Reading the Bones

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   September 26, 2021 

The breaking is only the beginning. If you’ve ever fractured a bone, an index finger, a thumb, an ankle, a rib, a leg, a wrist, a shoulder, or any other bone on your skeleton, you know it takes but the flash of a second for a moment of inattentiveness, haste, or loss of strength to lead to a simple slip, a tripping over a pet or a rug, a fall on an icy driveway. These moments can easily become an occasion for breaking as well as an invitation to enter into a process of mending and healing.  

I suspect most of us are less interested in the splintering of bones than in the healing of them, a process full of mystery and movement and the gathering of quiet, invisible forces. The body responds to inflammation by signaling specialized cells to marshal their energies and begin healing. The Reparative Stage starts within a week of the break by forming a callus near the area of fracture. With the Remodeling Stage, new bone will start to grow and replace the callus. Amazingly, this new bone will be stronger and thicker in the spot of the fracture than any of the surrounding bone.  

What lessons can bones teach us? What stories can they reveal to us? Hidden under our skin, our skeletons are works of wonder, full of discoveries and adventures happening right this moment under layers of flesh. How impressive and inspiring is the body’s ability to heal what has been fractured, to arrive at a new version of wholeness, to offer parallels to the life of the spirit. 

nijwam swagiary, Unsplash

Perhaps at some time in our life we’ve experienced fractures of a different, but equally painful, sort, the type that involve the shattering of dreams or the breaking open of our hearts. The abrupt ending of a cherished relationship that we didn’t choose to terminate. The desire for a deeper level of belonging that isn’t reciprocated. The painful disappointment of not being considered or offered a job that we wanted or needed so badly we could almost taste it. The letting go of a cherished friend or beloved family member to the completion of their life among us. The wondering, in times of intense dryness in prayer, if God has utterly abandoned us. The standing before the wreckage of a home bearing the scars and utter devastation of fire, flood, earthquake. How, we may wonder, can life ever return to anything approaching wholeness after this violent fracturing? 

Rehabbing after a bone fracture can be slow, painful, and inconvenient as muscles and tissue also cry for attention. Rehabbing of the heart is no different. It requires a significant investment of patience and time and rest and reflection and deep inner soul work. I’m told that our bones never forget the crushing, splintering, and bruising that has been visited upon them, and that any fracture will show up on an X-ray for years, revealing a history of our breaks and injuries.  

Why should our heart pain be any different? All that we have suffered, endured, struggled with, anguished over is imprinted on our souls. But like the healing of broken bones, our hearts can also move closer to a new kind of wholeness, accompanied by the Holy One and those who love and support us. We may not ever forget our losses or our heartache, but perhaps with God’s grace, we can integrate them into the fullness of who we are becoming. Yes, it’s possible, as they say, to grow strong at broken places, perhaps even to a level of new life once thought unimaginable. The wonderful Jan Richardson reminds us of the possibilities hidden within and mined from loss in “Blessing for a Broken Vessel”: 


Do not despair. You hold the memory of what it was to be whole. 

It lives deep in your bones. It abides in your heart that has been torn and mended a hundred times. 

It persists in your lungs that know the mystery of what it means to be full, to be empty, to be full again. 

I am not asking you to give up your grip on the shards you clasp so close to you. 

But to wonder what it would be like for those jagged edges to meet each other in some new pattern that you have never imagined, 

that you have never dared to dream. 

(Jan Richardson, Circle of Grace, copyright 2015) 


Sit in stillness with the Holy One. Take an inventory of your fractures, physical or emotional. 

Is there anywhere you might still be in need of healing? 

Ask the Holy One for grace to move forward on the path to the abundant life God dreams for you and for all. 

Featured Image:  Owen Beard, Unsplash 

NOTE: Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of this upcoming event: 

October 4-8:  Guided retreat at the residence for the Congregation of the Infant Jesus, which includes Nursing Sisters, Sisters of St. Joseph (Brentwood, NY), and Cenacle Sisters. Thank you! 

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One thought on “Reading the Bones”

  1. I have a friend who is just now trying to cope with word about a serious illness of her husband. Someday, this reflection might be terribly needed.

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