Coming Home to the Landscape of Soul

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   May 21, 2023

Last week, I unexpectedly revisited words I had written in 2005. The words formed the narrative of a once-every-ten-year gathering of the Oblate Sisters of Providence and the three branches of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary: Monroe, Immaculata, and Scranton. My presentation for that gathering focused on how the landscapes of our four congregations have shaped our lives and our collective history.

I wrote: “In the beginning is the landscape, the scene imprinted on our soul, the contours etched in memory. In the landscape of our lives, it is all written: the journey of our ancestors, the struggle to mine clay, rock, sand; to wrestle meaning from all things green and growing; to forge relationships with hill and valley and stream.

There is a part of one’s soul that never forgets the land, that remembers the shape of home and the familiar, that is irrevocably tied to generations past.”

Why did those words resurface some eighteen years later? No mystery there. I was driving to Ocean Grove, NJ, one of New Jersey’s northernmost shore points, to be a guest director for a retreat. As a native of northern New Jersey, my soul has never forgotten the ocean and the beach of my formative years, from Sandy Hook south to Seaside Heights and all the shore points in between, and beyond that to the Barnegat Light and the tiny strip of land we call LBI (Long Beach Island). It all came rushing back: summers spent shelling and chasing waves in a world of play, my soul unconstrained and gloriously alive. That, for me, is the shape and scent of home and the familiar.

Though I’ve lived in landlocked Pennsylvania for the past thirteen years, all it took to transport me away was the whiff of salt air and the cry of gulls. The entire week my bones vibrated with the rhythm of rising and falling tides and basked in the lullaby of softly breaking waves.

Mael Balland, Unsplash

No matter how far away we travel, home, I think, in some way remains within us, connects us, makes us feel complete or closer to the fullness of who we are meant to be.  Perhaps for you home holds the majesty of mountains, time given to hiking and exploring. Perhaps Shin-rin yoku, the practice of forest bathing and entering into communion as you breathe in the peace of wooded acres. Perhaps you return home when you’re contemplating with a fishing pole near the stillness of a pond. Or sensing the reassuring weight of unconditional love at your feet as a furry companion joins you on the porch. You may know yourself home when greeted by a riot of sweet faces blooming in your garden. Or when you’re finally surrounded by the welcoming embrace of longed-for family and friends.

Who, what, and where is home for you? Wherever and however that may be, go there often. Go there now, if you can. And if you can’t be there physically, take yourself there in imagination and in remembering. Bask in all that is tender and comforting about home, “God’s World” as imagined by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour!   That gaunt crag
To crush!   To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this;
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,—Lord, I do fear
Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Imagine the dwelling place prepared for you by a loving God.
What does this home feel like? look like?
Savor the blessings of sharing this home with the Holy One, and give thanks.

Featured Image: Devon Daniel, Unsplash

Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of a guided retreat I’ll be leading for the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia at Assisi House in Aston, PA, May 31 – June 3, travel and Guided Retreat.

Thank you for your prayer for all who were part of a directed retreat May 8-15 at the Sisters of St. Joseph Center for Spirituality in Ocean Grove, NJ. My eight days there inspired this blog post.

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3 thoughts on “Coming Home to the Landscape of Soul”

  1. Good morning, I have lived in Michigan for 40years but grew up going to the Jersey Shore every summer… your writing brought me back there, to the smell of salt air and the sound of crashing waves. Thank you for this life giving memory.

  2. I will spend some time today tasting the places that have called me home to myself, to God and to thanksgiving for my own dear home remembered in a photo on my shelf and looked at with love and thanks and peace often.

  3. Thank you once again for your heartfelt writing! Your words always help me breathe in the Holy Spirit. I am giving prayers of thanks for you and the people you had in NJ and prayers for the upcoming retreat in Aston, PA.

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