seven or eight very young deer grown beyond the spotted fawn stage but romping on still wobbly legs. Occasionally, a young buck would make his appearance, standing still with his head raised in a gesture of guardianship. Always, the adults were alert to any changes in the environment. A sudden noise, an approaching car, a footstep on the pavement across the road would result in a hurried gathering of the family and a swift and graceful departure into the cover of trees and shrub.
It occurred to me during this past week that we are all seeking what the deer were. A place of safety, where our lives are without threat. A place that feeds our bodies and also nourishes our souls. A place that offers us refreshment in the cool of the evening and restful sleep as the sun disappears. A place we might name and nestle into as home.
I’m led during this unseasonably and dangerously hot summer in the Pacific Northwest to call into my prayer those who don’t have the gift of a place to call home, a sheltering space, a place that’s largely free from violence, the forces of hatred, and the harshness of the elements. From my air-conditioned room, I look out my window and can’t imagine anyone remaining outside for more than a few minutes in the scorching sun and brutal heat.
During my week at the IHM Spirituality Center, I saw posted images of IHM Sisters from Immaculata, Scranton, and Monroe who at this very moment are ministering to weary, traumatized people at the California border. I’m moved by my Sisters’ service at the same time that I wonder at both the courage and the desperation that impels people to leave their home and embark on a treacherous trek across unforgiving terrain in the unrelenting heat of this summer.
As we observe, in the United States, the founding dream of this nation, I wonder how many of us here and in other countries will be giving thanks for the freedoms and the choices available to us in whatever place we call home. May we widen the space of our hearts in compassion and welcome for those who journey on blistered and bloody feet, who face angry and swelling waves, who risk everything on the promise of arriving at a safe and sheltering home.
Today and in the days to come, may we open ourselves to the experience described in this excerpt of “Home” by Warsan Shire:
“no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.
you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well, your neighbours running faster than you.
no one leaves home unless home chases you, fire under feet, hot blood in your belly…it’s not something you ever thought of doing until the blade burnt threats into your neck…
you have to understand that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land, no one burns their palms under trains beneath carriages, no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck, feeding on newspaper, unless the miles traveled mean something more than journey. no one crawls under fences, no one wants to be beaten, pitied…
i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark, home is the barrel of a gun, and no one would leave home unless home chased you to the shore, unless home told you to quicken your legs, leave your clothes behind, crawl through the desert, wade through the oceans, drown, save, be hunger, beg, forget pride, your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear, saying, leave, run away from me now, i don’t know what i’ve become, but I know that anywhere is safer than here.”
Sit in stillness with the Holy One. You may want to have before you an image of a refugee.
Hold in your heart and prayer our neighbors who at this very moment are risking their lives in the search for a safe space for themselves and their families.
Ask the Holy One to widen the spaciousness of your heart, and breathe a prayer of welcome.
Featured Image: Einar Storsul, Unsplash
Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of a directed retreat at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA. I’ll be one of the guest directors for the July 12-18 retreat. It will be a bittersweet experience for me, as it will be my last time at the Jesuit Center, which is closing August 15. So many members of the Society of Jesus, as well as thousands of people seeking a deepening of their spiritual lives, have passed through that holy place. Please remember them all.
Please also pray for my IHM Congregation on July 9-11 as we celebrate the 175th anniversary of our founding. This is actually the 176th year, since we were unable to celebrate our anniversary fully in 2020. I’m both proud and grateful to carry forward the dream of our founders, Theresa Maxis and Louis Gillet, into our shared future. Thank you for your prayer.
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