The Sticking Factor

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   January 29, 2023

Recently, I read a quote that transported me back to a delegation to Haiti in 1993. Our group had a free day with no travel planned and one of our group, a nurse, asked me if I’d be interested in spending that day at a home for children run by the Missionaries of Charity. I told her I had no medical background but she assured me, “There will be plenty for you to do.” That was an understatement.

At the home, we discovered over one hundred infants and toddlers, many with HIV, tuberculosis, and other illnesses so advanced their families could no longer care for them. There were only four adult caregivers to bathe, dress, and feed those hundred plus, so my only role the entire day was to assist the caregivers by changing diaper after diaper. I quickly got into something of a rhythm, tending as I could to each child’s need for changing, offering a warm smile and hug, and moving on to the next.

This worked smoothly until I got to two-year-old Andre. He attached himself to my leg like a Velcro fastener. So profound was his need for physical affection that he cried, pleaded, and refused to let go. I felt so ashamed to have to loosen his grip and pry him off me that I wept in frustration. “What kind of world is this that I can’t hug a child for as long as he needs?” I wailed to God and to the world.

Today, some thirty years later, Andre still has a grip on my heart and my memory. In a mysterious way, he was still clinging to my leg when I read Ajahn Sumano Bhikkhu’s quote, “Goodness radiates and sticks to people.” Andre was still holding on when I read a few more words, the admonition to “become sticky with radiant goodness.”

Nick Castelli, Unsplash

Oh, how I savor that kind of stickiness! It’s rather deliciously rich and extravagant, isn’t it? I think of our saints imaged with golden halos surrounding their heads. Isn’t that, after all, why we venerate them? Because they gave their lives over to listening to the Holy One and to practicing deep, inner soul work, leaving a trail of goodness and compassion in their wake. I think of the legion of uncanonized saints living among us whose very being draws us in, deepens our desire to snuggle up as close as we can to the spaciousness of heart we sense at the center of their being.

And I can’t limit radiant, sticky goodness to the human family. Of course not! I must include the fuzzy bumblebees coated with golden pollen dust, delivering that radiant goodness to every blossom they pause to kiss. I must include just about any dog I have ever met, those creatures whose singular and unambiguous desire is to bask in our presence, to radiate love without limits or conditions. I must include the moon in the night sky, shining her love down on us stargazers, and the sun in the day, warming our bodies and brightening our hearts.

Who or what else must we include? Whose presence has stuck with you and inspired you to become even stickier with radiant goodness yourself?

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Call to mind the image of any creatures who have witnessed to sticking power in your life.
What drew you closer to their witness? What qualities do you continue to admire in them?
Ask the Holy One to help you deepen those same attributes in yourself.
Bow and give thanks for your own radiant goodness.

Featured Image: Christoph Polatsky, Unsplash

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Entertaining Angels

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   January 15, 2023

Sometimes I can’t help myself. My natural curiosity impels me towards connection with strangers I randomly meet on a street, at a supermarket, in a doctor’s waiting room. That practice may be rooted in my believing that anyone can be a bearer of wisdom and my not wanting to miss a single image or word or story that might supplement my own meager supply of wisdom.

Studies have shown that a person’s overall well-being and happiness can be predicted by the depth of their social relationships, by whether they have close connections with family, friends, or co-workers. More recently, studies have suggested that relational diversity, talking with or connecting with strangers, can also contribute to our overall happiness, can complement the typical close relationships we already have with people more familiar to us.

In this sense, the “stranger” might be a person sitting next to us in church; a person from whom we buy the morning newspaper or grab a cup of coffee; a person struggling to carry a bag of groceries; a member of our choir or book club; a new neighbor; and so much more.

Hebrews 13:2 admonishes us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that, some have unknowingly entertained angels.” It would seem, then, that our attitude of hospitality, our spaciousness of heart, is what invites the angels into our orbit and our awareness. An open heart leads us to pause, or to greet, or to ask, or to wonder, or to notice, to hold space in our heart to welcome the Holy One who appears in the unexpected, the different, perhaps the uncomfortable, guise.

Our hospitality may be a momentary occasion of intersection, but when we can still remember those encounters many years later, there’s clearly deeper meaning that invites mining. As I write this, I’m remembering two of the many who have blessed my life in a momentary encounter that awakened me to the Holy all around.

The toll collector on the Whitestone Bridge
Many years ago, in the days of tokens or cash only, this New York toll collector broke through the monotony of his everyday job by trying to name the occupation of any driver who stopped at his booth to pay the designated toll. Not knowing that, I greeted him and handed him cash as he scrutinized my face. “You must be a healer,” he guessed, and then explained his practice of naming what he saw. I longed to hear more but the line of impatient drivers honking their horns behind me warned against that, so I drove off, shaken by what he had discovered in my face. I wonder still.

The homeless woman by the entrance to Manhattan’s West 4th Street subway station  
Every evening, she carefully placed her sleeping bag on the sidewalk and arranged a sheet neatly turned down as if she were in an upscale hotel. As I passed by, she was kneeling by her makeshift bed, head bowed in silent prayer, oblivious to the crowds bustling around her. Her reverent ritual stopped me in my tracks. Suddenly, I was no longer one of the hundreds rushing to be somewhere else. I was here, in this sacred moment, and I was witness to a prayerful presence that lingers with me these many years later.

Joshua Newton, Unsplash

These angels are all around us, aren’t they? Today might hold an invitation to reflect on and share some of the blessed encounters, brief as they may be, that have startled or touched or surprised us, those times when we have suspected or intuited the presence of the Holy in a seemingly random intersection. Today or any day, may we sit with and mine the resonance that continues to linger still.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on one memory of an encounter with a stranger that still resonates with you.
Mine the experience:
What did it look like? feel like? What touched you? surprised you? Filled you with wonder?
Thank the Holy One for this visitation and ask to be that same holy presence to all you encounter today.

Featured Image:  Alex Alvarez, Unsplash

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Enter your email address in the space provided and then click on “Subscribe” and follow any prompts. You’ll then be subscribed to automatically receive any future blog posts from Mining the Now. 

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