Being Here

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   October 20, 2023

This is a difficult acknowledgement for me as a writer. But let me acknowledge it and admit that sometimes, there simply are no words. Sometimes grief is so searing, so massive, so leaden, so overpowering, so consuming that in its presence we are struck mute, we become utterly inarticulate, we collapse under its deadening weight.

From the past five months, I’ve accompanied retreatants through six to eight day stretches of time in beautiful retreat centers through retreats both guided and directed. Usually in beginning to accompany a person through a week of directed retreat, I ask about what they carry into the days, about what their hope might be for the time of retreat. I am in awe of the stories I hear: about a longing to live meaningful lives that make a difference in our world; about a desire for richer relationship with the Holy; about attention to some deep inner soul work; about profound joy or gratitude for the way their lives are unfolding.

Sometimes what I don’t hear is telling. Sometimes we’ve completed our second day together and I still have no idea of why persons have come to this place at this time. Because they haven’t been able to utter a word. Because their language spills out in a torrent of tears, a flood of strangled sobs. Because the weight of what they’ve swallowed both silences and engulfs.

So I sit with. I wait. I listen. I pray to the Holy One. Help me to accompany as you would. Help me to be your face, the tender face of love in this room.  

Ever so slowly, words emerge. Sometimes of relationships estranged. Of connections severed and not by choice. Of a beloved friend, soul mate, partner, mentor taken by illness or death. Of finding oneself left out, excluded, overlooked. Of loss unimaginable. Of the cruelty of which our human condition is capable.

As I sit with, listen, and pray, I muzzle my Big Sister tendencies that want to fix, to make everything better, to push pain away, to offer solutions. I try to stay grounded in the Holy and to be fully present. Sometimes that is all we can do, and yes, it is everything.

Now that the extended summer retreats have paused, I step back, assess, and reflect on the blessings and the challenges of the people and places that have occupied my heart and my prayer. I give thanks for my call to bear witness to how the Holy is at work in our world in times of utter delight, in times of profound sorrow, in all times.

Wherever we may be at this moment, may the Holy One who makes all things whole move each of us ever closer to the fullness of abundant life. And when we are in need of reminding that wholeness is always God’s dream for us, I leave us with this blessing, © Jan Richardson,

Chris Koellhoffer

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
you have never imagined,
that you have never dared to dream.

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
You may want to place before you an image of something that is broken or mended or entirely whole.
Share with the Holy One why you have chosen that specific image.
Ask the God of wholemaking to help you hold in tenderness everyone in our beautiful yet wounded world.

Featured Image:  Brett Jordan, Unsplash

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3 thoughts on “Being Here”

  1. These thoughts are so meaningful and thank you. Our family has experienced some anticipated, but still heartrending losses and this is a good reminder that the most important thing is to just stay still and present with one another as we work through it. Very helpful. Thank you, as always you provide tender direction.

  2. I can so identify with just being with a suffering one. I am privileged to be a Consolation Minister in my parish and listen sometimes daily to the hurts and heart problems suffered by families. Like you my instinct is to try and “fix” them, but the Holy Spirit stops me and has me just be present. Thank you for this reminder that it isn’t up to me. I love your words of wisdom.

  3. Dear Sr. Chris- Thank you for your beautiful supportive words. I just went through double bypass ❤️ surgery and reading the words that remind I can be whole again and God maybe showing me a new way, a more compassionate way to live.

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