by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM July 3, 2022
Perhaps when you were a child, you were taught the importance of eye contact, of looking someone in the eye when having a conversation with them. As much as giving a firm and welcoming handshake, that custom was part of the culture in which I was raised. I’ve always wondered if it was grounded in the belief that, “The eyes are the windows of the soul.” That when we truly pay attention to and notice the other, we are in some way, at least briefly, peering into their soul, their essence. Even from a young age, I experienced that connection as holy.
I thought of that last Sunday morning when I was driving to Scranton for the installation of our new IHM leadership team. Just as I was moving through a residential area on Sanderson Avenue, a deer that had been hidden by shrubbery jumped into view and sprang into the road directly in front of me. She was not as young as a spotted fawn, but only slightly older. We stopped less than five feet apart. And we both froze.
I can’t speak for the little deer, but I was afraid of misinterpreting her next move and injuring this exquisite animal. So for at least thirty seconds, neither of us advanced. We made eye contact in those thirty seconds and I was held in the unblinking gaze of this beautiful, fragile creature. I felt completely taken into her wild soul.
When she finally jumped back into the shrubbery, my car and I remained still for a few seconds longer. I was immensely relieved that we had avoided an accident, but mostly I was shaken. I had landed in the realm of awe. I had taken in soul. And I could no longer be the same person I was when I first turned onto Sanderson Avenue that Sunday morning.
Without analyzing what actually unfolds in such experiences, can we agree that beauty and relationship alter us? That such moments tap into our deepest longing for something beyond our limited imagining? No matter that we often find ourselves unable to wrap words around those encounters. No matter that we often can’t fully articulate what has just bumped into our everyday living. It is enough to be stopped in our tracks and shaken to the core. It is enough to be silent and grateful in the presence of Mystery. It is enough to feel summoned to bow down before the holy.
It is enough. In accompanying others as a spiritual guide, I’m often awestruck at stories of profoundly spiritual experiences that are shared, and I wonder: why are we so hesitant to name them as mystical? For that is what I believe they are. Seemingly simple moments like feeling the warm, furry body of a Golden Retriever leaning against us in contentment. The slowly goldening rays of a rising sun. The luminosity of a full moon. The taste of a beefsteak tomato and its juices running down our cheek. The miracle of ripe summer berries and the joy of savoring them.
And then those seemingly random moments when we catch the eye of another creature like the little deer. When we recognize the holy in a random stranger on the subway or the market or the waiting room and it takes our breath away. When we finally glimpse understanding in the eyes of a struggling student. When we gaze into the face of a newborn and our hearts expand with reverent amazement as that tiny face gazes back. When someone offers us the look of love in all its vulnerability. Soul meeting soul.
The poet Max Reif knows that look and remembers it well. I leave you with his exquisite piece, “To A Visionary Whose Name I’ll Never Know.”
|“This is to you, lady who smiled at me|
as I came out of the subway at 14th Street
and walked down 6th Avenue in the winter of ‘74
having just arrived in New York. Gentle feathers
of snow had just begun falling from the black.
I felt myself taken into your eyes, and suddenly
was no longer a confused young man
wondering whether every next step was the right one,
but a light-being, love built into his cells,
leaning forward, poised to give.
Thirty-five years later
I still walk those tunnels of your eyes
down the line of your smile
toward the person you saw in me.”
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Revisit an experience of beauty or awe (or both!) that moved you.
What were the feelings that surrounded that moment?
Savor those feelings and mine them.
Thank the Holy One for all that this world created and sustained by love offers us.
I’m publishing this blog a bit earlier than usual because I’ll be traveling July 2 – July 10 to be with the Sisters of Divine Providence in Melbourne, KY for a guided retreat. Please pray for my safe and uneventful air travel and all who will be part of this graced time.
Please also hold in your prayer all who will be part of another guided retreat I’ll be offering at Villa Pauline, Mendham, NJ, from July 15-21. Many thanks for your gracious remembrance.
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