Play Time

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM     July 18, 2021

This far into summer, play is on my mind. My weeks are full of guided and directed retreats, presentations, and spiritual direction. But August is coming, and in August it’s been my custom to limit my ministry commitments and give myself over to restorative play in its various shapes and sizes. I’m fully aware that the freedom  to do this is a privilege denied to many. I’m also aware that wholeness and well-being demand that I find ways to integrate renewal and restoration into my life.

How many of us have ever imagined God at play? Can we picture the Holy One delighting in creating this world we’ve been given, in all the creatures that are winged and finned and four-legged and two-legged and no-legged? I often taste a perfectly ripe strawberry, savor a spectacular sunset, dip my toes into the ocean, and say to God, “Wow! What a great idea this was. I hope you had fun making it!” I confess I draw the line at mosquitoes (What was God thinking?) and some slithering neighbors, but I know they have a place in the economy of creation, so I praise God for them as well.

Gita Krishmamurti, Unsplash

Joyce Rupp echoes my question of God at play by asking, “Can we image a God who sings a happy song over us, a God who dances with shouts of joy? Could our God be the one who laughs and enjoys life? Scripture tells us that God’s playground is creation and the people who dwell in it. God enjoys this beauty, sees that it is good, and takes great delight in all that is.”

Hopefully, many of us experienced an early childhood where play was central, where we could daydream and make up games and stories, where we felt no limits on our creativity. Perhaps now we need to spend a bit of time returning to a child’s frame of reference and watch the little ones for whom the world and all its newness and freshness are experienced through touch and taste and sight and smell, as Terri Mifek wrote of her granddaughter in Living Faith:

“Our two-year-old granddaughter is absolutely captivated by the flowers in our backyard. She doesn’t just look at them; she leans in and twists her neck so she can study their underside. We joke that maybe she will grow up to be a botanist or perhaps a contemplative…Watching her makes me realize how important it is to maintain that childlike attitude toward the mystery we call God.”

“The mystery we call God” can be discovered in daydreaming, in star gazing, in imagining, in sitting with creation, in doing nothing at all. Perhaps these summer days hold an invitation for all of us to pause, lean in, and gaze in awe. Perhaps we’re being led to a deepened awareness that opportunities to encounter the Holy One’s unrestrained joy might be right around the corner. God at play, God dancing, God doing a jig in the embrace of a friend, the comfort of community, the midnight sky, the stillness of prayer, the lines of a cherished poem. All we have to do is show up, be present, and pay attention. Who knows when a God ready to play might be just as near to us as our very own selves? 

Nabil Naidu, Unsplash

This summer, may we find space or may we make space on our calendars. May we show up. And may we play!  

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One. If possible, sit or walk in a place surrounded by Nature, or listen to beautiful music.
Simply let your mind wander wherever it desires. When your time of play ends, offer a prayer of thanks for the gift of this leisure.

Featured Image: Senjuti Kundu, Unsplash

NOTE:

This will be my last blog until September. As is my custom, I take time during the month of August for offering one guided retreat, my own personal retreat, writing, and some time to be renewed and restored. I look forward to being in touch with you again in September and I’m grateful for your following of Mining the Now.

Please hold in your prayer the following events:

July 23-24: Annual Assembly of my Congregation, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Scranton, PA)

July 31: I’ll be the keynote speaker and will facilitate process for the 175th anniversary celebration of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Immaculata, PA). This was originally planned for 2020 but was re-scheduled because of the pandemic. It will be my great joy to join with my IHM Sisters both in person and virtually for this celebration.

August 14-20: Guided retreat for the Sisters of St. Joseph (Brentwood) in Hampton Bays, NY.

August 26-September 2: Please remember all who would have been part of a guided retreat I was scheduled to lead at St. Mary by-the-Sea, Cape May Point, NJ. Sadly, St. Mary’s has now closed. We hold in tenderness and gratitude the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia who, for so many years, offered this place of beauty and peace to many of us.

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Finding the Place of Safety

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    July 4, 2021

In some way or another, we are all seeking it. It lives and finds expression in our shared longing for the place where we can lay down our burdens, where we can be accepted as our true selves, where we can breathe deeply in safe surroundings. It’s the place we can call home.

This past week, I stayed at the IHM Spirituality Center (Immaculata, PA) to offer a guided retreat. Every morning early in the day, and every evening towards dusk, I walked outside in anticipation. There they were, across the road. A family of deer, cautiously leaving the cover of the woods to feed on grass and alfalfa clippings on the center’s beautiful and welcoming land.

Mike Tinnion, Unsplash

I usually spotted what I presume was the mother–carefully watching every move–and at least seven or eight very young deer grown beyond the spotted fawn stage but romping on still wobbly legs. Occasionally, a young buck would make his appearance, standing still with his head raised in a gesture of guardianship. Always, the adults were alert to any changes in the environment. A sudden noise, an approaching car, a footstep on the pavement across the road would result in a hurried gathering of the family and a swift and graceful departure into the cover of trees and shrub.

It occurred to me during this past week that we are all seeking what the deer were. A place of safety, where our lives are without threat. A place that feeds our bodies and also nourishes our souls. A place that offers us refreshment in the cool of the evening and restful sleep as the sun disappears. A place we might name and nestle into as home.

I’m led during this unseasonably and dangerously hot summer in the Pacific Northwest to call into my prayer those who don’t have the gift of a place to call home, a sheltering space, a place that’s largely free from violence, the forces of hatred, and the harshness of the elements. From my air-conditioned room, I look out my window and can’t imagine anyone remaining outside for more than a few minutes in the scorching sun and brutal heat.

During my week at the IHM Spirituality Center, I saw posted images of IHM Sisters from Immaculata, Scranton, and Monroe who at this very moment are ministering to weary, traumatized people at the California border. I’m moved by my Sisters’ service at the same time that I wonder at both the courage and the desperation that impels people to leave their home and embark on a treacherous trek across unforgiving terrain in the unrelenting heat of this summer.

As we observe, in the United States, the founding dream of this nation, I wonder how many of us here and in other countries will be giving thanks for the freedoms and the choices available to us in whatever place we call home. May we widen the space of our hearts in compassion and welcome for those who journey on blistered and bloody feet, who face angry and swelling waves, who risk everything on the promise of arriving at a safe and sheltering home.

Adres Latif, Reuters

Today and in the days to come, may we  open ourselves to the experience described in this excerpt of “Home” by Warsan Shire:

“no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.
you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well, your neighbours running faster than you.

no one leaves home unless home chases you, fire under feet, hot blood in your belly…it’s not something you ever thought of doing until the blade burnt threats into your neck…

you have to understand that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land, no one burns their palms under trains beneath carriages, no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck, feeding on newspaper, unless the miles traveled mean something more than journey. no one crawls under fences, no one wants to be beaten, pitied…

i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark, home is the barrel of a gun, and no one would leave home unless home chased you to the shore, unless home told you to quicken your legs, leave your clothes behind, crawl through the desert, wade through the oceans, drown, save, be hunger, beg, forget pride, your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear, saying, leave, run away from me now, i don’t know what i’ve become, but I know that anywhere is safer than here.”

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One. You may want to have before you an image of a refugee.

Hold in your heart and prayer our neighbors who at this very moment are risking their lives in the search for a safe space for themselves and their families.

Ask the Holy One to widen the spaciousness of your heart, and breathe a prayer of welcome.

Featured Image: Einar Storsul, Unsplash

NOTE:

Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of a directed retreat at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA. I’ll be one of the guest directors for the July 12-18 retreat. It will be a bittersweet experience for me, as it will be my last time at the Jesuit Center, which is closing August 15. So many members of the Society of Jesus, as well as thousands of people seeking a deepening of their spiritual lives, have passed through that holy place. Please remember them all.

Please also pray for my IHM Congregation on July 9-11 as we celebrate the 175th anniversary of our founding. This is actually the 176th year, since we were unable to celebrate our anniversary fully in 2020. I’m both proud and grateful to carry forward the dream of our founders, Theresa Maxis and Louis Gillet, into our shared future. Thank you for your prayer.

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A Time for Every Season

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   June 20, 2021

Timing may not be everything, but it is certainly something. That’s what my teacher, the garden, keeps gently reminding me. So far, my grade in the school of flower wisdom may be barely hovering above a C, but I’m open, and I’m paying attention, and I’m learning, and that surely counts for something, doesn’t it?

Last spring, as soon as the last petal of tulips had fallen to the ground, I cut back the leaves and the stem. Too early, it turned out, because this spring the tulips that emerged were stunted and deformed. I learned—too late for last season—that after the flower is finished blooming, the leaves should be allowed to grow and soak up the sunshine to help nourish the bulbs underground. Lesson learned.

This spring, perhaps overcompensating, I declined to cut back my first ever peony until her flowers had shriveled completely and gone to seed. Too late, I learned, for the seed pods that grew in place of the blossoms took nourishment away from any new growth. Lesson learned once again.

After a week of temperatures in the 80’s this spring, I presumed warm weather was here to stay, and in my eagerness for greening, I planted in the yard a young bush I had been harboring inside. When the temperature dipped to the 30’s the following week, the leaves turned transparent white in protest and dropped one by one like a character in O. Henry’s “The Last Leaf.” I imagined the bush looking at me every time I walked by, totally baffled by my planting ignorance. I’m consoled that my near fatal bad timing has been redeemed by the tender new leaves reappearing at a painfully slow pace.

The list goes on and so do the learnings. A not-yet-blooming black-eyed Susan I had transplanted and carefully nurtured was mowed down yesterday by a landscaper who, I’m quite sure, thought he was clearing an out of the way patch of weeds. Nature is at the mercy of our actions, and thankfully, Nature can be both forgiving and resilient.

I’m led to muse about how this translates to the life of the spirit. Certainly, we can be impatient with the slow work of transformation and try with all our might to hasten deep, inner soul work. We learn the process can’t be speeded up. Or we can be aware of the need to change a behavior or move away from a critical attitude, and yet drag our spiritual feet in moving forward. We can confuse our desire for genuine spiritual wholeness with the reality that we first need to cultivate the soil of readiness that makes possible the fullness of blossoming later.

As we tend to the garden of the Holy One’s wisdom, may we learn to forgive ourselves for decisions made in haste or words sincerely offered but shared at a moment that is less than optimal. May we learn to cultivate patience and attentiveness at every stage of spiritual development. And may we add one more lesson to the school of flower wisdom: Mary Oliver’s deep knowing that, for some things, there are no wrong seasons.

Nick Fewings, Unsplash

Hurricane  

It didn’t behave
like anything you had
ever imagined. The wind
tore at the trees, the rain
fell for days slant and hard.
The back of the hand
to everything. I watched
the trees bow and their leaves fall
and crawl back into the earth.
As though, that was that.
This was one hurricane
I lived through, the other one
was of a different sort, and
lasted longer. Then
I felt my own leaves giving up and
falling. The back of the hand to
everything
. But listen now to what happened
to the actual trees;
toward the end of that summer they
pushed new leaves from their stubbed limbs.
It was the wrong season, yes,
but they couldn’t stop. They
looked like telephone poles and didn’t
care. And after the leaves came
blossoms. For some things
there are no wrong seasons.
Which is what I dream of for me.

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on any lesson the natural world has shared with you.
How did you, or how might you integrate that learning into your life?
Give thanks for the blessings of creation all around you and to the Creator who has formed and shaped our beautiful world.

Featured Image:   Mike Erskine, Unsplash

NOTE:
June 23-30:  Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of a guided retreat I’m offering at the IHM Spirituality Center in Malvern, PA.
The Sisters of IHM (Immaculata) have a rich connection and shared heritage with my Congregation, the Sisters of IHM (Scranton), so I’m especially delighted to spend the week of retreat in their good company.

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What If?

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM June 6, 2021

It’s in my DNA.

I can trace it back to my great grandmother, whom I never met. She and her family survived Ireland’s Great Famine of the mid-1800’s, a time of starvation and disease, the deaths of a million people and the exodus of a million more. She left County Mayo and emigrated to the United States, taking her heritage and the memory of those bleak times with her.

Her daughter, my grandmother, never knew that terrible hunger and poverty but she often heard stories about it around the kitchen table in Pennsylvania. So even though my grandmother had never personally experienced the same terrible want of the previous generation, she carried the collective memory of those brutal days. She carried the deep knowing, passed down through her relatives, that the ground under her feet was not as solid as some said, that a happy and comfortable life could be upended in a second. She carried worry and anxiety. And she passed it on to me and my family through our blood and bone, through our ancestral DNA, as the Smith/Koellhoffer Worry Gene, or the “What If?” syndrome.

Will my family’s health concerns improve? Will my community flourish in the future? Will I make my connecting flight? Will the Internet connection hold during my Zoom retreat? Will our beautiful planet survive? What if our country continues to be divided? What if my worst fears are realized? What if the choice I’m making today doesn’t turn out as I hoped? What if I fail? What if my dreams don’t come true?

Are you noticing a pattern here? All of these worries are about things largely beyond our control and largely in the future. We can work and plan and think of every eventuality—and many of us are pretty good at that—but ultimately, these efforts can take us only so far. Life is in flux and there are so many variables to consider.

So what to do? We might voice our concerns to a counselor, therapist, or supportive friend or family. We might follow a practice of allowing ourselves a specific, limited time, say twenty minutes a day, to do all our worrying—with no worrying allowed for the remaining twenty three hours and forty minutes of that day. We might enter into a practice of breathprayer as a way to center ourselves and steady our breathing. We might engage in Shinrin Yoku, the practice of tree bathing, taking slow walks in a forest and breathing in the gift of oxygen and tranquility.

We might repeat a mantra to remind ourselves that the Holy One is with us, accompanies us in our anxiety, and never abandons us.
Psalm 121: “I lift my eyes to the mountains. Where does my strength come from? My strength comes from God, who made heaven and earth.”
Isaiah 49:15-16: “Can a mother forget the infant at her breast or walk away from the baby she bore? But even if a mother forgets, I will never forget you. I’ve written your name on the palm of my hands.”  
Psalm 16:1:  “Keep me safe, O God. You are my hope.”

On an intellectual level, we know that nothing will be changed by our worrying and, in fact, much energy can be given over to the “What ifs” for which there is no satisfactory answer. May we reflect on the wisdom of Mary Oliver, who sounds as if she might have carried a similar worry gene in her own DNA, but who learned to sing it away:

Chris Koellhoffer

I Worried
Mary Oliver

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?
Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Bring to God whatever worry or anxiety or concern weighs most heavily on your heart at this moment.
Make an act of trust that the Holy One is with you in your anxiety, that the Holy One accompanies you in this moment and beyond.
Offer your thanks for the gift of God’s presence.
Sing.

Featured Image: Noah Buscher, Unsplash

NOTE:
Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of this upcoming event:

June 6-13:  Guided retreat for the Sisters of the Holy Spirit and of Mary Immaculate, San Antonio, Texas

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Of Juiciness and Justice

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM     May 22, 2021

We’re on the edge of June, the time of my birth month and the month that ushers in so much that offers delight and pleasure in the Northern hemisphere: warm days and cool nights, explosions of blossoming all around, leisure time, and the summer fruits that I so enjoy. At the top of that list: strawberries. Whenever I bite into their juicy deliciousness, I pay the Holy One a compliment and say, “Wow, you really knew what you were doing when you dreamt the idea for this!”

There’s simply no way strawberries could be prepared that’s not cause for my gratitude: purchased fresh from a farm stand, rinsed and eaten out of a supermarket package, sprinkled with sugar and swimming in cream, married to a crepe, crowning a shortcake.

Jez Timms, Unsplash

Whenever I shop at a supermarket, I’ve developed the habit of reading the labels affixed to fruit and vegetables, and I’m amazed at the distance they have traveled to reach my corner of the world. Though I try to buy locally as much as possible, I’ve also welcomed Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, Costa Rica and, closer to where I live, California, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, and more into my home. Imagine what these peaches and limes and watermelon and berries have witnessed since their picking!

I’ve also grown into a consciousness of the callouses of hands, the sweat of brows, the aching of backs, the weariness of long haul truckers, the sore shoulders of those who lift and unpack crates—all to bring me nourishment and pleasure.

When I was awakened to social justice issues many years ago through an invitation to advocate for sweatshop workers in New York City and beyond, I learned these workers were mostly women laboring long hours under unsanitary and often dangerous conditions for meager pay. Since then, I read the labels on any clothing I buy, I offer gratitude for the people who labor, and I pray for the safety and well-being of anyone who has had a hand in bringing a shirt or pants to me.

The same awareness applies to summer fruit but especially to my favorite, strawberries. Someone I never met must have had a similar experience of sudden, deep knowing. Alison Luterman describes this coming into the light of understanding in Bread, Body, Spirit, Finding the Sacred in Food:

“Strawberries are too delicate to be picked by machine. The perfectly ripe ones even bruise at too heavy a human touch. It hit her then that every strawberry she had ever eaten—every piece of fruit—had been picked by calloused human hands. Every piece of toast with jelly represented someone’s knees, someone’s aching back and hips, someone with a bandana on her wrist to wipe away the sweat. Why had no one ever told her this before?”  

Why, indeed? But here’s the thing about discovering and knowing: we can never go back to whatever state we were in before our worldview was broken wide open and expanded, before we grew in awareness of both the local and the global price others have paid for our pleasure and enjoyment. So may we keep on enjoying the ripe, juicy gifts of summer, and each time we do, may we give thanks for the givers of those sweet and succulent gifts.

Kelly Neil, Unsplash

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
If you have a piece of ripe fruit available, you may want to set it some place where you can gaze at it.
Reflect on the abundance of this season and the miracle and mystery that is God’s giving.
Hold in tenderness and prayer all those who have had a part in bringing this fruit to your table.
Eat the fruit slowly, taking into your own body the life and labor of a neighbor across the world.

Featured Image: Louis Hansel, Unsplash

NOTE:
Please remember in your prayer all who will be part of these upcoming events:

May 21 -23:   Directed Retreat Weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth in Wernersville, PA. I’ll be one of the guest directors for the weekend.

June 6-13: A guided retreat I’ll be leading for the Sisters of the Holy Spirit in San Antonio, Texas.  Thank you!

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Ready for Blossoming

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   May 9, 2021

Listen! The chant of a hundred jonquils opening their orange centers to sun and rain. The song of a peony heavy with ants intent on sipping nectar from the base of its green sepals. The lyric of abundance that surrounds us in spring whenever she makes her debut. Nature insists: blossoming is possible.

This surge of springtime life that St. Hildegard of Bingen calls viriditas is the greening power of God pulsing through every cell. That same movement, from single cell to bud to full flowering, is also taking place in us, with one significant difference. We have the choice to refuse growth and avoid change, or to do deep, inner soul work and cooperate with grace.

Salsabeel Ehsan, Unsplash

If we’ve ever kept close watch on a bud, we know that the journey from infant bud to mature flower is one very slow movement. Some mornings seem to be frozen in time. Some afternoons appear to be nothing but pause or standstill. Some days we may observe no growth whatsoever and then, if we turn our back for just a moment, there it is–the splendor of opening petals.

In the natural world, so many elements can stunt growth or prevent blossoming: an unseasonal frost, a lasting drought, the harshness of brutal hail or excessive heat. In the life of the spirit, some elements—such as a dearth of encouragement, a constant barrage of criticism, experiences of exclusion or attitudes of unwelcome–effect a similar outcome.

Spring invites us to cultivate a particular tenderness for those who long for full flowering but who live in fear or despair that blossoming might forever elude them–all those whose lives are silenced or ignored, who are pressed down by the weight of social sins like racism, exploitation, oppression. May our intention to live as the presence of love offer an optimal convergence of sun and soil and warmth and nourishment for the life of the world.  May the fragile buds in us blossom into the abundant life that is the Holy One’s dream for everyone.

That is our prayer and, I suspect, a current underneath Maya Spector’s delightful poem, “Jailbreak Time”:

Katya Leo, Unsplash

It’s time to break out—
Jailbreak time.
Time to punch our way out of
the dark winter prison.
Lilacs are doing it
in sudden explosions of soft purple,
and the jasmine vines,
and ranunculus, too.
There is no jailer powerful enough
to hold Spring contained.
Let that be a lesson.
Stop holding back the blossoming!
Quit shutting eyes and gritting teeth,
curling fingers into fists, hunching shoulders.
Lose your determination to remain unchanged.
All the forces of nature
want you to open,
Their gentle nudge carries behind it
the force of a flash flood.
Why make a cell your home
when the door is unlocked
and the garden is waiting for you?

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One,
or, if you prefer, go outdoors and pay attention to the Holy One present in viriditas,
the greening power of the Divine.
Notice what hopes and dreams are stirring within you or within creation around you.
Might anything be holding back the blossoming?
What might be needed for “jailbreak time” to happen?
Ask the Holy One to help you move closer to full flowering.

Featured image:   Marina Lakotka, Unsplash

NOTE:
For the next few days, I’ll be taking some time away for my own blossoming. Grateful!

Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of a Directed Retreat Weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth in Wernersville, PA, May 23-25. I’ll be a guest director for the weekend. Thank you.

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The Sparkle Effect

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   April 25, 2021

Some time ago, I was part of a reflection process where we explored how the quality of our presence impacts fields of energy wherever we go. We were invited to share a story of a time when our intention to live as the presence of love softened the relational field around us.

I was immediately taken back to the years when I visited a New York detention center where refugees were held while awaiting deportation or asylum hearings. After receiving clearance to visit an inmate (no name given, simply an identifying number), I met Greg and learned that he had fled his African homeland at the height of a brutal civil war. With no papers or documents, he was picked up at Kennedy airport and brought to the detention center.

Siviwe Kapteyn, Unsplash

I was stunned to see the conditions under which these traumatized, fragile, desperate people lived and waited. The converted former warehouse was windowless, offering no chance to glimpse sky or trees, no chance to feel the sun’s warmth, no chance to connect to a world beyond the walls, which were painted a dark, drab olive. A single TV blared loudly for twenty-four hours a day. The atmosphere was so depressing that I almost expected to see Dante’s inscription on the gate to hell—“Abandon hope, all you who enter here”—posted over a door.

Greg was deeply spiritual, so when I asked him what I might bring to relieve his suffering, he replied, “A Bible.” No problem, I naively thought. So as I was leaving, I told the guard that next time I visited I would bring a Bible for Greg.

“No, it’s not allowed,” replied the guard. “You could smuggle drugs in that.”
“How about a rosary then?”
“No, he might take out the metal links and injure someone.”
I went through a list of possible items that might bring comfort to Greg.
“No.” “No.” “No.”

Exasperated, I exclaimed, “Well, what am I allowed to bring in here?”

“Just yourself. That’s it. Only yourself.”

I left, deeply distressed. On the long ride home, I put myself in the place of the detainees and thought that, if I were confined where they were, the total absence of beauty would be terribly deadly for my spirit. And then I hatched a plan.

The next time I visited Greg and every time afterwards, I was a kaleidoscope of color. My most sparkly, glittering earrings. Blouses that were lime green or canary yellow or bright fuchsia. Socks of such fluorescent hues they almost glowed in the dark. Was it my imagination, or did the gruff guard on desk duty show the faintest smile as I checked in? Did the eyes of other inmates light up suddenly as they glimpsed me entering the visiting area? Greg confirmed my intuition with his broad grin and his comment, “Ah, color.  I’ve been missing it so much.”

Helena Lopes, Unsplash

Anne Frank, whose diary written during her time in hiding from the Nazis continues to inspire us today, once wrote, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” There’s no excuse for standing around expecting to be tapped on the shoulder for some heroic act or lifesaving measure that will make a difference. Opportunities of that dimension are rare.

But we can be faithful to the seemingly small gesture, what I like to name “The Sparkle Effect.” We can carry comfort or beauty or kindness or presence or a smile into the everyday.  We can leave affirmation and encouragement and restored hope in our wake. And yes, we can set our intention to vibrate as the presence of love, to soften the relational field of energy around us. It is from just such faithful ripples that the currents of love expand and reach out to heal the Universe.

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Hold in your heart a being who may be most in need of compassion and deep listening. (Since this is Earth month, you may want to remember Earth, our Common Home, or some part of the created world).
Spend several minutes with your intention to be an agent of healing presence today.
Ask the Holy One to bless your intention.

Featured image:  Sharon McCutcheon, Unsplash

NOTE:
Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of a virtual evening of prayer sponsored by Villa Pauline Retreat Center that I’ll be leading April 27. Thank you.

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Slowly

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   April 11, 2021

Here in Northeast PA, temperatures are usually lower than in neighborhoods less than a half hour to the south of us. That means that budding and blossoming are taking much longer to visit my corner of the world. Every time I pass by the forsythia bush in our yard, I fret over the seemingly glacial pace at which her buds are opening. A time lapse camera would have to be on high speed to capture any sense of unfolding progress. But I try to remember that the Universe takes its time when it’s creating. And I imagine, as the forsythia and I greet each other, that she whispers conspiratorially, “Slowly, slowly. That’s how I go.”

Yesterday when I was taking my daily walk, I ended by coming into the parking lot near the walking trail. A couple was sitting in their car with the windows rolled down and as I passed by, the driver yelled out, “Good for you! You’re doing great.” I don’t know if he called out his encouragement when he noticed how gingerly I set my foot down with every step. No longer able to walk as well or as painlessly or as quickly as I once did, I smiled and replied,  “Slowly, slowly. That’s how I go.”

Henrique Jacob, Unsplash

It occurred to me when those words came out of my mouth that what is true for the budding forsythia and true for my walking is just as true for all kinds of resurrection. I don’t know that transformation ever happens at high speed. I suspect that, in the life of the spirit and in the process of healing the body and in inner awareness and spiritual growth, there’s next to nothing that happens in an instant and lots more that calls for patience, labor, reflection, and ongoing attentiveness over time and space.

So what might our Easter celebration say about resurrection? What is the risen life of Jesus asking of us? Are we willing to do the deep, inner soul work that his ongoing life requires and to be about it “slowly, slowly”? Are we willing to give our lives over to the work of compassion and justice not simply in a moment of affirmation or praise but in the unglamorous, unnoticed, tedious and sometimes slow-as-molasses hours that make up a day, a week, a lifetime?

We remember how it took multiple visits from the risen Jesus to convince his disciples that he was, indeed, alive. Calling out a familiar, beloved name in the garden. Breaking through into a locked room. Walking the way to Emmaus. Grilling fish on the beach. There was nothing quick or hurried about the gradual grasp of the reality that the disciples’ friend and leader was no longer dead, that he had never ceased calling them to a new way of life. This is no less true for us as we commit to being faithful in the slow times when it might appear that nothing at all is happening, in the uncertain times when we’re shaken by doubt, aching with loss, confused and struggling to believe that any growth is taking place.

The spiritual writer Carlo Caretto left us with a rich illustration of some of the ways resurrection unfolds in our everyday lives. Notice that there’s no mention of haste or speed in his description:

“This is what it means to believe in the resurrection:
When you forgive your enemy
When you feed the hungry
When you defend the weak
You believe in the resurrection.

When you have the courage to marry
When you welcome the newly born child
When you build your home
You believe in the resurrection.

When you wake at peace in the morning
When you sing to the rising sun
When you go to work with joy
You believe in the resurrection.”

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on any area of your life where you may be struggling to grow,
where you may be yearning to see change or transformation.
Ask the Holy One for patience and trust in the unfolding blossoming within.
Give thanks for the ways in which resurrection is taking place, even if you can’t see it.

Featured image: Yoksel Zok, Unsplash

Note:
Please pray for all who will be part of a virtual evening of prayer, “Invitation to Blossoming,” on April 27. Our hour’s time together will explore the learnings that the life force of Spring offers us, the hopes that are stirring within us, and the divine greening power that is healing our world. If you’re interested in participating, register at “Invitation to Blossoming.”

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A Stirring That Will Not Be Denied

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    March 28, 2021

Depending on which hemisphere we call home, we may, at this time of year, already be noticing the first stirrings. The force in the tulip bulb breaking through barely thawed ground. The fragile bud morphing into spring green. The brave crocus poking its head up in hopeful blossoming. The fresh nest growing stick by stick and straw by straw to welcome new life.

Perhaps we can feel those stirrings in ourselves as well. The divine greening power calling us, beckoning us to move forward and embrace the mystery of growth and of transformation. It’s a process that’s exciting and mysterious and scary, all at once, especially for those of us who want to know.

Studio Dekorasyon, Unsplash

What might this life force be inviting us into? What deep, inner soul work is required to set in motion a more vital and passionate living? What reserves of wisdom and courage must be mined if we’re to step into the unknowingness of a new moment?

Two years ago, when I was at the beginning of a recovery whose outcome was uncertain, I remember how my question of “When will I be able to walk again?” was met by kind but evasive answers from my healthcare professionals. Their responses alerted my intuition that no one could even attempt to predict my future, that perhaps there were no answers–or at least none that would comfort me.

On my worst day in the darkness of that unknowing, I broke down. My physical therapist, one of those wise beings who know exactly when to push and when to hold back, reminded me as I wept that therapy is exhausting work, that it challenges us to profound compassion for our bodies and gentleness for our spirits. And then she added, “But the life force is very strong in you.”

Spring began in that moment when someone saw in me what I was incapable of seeing in myself. My therapist’s encouragement ushered in a renewed hopefulness and a fresh determination to engage with my whole heart in the grueling and mysterious work of healing and then to live with gracious acceptance of what could not be healed.

Perhaps the poet, Pablo Neruda, had this in mind when he observed, “You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep Spring from coming.” Irrepressible. Unstoppable. Resilient. Tenacious.

Might those same descriptive adjectives be equally true of resurrection? As we wait with the Holy One in the silent entombment of Holy Saturday, we wait in the presence of Mystery. We wait with a world that is buried by despair, by hopes deferred, by a longing to rise. We wait with the inexplicable truth that the life force present in Jesus is also strong in us. Strong even when and perhaps especially when we’re buried under the weight of burdens and worries. Strong even when our sometimes limited vision blocks the faintest glimmer of hope from our horizon. The life force of Jesus, the ever-present grace of the Holy One, remains with us and in us. May the promise of his risen life invite us into this “Prayer for All Things Rising” by Jan Richardson:

Bruno van der Kraan, Unsplash

“For all things rising
out of the hiddenness of shadows
out of the weight of despair
out of the brokenness of pain
out of the constrictions of compliance
out of the rigidity of stereotypes
out of the prison of prejudice;

for all things rising
into life, into hope
into healing, into power
into freedom, into justice;

we pray, O God,
for all things rising.”

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
If possible, surround yourself with images or sounds of new life—in birdsong, in blossoming, in any signs of the greening power of God.
What might be longing to blossom in you?
Hold in tenderness and prayer all things yearning and struggling to rise today.

Featured image: Ali G. Rashidi, Unsplash

NOTE:
Beginning April 1, look for my guest blog for the Triduum on A Nun’s Life, https://anunslife.org. Special thanks to Sister Julie Myers, OSF for the invitation to contribute a post and for her enthusiastic, professional shepherding of this piece from start to posting.

Wishing you all the graces of Holy Week and the new life of Easter, and wishing our Jewish sisters and brothers the blessings of Passover. Thank you for all the ways you inspire my own life and the lives of so many, for your words of encouragement, and for your faithful following of Mining the Now. May you know the fullness of new life and the greening power of the Holy One this season.

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A Perspective on Dust

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    March 12, 2021

Dust. I’ve been thinking a lot about it since Ash Wednesday. Quite honestly, I’ve never been fond of hearing, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” as the cross formed of ashes is traced on my forehead. I understand those words are a reference to the story of God’s admonishing Adam as he departs the garden (Genesis 3:19). I understand those words are a poignant reminder of our impermanence and our mortality.

But somehow, hearing them always feels a bit…dismissive. As in, you’re only dust. Relegated to the same category as the dust we try to make disappear every time we clean our homes. Or the dust of unwelcome in Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples (Matthew 10:14), where he suggests that they shake the dust from their feet when their message is resisted. Yes, that kind of dust, to be trampled underfoot and forgotten.

Ahna Ziegler, Unsplash

I prefer to think of the dust of our lives in the way Dan Schutte describes it in the song, “Ashes to Ashes”:

“We have seen in the heavens and held in our arms/ what the hand of our Maker can fashion out of dust.”

Ah, and is there any limit to what the hand of our Maker can create? Might we expand our imagination to include the possibility that we, along with all of creation, have been fashioned out of a different kind of dust, the dust of stars? That we are made, as Carl Sagan observes, “of star stuff.” That the atoms of oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen in our bodies are a direct link to the heavenly bodies created over 4.5 billion years ago. That through this dust, we are forever connected to the universe as it continues to evolve and renew itself in us. That when we gaze in silent wonder at a midnight sky bright with burning orbs, we recognize the shape of something familiar in that cosmic dust and know ourselves related in a collective, holy ancestry.

Yes, that kind of dust! While musing about the origins of stardust, I was moved by a passage that Jan Woodward shared in Texting through Cancer: Ordinary Moments of Community, Love, and Healing. The author wrote of a breast cancer survivor who began chemotherapy and whose hair soon began to fall out as a consequence of the potent drugs used to battle her illness. Early on, she made the decision to totally shave her head rather than wait to become bald little by little. And then, she wondered, what ought she do with the hair clippings from that shaving? Discard them? Save them as a remembrance of a life left behind?

She arrived at a response that was both thoughtful and tender. Going outside in her yard, she scattered the clippings of her shorn hair on the ground. And then, a bit later, a delightful discovery: she witnessed her feathered neighbors, the robins and chickadees and wrens, gathering bits of her hair to weave into nests that would protect and nurture their young for a new cycle of life.

Mateusz Stepien, Unsplash

A whole different image of dust returning to dust. Human dust, winged dust, star dust. May we move through this day attentive to and on the lookout for the holy dust that is the stuff of our lives.

Takeaway
You may want to try this practice by having before you a photo of the night sky or by sitting outside in the evening under the stars.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Gaze at the image of the stardust from which you came.
What does this dust feel like? Look like?
Share your insights with the Holy One and give thanks that you are so fearfully, wonderfully made.

Featured image:  Vaibhaw Kumar, Unsplash

NOTE:
Thank you for remembering in prayer last weekend’s virtual retreat experience with the wonderful women of Women Helping Women and Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Singles, Forest Hills, NY.

Please hold in your prayer these upcoming offerings:

March 13: Lenten retreat day for St. Bonaventure – St. Benedict the Moor parish, Jamaica, NY

March 26-28:  Directed Retreat Weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA

Coming soon: A guest post for Holy Week for A Nun’s Life, https://anunslife.org. A Nun’s Life is about just that–LIFE–and how to live it fully in light of the Gospel. 

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