by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM September 12, 2021
Perhaps you have been something of a traveler these summer months in the North when sunshine and blue skies have issued an invitation to be on the move. Most of my own travel has been related to my mobile spirituality ministry and has included my first flight since the beginning of the pandemic, from Scranton, Pennsylvania to San Antonio, Texas. Like anything else in our lives, travel can offer learnings, and my trip was a meditation on the things we carry.
When I was scanning the departures sign at the Charlotte airport for my connecting flight, my heart sank when I saw that I would have to trek from Terminal E to Terminal A. Because my originating flight from Scranton was on a smaller plane, I had had to leave my wheeled laptop bag at home. No problem, I thought, and filled a shoulder bag containing my laptop, a speaker for my music presentation, and all the handouts and materials for the retreat I was about to begin. I set out fairly confidently.
But as I trekked to my connecting flight’s gate, I felt that laptop strap dig ever more deeply into my shoulder. I began to glance with undisguised envy at every piece of luggage on wheels that zipped past me, their owners blithely unaware and showing no sign of pain or discomfort. That’s when I began to reflect on the things we carry.
The things we carry are not only luggage of all shapes and sizes. Scanning the travelers crowding the airport terminal, I saw parents carrying weary toddlers, some in their arms, some riding high on strong shoulders. I saw faces carrying the anguish of tears or the unbearable weight of farewells. I saw welcoming arms embracing the beginning of homecomings. I saw hands clasping the warmth of a beloved’s company or compassionately supporting the frailty of an elder.
And I began wondering about all the intangible things we sometimes unconsciously carry or take with us. The things we cherish and desire to preserve and protect. The heaviness of emotional burdens triggered by the day’s news or by experiences of loss. How to be, what to do with those things we carry that can overwhelm us or paralyze us or fill us with despair?
Surely, Jesus understood how we can sometimes come to the edge of exhaustion because of the burdens of life and the baggage we carry (Matthew 11:28-30). I’m partial to the translation in The Message Bible, which helps to break open familiar words:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest…Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
During the months leading up to the 2020 national elections in the United States, I discerned that I needed to cut my consumption of news because of the negative impact that intake had on my life. I wasn’t happy with the person I was becoming. I needed to return to a life in balance. I needed to cut back on the things I was carrying that were deadening to my spirit and my emotional and spiritual well-being.
“Learning to live freely and lightly” can sometimes involve a life-saving letting go. We’ve probably heard dramatic stories of mountain climbers or parachutists who have had to let go of the weight of some things they carry in order to preserve something even more precious—their very lives. There’s a scene in Apollo 13 where NASA engineers frantically exhaust every possibility of what they can safely jettison from a damaged spacecraft so that it will be light enough to save the lives of the astronauts on board and to successfully return to Earth using the remaining energy available.
There are elements, of course, that we should hold on to, that we should be carrying. I’m reminded of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, “Shoulders.”
“A man crosses the street in rain.
Stepping gently, looking two times north and south, because his son is asleep on his shoulders.
No car must splash him. No car drive too near to his shadow.
This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo but he’s not marked. Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE, HANDLE WITH CARE.
His ears fill up with breathing. He hears the hum of a boy’s dream deep inside him.
We’re not going to be able to live in this world if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing with one another.
The road will only be wide. The rain will never stop falling.”
May we take time in the days ahead to reflect on what we literally or figuratively carry on our shoulders. May we engage in the deep, inner soul work of discernment: reflecting on what to hold onto and cherish because it is for our good and for the common good; what to let go of and jettison from our lives because it weighs down our spirit, impedes our spiritual growth, or pushes against God’s dream, which is the fullness of life for all. May we make room for the courage for love, a love that enables us to carry welcome and compassion and reconciliation into our beautiful, yet wounded world.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One. You may want to sit with your hands open, your palms up.
Who or what are you carrying that you desire to continue holding in love? Might there be anything that you discern is weighing you down and burdensome?
Ask the Holy One for light so that you may choose with wisdom and grace.
Featured Image: Caroline Selfors, Unsplash
Thank you for returning to Mining the Now after a hiatus in August.
On this 20th anniversary of September 11, 2001, please join me in remembering in prayer those who are carrying terrible burdens of loss, emptiness, or sorrow from that day, as well as all who suffer and live with the effects of violence every day across our world.
Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of this upcoming event:
September 19-26: Directed retreat with the Sisters of Mercy, Sea Isle City, NJ. I’ll be one of the guest directors for this retreat.
Please also remember those who would have been part of a directed retreat at St. Mary by-the-Sea, Cape May Point, NJ, September 13-19. I would have been a guest director for this retreat. St. Mary’s has permanently closed so we remember with gratitude the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia who so graciously welcomed many of us to this sacred space over the years.
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4 thoughts on “Baggage Claim”
Thank you so much for this reflection! As I pack to move I am so aware of the “too much”I carry but-to take time to reflect upon the other “stuff”, the non tangible, the subconscious is so necessary. I’m really going to be using this reflection as I continue to pack what I need and what I can leave behind.
What a beautiful piece. Food for thought. Thank you.
Important to take the suggestion of sitting quietly and reflecting on what baggage we might have in our hearts, minds and spirits that don`t reflect peace, compassion and ,unconditional love
It is so good to have you back, I pray youare refreshed and renewed… it is good for me to be reminded of the unimportant “stuff” that I carry around. Thank you and welcome back