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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Bearing Witness

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    February 28, 2021

Yes, it has been a year. And what has come of it? How have we been marking time or living with a newfound sense of time?

Once it became clear that COVID-19 was not going to fade away as we had once surmised, a friend of mine with a background in social work shared with me an idea that had been simmering in his thoughts for several months. He said that he had begun putting together a program to help individuals and groups deal with an anticipated landslide of requests for grief counseling. Returning to a pre-pandemic way of life meant also coming to terms with the reality that we had not ever been in control, perhaps merely suffering from the illusion of control.

Peter Steiner, Unsplash

My friend was referring, of course, to the obvious mourning of those who had lost someone to the coronavirus, often unable to be with their loved ones and console them as their breath diminished, and who now faced an aching emptiness in their lives going forward. Just as truly, he was speaking of our collective need to name and to make meaning of the many levels of loss, change, and disruption we’ve all experienced during this past year. He reflected that we’ve all met some form of trauma, loosely described as any unhealed wound, a deeply distressing or disturbing experience, a shock, upheaval, sorrow, or heartache. That we are all in some way grieving lives that have been disordered and turned upside down.

I believe he’s on to something. Perhaps because that imagining was in my consciousness, I was struck recently reading a post by Brené Brown where she noted that, “Grief requires witnessing.”

She shared it as a comment on David Kessler’s observation that “what everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed. That doesn’t mean needing someone to try to lessen it or reframe it for them. The need is for someone to be fully present to the magnitude of their loss without trying to point out the silver lining.”

During this Lenten season when we reflect on the forces that inexorably led Jesus closer to Calvary, I’ve been sitting with the grief that requires witnessing. Simon of Cyrene watching the unsteady steps of this quiet man and opening his heart to help shoulder the cross. Veronica stepping out from her place in the crowd and offering consolation with a towel. The women of Jerusalem aware that Jesus is some mother’s child and that he has been torn from the shelter of her embrace. Mary, looking into the haunted eyes, at the bruised and bloody body of Jesus, and knowing that her place is not to save her son but to be present to his excruciating suffering. The words exchanged between these onlookers and Jesus on the way to Calvary were few. But the testament to the power of presence is enduring. If we place ourselves in the crowd on that day, we might wonder: What might we ourselves have been impelled to do? How we might have been moved to be?

Henrique Jacob, Unsplash

Grief requires witnessing, now no less than then. Like these holy ones we remember during Lent, where might we now be called to stand with, stay with, and witness to the pain, anguish, and heartbreak of a world that is both beautiful and broken?

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Hold in your heart and prayer a person, place, or situation in our world where suffering is present.
Sit in silence and surround them with your healing compassion.
Bear witness to their grief.
What is it calling you to be or to do?

Featured image:   Jametlene Reskp, Unsplash

NOTE:
Please hold in your prayer these upcoming events:

March 6:   Virtual Lenten retreat for members of Women Helping Women and Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Single Adults, Forest Hills, NY, two amazing groups of people who gather regularly to make the world a better, more loving place.

March 13:  Retreat day for parishioners of St. Bonaventure – St. Benedict the Moor parish, Jamaica, NY.

Please also remember those who would have been part of a day for Spiritual Directors and a retreat weekend at the Franciscan Center for Spiritual Renewal, Aston, PA. Those events have been canceled.

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Hearts and Ashes

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM      February 14, 2021

Ash Wednesday has long been a favorite of mine, but perhaps not for the reasons you might suspect. Those who know me well are quite aware that I’m not overly fond of fasting and penance. I’ve long harbored a secret wish to reverse the course of the liturgical seasons, increasing Advent to six weeks and reducing Lent to four weeks. This way, I reason, there would be more days of joyful expectation and fewer days of self-denial. Enough said.

So clearly, I’m not at all a penitential soul. But here’s what I love about Ash Wednesday: it’s one of those rare times when longing is laid bare, and laid bare in almost everyone unapologetically and without embarrassment. For a number of years, I was privileged to help with the distribution of ashes at the beginning of Lent. And I immediately observed something different from what I noticed on people’s faces as they came to receive the Eucharist, perhaps because receiving the Eucharist was a more commonplace weekly practice. Ash Wednesday, however, had the distinction of being a once-a-year moment, and it showed.

What I read on people’s faces as they approached to receive blessed ashes: the absolute ache of pure, unadulterated longing. A desire to return to God with all one’s heart. A yearning to begin again, perhaps for the hundredth time. A hope, no, a certainty, that it just might not be too late to seek forgiveness. A knowing of one’s failings that was swept aside by the deeper knowing of the Holy One’s tender understanding. An intuition that homecoming was not only possible; it was anticipated and welcome.

The intensity of that longing still haunts me. It reminds me of the story of a goatherd who was far from his beloved and yet who could hear, from a thousand miles away, the sound of her comb running through her hair. Yes, that kind of longing. It was all there, in every pair of eyes, in every open face moving towards me up the center aisle of the church. The depths of that yearning seared my soul, melted my heart, caused my eyes to well up with the transparency of it all. As our gazes met, I looked tenderly at each person and saw that every face held a perfect mirror of my own profound desire to return to God with all my heart.

This year the feast of love, Valentine’s Day, stands at the edge of Lent’s beginning. How fitting that a holiday when we proclaim and express our affection for cherished people in our lives should introduce a season when we are overwhelmed by the boundless, unconditional, unaccountably generous love of the Holy One for each of us. This same Holy One who inhabited our human condition and knows so well our limits and incompleteness. This same Holy One who, some spiritual teachers note, is actually the very one who initiates our own longing for the divine. So may we enter into this holiday of love and embrace this season of love in the company of the Holy One, in the company of all lovers of God whose lives have been captured by this insistent, mysterious desire.

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Share the deepest longing of your heart.
Pause in silence to listen to the Holy One’s desire for you.
Give thanks for your belovedness.

Featured image: Tim Marshall, Unsplash

NOTE:
Please hold in your prayer my preparation for programs, retreats, and spiritual direction that will fill my Lenten calendar. And as always, know that you and your intentions are in my prayers of gratitude in the Lenten season ahead.

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Finding Where We’re Fed

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM January 29, 2021

We are all in some way driven or moved by our hunger. The great herds of zebras and wildebeests thundering across the African plains, braving crocodile-infested waters in search of good grazing. The radiant yellow hibiscus bending across its pot to absorb the nutrients of streaming sunlight. The thoughtful adult planning creative meals to enhance the limits of a tight budget.

One of the consequences of spending so much time at home these days has been a renewed interest in food.  Perhaps we’ve been comforted by the family-size bag of kettle cooked potato chips (guilty!) or similar snacks. Perhaps we’ve had the advantage of unexpected time to actually pay attention to what we eat and when and how we eat. Perhaps we find ourselves living with a greater awareness of food, of those who grew it, packaged it, trucked it, delivered it. Perhaps we’re growing into the Buddhist practice that admonishes us to be there when we eat, to be present to the food before us, not multi-tasking while we gulp down a sandwich but instead giving a meal our full attention and respect, chewing slowly, savoring taste, giving thanks.

Another aspect of living during a pandemic and in the turbulence of a divisive political climate has been the discovery of what else we consume and take in that does not nourish our souls or bodies but instead harms or depletes them. During the chaotic years of the previous presidential administration, I noticed something about my limited consumption of early morning news and then the national news in the evening: most of  it invaded and disturbed my peace of mind. I slowly began to whittle down even that small amount of time. I eliminated from my diet as much as possible the voices of cruelty and exclusion, the messages of bullying and domination.

And then the question became: what is feeding me in their place? What makes my heart leap? My pulse quicken with hope? My senses stand at alert? Because whatever makes my soul come alive, makes my entire body stand in expectant attention, is sustenance of the most profound kind. That’s what nourishes my deep hunger. That’s where I need to linger and pause. That’s the miracle of the loaves and fishes played out anew in this time and place, where there’s more than enough and the enough fills and energizes me and others.

Nine Koepfer, Unsplash

Perhaps it’s wilderness time, communion with the revelations of the natural world. In a tree gloriously draped in snowfall. In a crow perched like a sentinel on a bare tree top. In an encounter with a foraging deer as we both dwell in the other’s gaze. Perhaps it’s stillness and a deep listening to the Holy. Perhaps it’s the muted colors of Monet or Renoir or the summons in every note of classical or pop or rap or jazz music. Perhaps it’s the way the lines of a poem feel in our mouth. Perhaps it’s our sinking into and becoming totally lost in the pages of a novel. Perhaps it’s the quiet inspiration that is the love of a good friend.

Whatever it may be, may we eat it! Consume it. Chew it. Savor it. Allow it to enter our soul. Take it in, offer thanks, bless it, and know ourselves fed.

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on whatever nourishes or quickens or delights your soul.
Name the creators or the inhabitants of this gift, and what it is that draws you.
Give thanks for this food and for the Creator and giver of every good gift.
Then take another bite, and savor it.

NOTE:
Please remember in your prayer:
Directed Prayer Weekend (in-person) at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA, January 29-31. I’ll be one of the guest directors for this weekend. Please pray for all who will be part of these sacred days. Thank you!

Featured image: Motoki Tonn, Unsplash

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Everyday Revelations

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   January 17, 2021

Every year it’s the same. I ache with the expectant longing of the Advent Scriptures. I delight in the Christmas narratives with images of Emmanuel choosing to fully inhabit our human condition and become God-with-us. And then, in January, the Magi arrive.

Although we know few details about these ones we call “wise,” Matthew tells us (Matthew 2:1-12) that they came from “the East” and that they carried gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We assume they had an advanced knowledge of astronomy, since they “saw his star at its rising” and they followed that star “until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.”

But it’s their very appearance in the Christmas narrative that unleashes uneasy anticipation in me, because I’ve heard this story many times and the ending remains the same. After beginning their journey with honest and pure intentions, the Magi entered into their pilgrimage not fully understanding but drawn by a deep, mysterious longing. Directed in a dream not to make a return visit to Herod but instead to depart for their country by another way, these wise ones unintentionally set in motion tragic consequences. Their decision to circumvent Herod was the tipping point for the madness of a crazed despot. Terrified of being dethroned by a toddler, he ordered the snatching of other toddlers out of the arms of their powerless, wailing mothers in a scene of unimaginable slaughter.

Thomas Galler, Unsplash

So every year at the end of the Christmas season, there’s a sense of dissonance as we move from the relative calm and adoration of “Silent Night” to the sounds of Rachel rocking back and forth in utter desolation, keening and refusing to be comforted because her children are no more. The crèche and the bloody cobblestones, back-to-back. Bethlehem and Ramah, back-to-back. How are we to make sense of this contrasting placement, or are we?

We call the story of the Magi the Epiphany, the manifestation. So what might be being revealed here? The mystery of human suffering, certainly, and one beyond our ability to comprehend or explain. The welcome and inclusion God offers to all people, yes.  But could all of these events also be the Holy One’s leading us to an enduring truth: that, no matter what is happening, we are being accompanied at all times by the Divine. The Holy One is with us when we leap in delight, joy, and play, as well as in those moments when we’re brought to our knees crippled by pain, howling in rage, rendered mute by inconsolable loss.

God holding in tender arms the families whose loved ones have been brutally taken away by COVID-19. God rejoicing in the collaborative coming together of the scientific community to create a vaccine. God with us lamenting the violence that destroyed life and property last week at the U.S. Capitol. God with us applauding the swell of citizens gathering courage to voice their vote, to lead with compassion, to form a more perfect union.

In this imperfect world that so longs for wholeness and healing, the Epiphany manifests the simple truth that God is here, that God welcomes and accompanies. May we be blessed in this revealing.

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
You may find it helpful to gaze on images of both compassionate care and social sin in our world.
Name how light and shadow are reflected in what you see.
Ask the Holy One to bless your efforts to grow in spaciousness of heart as a person of peace.

Featured image: Inbal Malka, Unsplash

NOTE:
This coming week I was scheduled to be in Ocean City, Maryland, praying and reflecting with a women’s group. That experience has been canceled because of COVID precautions, but I ask you to hold in prayer all who would have participated.

Please remember in your prayer all who will be part of a directed retreat weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA, January 29-31. I will be one of the directors for this retreat. Thank you.

Please join me also in praying for a peaceful transfer of power with the inauguration of President Biden and Vice-President Harris and for the healing of the soul of the United States, as we pray also for a deepening of compassion throughout our beautiful yet wounded world.

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Good Company in Every Year

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM     January 1, 2021

The calendar reminds me that ten years have been counted off since I moved into my apartment, this place that I call “the womb” because it offers sacred space, a space that’s generative, contemplative, inspiring for me and hopefully, for our world. One might think that in ten years I’ve observed and learned quite a bit from interacting with my neighbors. Yet it’s taken this past year of living through the pandemic in lockdown, when I’ve largely stayed at home and worked virtually from home, that my neighbors and I really came to know one another.

I’m talking here not about people but about what we’d most probably name as objects, the seemingly inanimate things around us. These days I’m living with an intuitive knowing that in some primal way, soul remains in these neighbors. Soul, the life force of plants and animals. Soul, the creative energies and spirit of artists, inventors, craftpersons who have contributed to the creation of “things.” The cervical pillow that cradles my neck as I close my eyes at night. The electric blanket that warms and welcomes my ever-cold feet as I push them down to the bottom of the bed. I’m in conversation with the tea kettle that screeches in increasing decibels as I run from my office at one end into the kitchen at the other end where it waits for me. I can’t find words enough to convey my gratitude to the hot water that soothes me in the shower, or the cushions on the easy chair that embrace me, or the aging laptop that still springs into alertness at the push of a button.

Debby Hudson ahDojo, Unsplash

Every day of this pandemic year—and for all of my years, actually–I’ve been surrounded by such thoughtful neighbors. Yet I confess I’ve not always remarked on their faithful presence in my life, I’ve not always paused to thank them for their consideration, their quiet concern, their standing by at the ready.

So when I began to write the reflection today that I expected to be about the new year, these very neighbors intervened. “What about us?” protested the ottoman and the frying pan. “Share our story!” begged the hand mixer, the silverware resting in its drawer, the beloved oven, the busy desk. The clamor was deafening, so I cast aside my original plans and listened to the voices of collective wisdom. Perhaps you can hear them also.

Reading this, you may wonder if living in a pandemic has muddled my brain (it has). But please don’t conclude that my worldview is in any way shrinking. Quite the opposite! I believe that when we grow in awareness of the soul of any thing that has been touched by spirit, our universe expands. When we sense how our surroundings converge to nurture, protect, and support us, the only way forward is fuller gratitude. The only path ahead must be wonder and awe. The only response is living in profound appreciation for the collective soul and the quiet love Pat Schneider describes in “The Patience of Ordinary Things”: 

Ryan Riggins, Unsplash

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
In whatever space you may be, gaze contemplatively at your surroundings.
Let your eyes linger on any for whom you feel a particular affection.
Thank them, and thank the Holy One for the gift of such neighbors.
Treat these neighbors with thoughtful care today.

Featured image:  John Mark Smith, Unsplash

NOTE:
As we leave 2020 behind, we move forward holding in our hearts and in our prayer the many for whom this year has been marked by loss on many levels: the death of precious loved ones, the termination of employment, the curtailment of movement and interactions, the sense of safety and security. Still, we can be grateful because we move forward also with the memory of heroic care, extravagant kindness, moments of beauty, love in all its many splendid forms.

May the year to come be filled with the blessings of peace, hope, and good health for you and for our beautiful yet wounded world.

Blessings of the New Year, and thank you for following Mining the Now into 2021.

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