Standing in the Circle of Love

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   October 23, 2022

“We see from where we stand” is one of my favorite Haitian proverbs.

I think of it often when I’m leading a retreat. I usually begin a presentation by inviting the retreatants to engage in breathprayer, an ancient practice of paying attention to our breath and then inhaling and exhaling for several minutes in blessing the space we’re in as well as the world beyond. Both the retreatants and I close our eyes while praying this way, but towards the end of the breathprayer, I open my eyes to bring the prayer to a close. That’s when perspective really matters.

Because as I open my eyes and face the group, I see a mass of people who hold no intention other than to breathe compassion and welcome from our space out to the world. My one regret is that the group can’t see what I see: dozens of people sending the energies of love in blessing our beautiful yet wounded world. As the week of retreat moves on, that blessing becomes more and more palpable. And that sight brings me to the edge of tears.

Perspective made a rich difference to me last weekend also, when family and friends celebrated the wedding of my niece, Jennifer Kline, and her then husband-to-be, Ryan Hilla. I was invited by the bride’s Uncle Paul, a deacon, to be a co-minister for the wedding service, affording me a perspective I rarely have in any church: the view from the sanctuary.

My co-celebrant grounded his words in tenderness and welcome and invitation. What an honor for me to also stand before the wedding couple, to see their eyes well with emotion, to bless their rings, to notice how at times their hands reached for one another, to offer a blessing to send them into the newness of married life. And to look out at the congregation from the sanctuary: into the eyes of their parents who had shown them what love looks like when it walks through this world. Into the faces of siblings who had companioned them since childhood. Into the gaze of relatives and friends, each carrying a story of connection and support. I tell you, the air was heavy with the fragrance of such collective love.

That scent lingered and carried over into the reception, where Lauren, maid of honor and sister of the bride; Evan, best man and brother of the groom; and Kevin, father of the bride, offered stories full of connection and humor and tenderness. So much love was woven through every word that when it came my turn to follow their toasts and offer a Grace before the meal, I had to first ask those gathered, “Can you feel the love in this room? Can you feel it?” And then to invite the gathering to pause and notice where those beautiful words we had just heard had landed in their souls. Because we were witnesses to the leap of faith and the profound act of courage that marriage, or any life commitment, is. Because it felt like we were standing in a holy place. And so we were.

Many years ago, the Trappist monk and spiritual leader Thomas Merton, standing at the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, was suddenly overwhelmed by the realization that he loved all the people passing by, the secret beauty of their hearts, the person that each one was in God’s eyes. He yearned for everyone to see themselves as God saw them. At the same time, he acknowledged, “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

Todd Kent, Unsplash

Perhaps. But from where I stood last weekend, it seemed that people had already claimed their light. And I am shaken even now by the sight of that shining. By the tenderness in that space. By the love that lingers still.

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Call to mind an experience where the love of others was palpable for you. Perhaps your own wedding, or profession of vows, or a special event.
Savor what that felt, looked, and sounded like.
Offer thanks to the Holy One for bringing such blessing into your life.
Ask that you may be that same kind of holy, affirming presence to others.

Featured Image: Denny Muller, Unsplash

Thank you for your prayerful support of my family’s celebration last weekend. Now I ask you to hold in your prayer these upcoming events that I’ll be leading:

October 29: A virtual retreat day for IHM Associates and Sisters.
IHM Associates are women and men from all states of life and various creeds who are seeking a deeper experience of God for their own transformation and for the transformation of the world. I’m honored to be in their good company.

November 2-4: A guided retreat for the Sisters of St. Francis at Assisi House, Aston, PA.

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5 thoughts on “Standing in the Circle of Love”

  1. Thank you for a beautiful reflection and sharing such a personal story, Sister Chris. Our great power comes from God, not from ourselves. Fixing our gaze on things that cannot be seen…like the “love in the room” that you spoke of. The things we cannot see will last forever!

  2. Having just participated in a Sisters of Mercy Golden Jubilee celebration yesterday, the “shining and tenderness in that space”, of which you speak so poignantly Chris, is palpable in my soul! Thank you for your grace-filled reflections!

  3. I could feel the love that was present at that wedding Chris. Thank you once again for using your gift of writing to capture it for us.

  4. Thank you so much, Chris, for sharing your experience full on tenderness, love, and Light as invitation into an ever widening circle of love—the same invitation that took place on 4th & Walnut.

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