From the Hush

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   November 20, 2022

They are beloved and long-time companions: silence and space. They are the reason I never drive a car or start out on a walk, even a brief one, without a pen and a notebook. They provide an opening where I can listen to my soul, hear the voice of the Holy, and fall down in worship before beauty. They offer a refuge from the clamor of the day, a sanctuary where I can discover what I really think, a chance to devour poems and prose—my own and others’— reading them aloud, coaxing a reluctant image out of hiding, savoring every delicious syllable.

They are among the many reasons I appreciate retreat ministry where I get to enter into silence in a sacred place with sacred people, all of us gathered with a single intention: to better hear the Holy at work in our lives. They are underneath the sigh of a busy parent at day’s end when the children are tucked into bed and a hush descends and envelops. They are the impetus for building a she-shed or creating a space in the garage, for laying claim to a closet or a porch or a corner of the basement as our own, at least for a few moments. They live in the pause before a word is uttered and the atmosphere in a room changes. They feel like a hiding place, but one that somehow reveals and uncovers.                                                                                                            .

When I first moved into the home where I now live, I discovered a room at the end of the hall that a previous occupant had used for storage, a holding space for the no longer useful broken chair, cardboard box, old lamp. But with three large windows on one side, two on the other, sunlight streaming in, the room cried out to me. I heard its longing to be something more, its desire to offer refuge. So I spent several days cleaning it out, inviting it to direct me. It insisted on becoming my office, my writing and creating and praying space, home to my flourishing jungle of African violets, pothos, cyclamen, and some unnamed neighbors I’m nursing back to greenness.

Arno Smit, Unsplash

Whoever we are, no matter how full or active our lives are, we all need to make friends in some way with silence and space so we can hear our lives and pray with them. I suspect the deeply contemplative writer Gunilla Norris claimed such a space, for she notes that, “A room devoted to silence honors and invites the unknown, the untamed, the wild, the shy, the unfathomable—that which rarely has a chance to surface within us.”

Let us not be afraid to step into this space and invite the hush to reveal just such a diverse and boisterous crowd. Imagine the friends we’ll make and the places we’ll go and the ways in which silence and space, with God’s grace, will transform us into our best selves. Imagine what might happen if we let the hush enter our rich and full lives and linger there in some blessed and mysterious way.

Takeaway
Find a quiet space and sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Invite as your guests the untamed, the wild, the shy, and the unfathomable within you.
Welcome, listen, and give thanks.

Featured Image: Anthony Tran, Unsplash

Pro Church Media, Unsplash

NOTE:
Happy Thanksgiving to all who are celebrating this holiday in the United States and beyond.

I also want to express my profound thanks to all who are followers of my blog, Mining the Now, anywhere in the world. You are ever in my grateful heart and prayer.

December 2-4:
Please pray for my safe travel and leading of a guided retreat for the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart in Philadelphia, PA.

To automatically subscribe to receive new posts of Mining the Now:

Go to the Home Page of Mining the Now (chriskoellhofferihm.org).
In the left-hand column above the section marked “Archives”, you’ll see the words, “Subscribe to blog via email.”
Enter your email address in the space provided and then click on “Subscribe” and
follow any prompts.
You’ll then be subscribed to automatically receive any future blog posts from Mining the Now.

Thanks for following and subscribing!

Wanting More

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    November 6, 2022

One of the lingering side effects of the pandemic has been the way in which food is served. Although I’m still missing the amazing salad bar at Wegman’s, I understand the safety and health concerns that led to its disappearance. (And of course, I still live in hope of its return). In most retreat houses, conference centers, and motherhouses I’ve traveled to this summer, retreatants no longer served themselves from a buffet line, but instead were served by gracious professional people waiting to hear of their selections from the options offered.

For me, this has been something of an issue because of the servers: they are simply too generous! I eat well but don’t eat huge helpings of anything, even my favorite mashed potatoes. So the first few days of a retreat, I’m continually whispering, “Just one spoonful, please” over the buffet table to the servers. Whose joy seems to be in giving me more. Whose puzzlement seems to be that any human would want less than two heaping serving spoons full of the delicious food being offered.

Lately the refrain of “Just one spoonful, please,” has led me to reflect on some wisdom a spiritual director offered me decades ago, wisdom that has enlarged my appetite not for food, but for the divine. My director encouraged me to be less cautious, more intimate, and bolder in my relationship with the Holy One. She reminded me that God is longing to be more. To me. That the Holy One desires to share the fullness of divine love. With me. That God’s grace isn’t a limited supply that has to be rationed out bit by bit, a spoonful at a time. That when it comes to grace, God doesn’t want to hear “Enough!” from me. That my call is to let God be God. Big, extravagant, unconditional, beyond limits when it comes to loving me and all of creation.

Some spiritual leaders note that the longing we feel for God is actually the Holy One’s first longing for us. What we experience is a mirror, a window into the immensity of God’s desire for us. This divine desire isn’t dependent on our goodness or worth, isn’t diminished by our failings, isn’t lessened by our lack of attention or awareness. No matter what is happening or has happened in our lives, God’s love for each of us is there for the taking, available and unending.

Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash

Our challenge is to keep listening to the echoes of longing that we notice, the nudges that claim our attention, the moments that resonate, and to realize, “Ah, there you go again, God!” Then to simply bow down in amazement and gratitude at the Holy One’s wild extravagance, serving up heaping spoonfuls of love from an endless buffet.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
If you have a symbol of God’s love, place that before you.
Be bold and ask for more: more grace, more love, more intimacy.
Sit in a spirit of trust that your desire will be heard.
Give thanks for the extravagant and always available love of the Holy One.

Featured Image:  Chris Koellhoffer, IHM

NOTE:

Thank you for your prayerful support of the guided retreat I offered for the Sisters of St. Francis at Assisi House, Aston, PA, this past week. My deep thanks to all the retreatants whose prayer and presence continue to bless me and all of our beautiful yet wounded world.

Please hold in your prayer the mid-term elections in the United States this week, that all who are elected will commit their service to the common good and to building a more just, inclusive, and compassionate country. Thank you.

To automatically subscribe to receive new posts from Mining the Now: 

Go to the Home Page of Mining the Now (chriskoellhofferihm.org) In the left-hand column above the section marked “Archives,” you’ll see the words, “Subscribe to blog via email.” 

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

Thank you for following!

Standing in the Circle of Love

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   October 23, 2022

“We see from where we stand” is one of my favorite Haitian proverbs.

I think of it often when I’m leading a retreat. I usually begin a presentation by inviting the retreatants to engage in breathprayer, an ancient practice of paying attention to our breath and then inhaling and exhaling for several minutes in blessing the space we’re in as well as the world beyond. Both the retreatants and I close our eyes while praying this way, but towards the end of the breathprayer, I open my eyes to bring the prayer to a close. That’s when perspective really matters.

Because as I open my eyes and face the group, I see a mass of people who hold no intention other than to breathe compassion and welcome from our space out to the world. My one regret is that the group can’t see what I see: dozens of people sending the energies of love in blessing our beautiful yet wounded world. As the week of retreat moves on, that blessing becomes more and more palpable. And that sight brings me to the edge of tears.

Perspective made a rich difference to me last weekend also, when family and friends celebrated the wedding of my niece, Jennifer Kline, and her then husband-to-be, Ryan Hilla. I was invited by the bride’s Uncle Paul, a deacon, to be a co-minister for the wedding service, affording me a perspective I rarely have in any church: the view from the sanctuary.

My co-celebrant grounded his words in tenderness and welcome and invitation. What an honor for me to also stand before the wedding couple, to see their eyes well with emotion, to bless their rings, to notice how at times their hands reached for one another, to offer a blessing to send them into the newness of married life. And to look out at the congregation from the sanctuary: into the eyes of their parents who had shown them what love looks like when it walks through this world. Into the faces of siblings who had companioned them since childhood. Into the gaze of relatives and friends, each carrying a story of connection and support. I tell you, the air was heavy with the fragrance of such collective love.

That scent lingered and carried over into the reception, where Lauren, maid of honor and sister of the bride; Evan, best man and brother of the groom; and Kevin, father of the bride, offered stories full of connection and humor and tenderness. So much love was woven through every word that when it came my turn to follow their toasts and offer a Grace before the meal, I had to first ask those gathered, “Can you feel the love in this room? Can you feel it?” And then to invite the gathering to pause and notice where those beautiful words we had just heard had landed in their souls. Because we were witnesses to the leap of faith and the profound act of courage that marriage, or any life commitment, is. Because it felt like we were standing in a holy place. And so we were.

Many years ago, the Trappist monk and spiritual leader Thomas Merton, standing at the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, was suddenly overwhelmed by the realization that he loved all the people passing by, the secret beauty of their hearts, the person that each one was in God’s eyes. He yearned for everyone to see themselves as God saw them. At the same time, he acknowledged, “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

Todd Kent, Unsplash

Perhaps. But from where I stood last weekend, it seemed that people had already claimed their light. And I am shaken even now by the sight of that shining. By the tenderness in that space. By the love that lingers still.

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Call to mind an experience where the love of others was palpable for you. Perhaps your own wedding, or profession of vows, or a special event.
Savor what that felt, looked, and sounded like.
Offer thanks to the Holy One for bringing such blessing into your life.
Ask that you may be that same kind of holy, affirming presence to others.

Featured Image: Denny Muller, Unsplash

NOTE:
Thank you for your prayerful support of my family’s celebration last weekend. Now I ask you to hold in your prayer these upcoming events that I’ll be leading:

October 29: A virtual retreat day for IHM Associates and Sisters.
IHM Associates are women and men from all states of life and various creeds who are seeking a deeper experience of God for their own transformation and for the transformation of the world. I’m honored to be in their good company.

November 2-4: A guided retreat for the Sisters of St. Francis at Assisi House, Aston, PA.

To automatically subscribe to receive new posts from Mining the Now: 

Go to the Home Page of Mining the Now (chriskoellhofferihm.org) In the left-hand column above the section marked “Archives,” you’ll see the words, “Subscribe to blog via email.” 

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

Thank you for following!

Lingering Behind

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM     October 9, 2022

Lately I’ve been reflecting on scent. Who knows if it’s because here in the North the delicate perfume of summer is giving way to the earthiness of autumn. Or because scent can linger long after its source has moved on.

What I do know is that scent is often evocative. As one of those people blessed (and sometimes cursed) with a very refined sense of smell, I can be transported by a whiff of anything to another time and place, another person or thing. Every year for Christmas I would give my mother a bottle of her favorite perfume, Coty L’aimant. Although my mother has been deceased for over twenty-five years, I sometimes catch myself thinking of her at the same time that I notice the scent of her perfume wafting towards me as a person passes. There’s a certain type of talcum powder that immediately summons visions of my grandmother’s home with its window seat and overstuffed chair. And the aroma of cookies or cakes still warm from the oven—well, I’m grateful to say that there have been in my life a multitude of gifted bakers whom I recall with delight. And gratitude.

Chris Mai, Unplash

I wonder, can the aroma of a person’s soul linger in the same way? A room can go dark and unsettling after its occupant leaves. But a room can also hold a soft energy and sense of welcome long after the person whose presence filled the room departs. I believe the energies of love, the fragrance of the holy ones, can and do linger. In John’s Gospel (John 12:1-8) Jesus is enjoying dinner at the invitation of his friends, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. While Lazarus sits and Martha serves, Mary takes a jar of expensive nard, the equivalent of a laborer’s annual wages, pours it over the feet of Jesus, and wipes his feet with her hair. Can we hear the collective gasp of the stunned dinner guests?

John notes, “The whole house was filled was filled with the fragrance of the oil.” Of course it was, John! In her extravagant gesture, Mary wasn’t taking note of anything but the feet of Jesus. I suspect no amount of scrubbing could dispel the scent of nard that spilled over and seeped into the floor or soaked the ground. I suspect that the fragrance of that oil lingered in the house in Bethany for many weeks. And I suspect the remembrance of Mary’s bold act remained even longer, much as lives given over to kindness and extravagant love leave behind a distinct spiritual fragrance.

Nathan Anderson, Unsplash

I don’t claim to have an olfactory sense capable of sniffing out the saints among us. But perhaps you, like me, have occasionally been in the presence of a person whose very being radiates compassion, kindness, softness and spaciousness of heart. Long after such a person departs, the place where they once sat or stood is redolent of grace. The house, the space, is filled with the fragrance of their presence.

With the grace of the Holy One, may we encounter in our everyday living the saints whose lives are given over to tenderness, who carry the scent of holiness. With the grace of the Holy One, may we also be among that number, leaving a trail of blessings wherever we go.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
You may wish to place before you a fragrance you enjoy.
Call to mind a person who embodies the presence of God.
Reflect on the qualities that lead you to describe them as saintly.
Ask the Holy One to deepen those same qualities in you through deep, inner soul work.
Inhale your chosen scent and offer thanks for the holy ones in your life—including yourself.

Featured Image:  Muldavi, Unsplash

NOTE:
Please hold in your prayer a joyful occasion: the wedding of my niece, Jennifer Kline, and Ryan Hilla on October 15. I’m honored to be a co-minister of their ceremony. May they be blessed with a love that is patient, kind, and enduring.

To automatically subscribe to receive new posts of Mining the Now:

Go to the Home Page of Mining the Now (chriskoellhofferihm.org).
In the left-hand column above the section marked “Archives”, you’ll see the words, “Subscribe to blog via email.”
Enter your email address in the space provided and then click on “Subscribe” and
follow any prompts.
You’ll then be subscribed to automatically receive any future blog posts from Mining the Now.

Thanks for following and subscribing!

Living in the -ing

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM September 25, 2022

When I told a friend that I’d be offering a reflection on the departure day of a retreat, which was also the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, he asked me what I’d be preaching about. I said, “Posture and grammar.” And he replied, “Well, that should empty out the chapel pretty fast!”

So permit me to explain. All during this directed retreat (September 7-15), we’ve cultivated a posture of openness, a deep listening to the Holy One. And what’s the very first word we heard in John’s Gospel this morning? Standing. Standing by the cross… Standing is also a posture.

As a former English teacher, I’m very fond of the present participle form of verbs. What I call the ING verbs, words ending in i-n-g. Verb forms like standing, staying, listening, noticing.

These I-N-G verbs are full of action. The –ing indicates that there’s movement. Everything is evolving. We haven’t become women and men for others, once and for all, over and done. We are constantly becom-ing such persons. We are always in process, cooperating with grace.

So standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. That’s their posture. They were standing. Sarah Otto writes that, “As almost all of Jesus’ followers flee from the scene of the crucifixion out of fear and disappointment, these women are standing. Not crouching in fear, not turning their backs, not slumping on the ground in defeat, not walking away. They are standing.”

And they are staying even though this seems like the end of a cherished dream. They are remaining even as their hearts are broken open. They are refusing to leave even though they can’t change what’s happening right in front of them. They are standing  when it’s beyond their power to save Jesus. They are standing and staying with someone who is dying. Sometimes, that is all we can do, and it is everything.

Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and spiritual writer, was once asked what his vocation was. I love how he described the essence of his call. Merton said that his vocation was really just this:

Sitting. “Sitting with the insoluble dilemmas and unanswerable questions of his time.” That’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it? Sitting with the dilemmas for which there seem to be no solutions. Standing with the questions for which we can’t find answers. Mining the place of Mystery. Merton’s vocation and ours: Not to run away. Not to be satisfied with glib, easy answers. Instead, standing with, staying with, remaining in the struggle.

It’s what I call the “school no one ever wants to attend.” The school of pain and loss and diminishment. There’s no waiting list for this school, no registration. I mean, who would ever want to sign up? But here’s the thing: there are some things we can learn in this school that we can’t come to by any other way. Learning that we can’t fix everything. Learning how to remain with people in pain even when it’s beyond our power to change their circumstances. Learning to trust that God’s grace will reveal itself somehow, some way, even in darkness. Learning how to wait. Learning what it means to be present.

Fotolia

Today, we are called to be standing with the crucified peoples of our world in their pain, their despair, their loneliness. And standing as well with our sisters and brothers in their joy, their delight, their gratitude.

Today also calls us to a place of remembering. To remember and give thanks for the many who have been standing with us through our lives. Accompanying us. Giving us the gift of presence and deep listening. Staying with us even when nothing can be fixed or changed.

Today, we are carrying with us the graces of retreat. I suspect that for a long time, we will be breaking open and pondering what these days have been about. As we leave, with God’s grace, may we keep standing with, staying with, remaining with these graces. And as we do, may our lives continue to be a blessing for our beautiful, yet wounded world. May it be so!

Takeaway
If you are able, stand in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on a recent time in your life when another person has remained with you in your pain or loss.
Recall how their presence, with or without words, made you feel.
Give thanks for all those who have accompanied you in your life.
Ask the Holy One for the grace to be that same kind of presence for others.

Featured Image: Melissa Askew, Unsplash

NOTE:
This blog has been adapted from a homily I offered on the last day of an 8-day directed retreat at Eastern Point Retreat House, Gloucester, MA, September 15, memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. I served as one of the guest directors at Eastern Point.

Thank you for your prayer for all who were part of that retreat. Please now hold in your prayer all who will be part of my next retreat:

October 2-7, Guided Retreat for the Sisters of St. Joseph, Rochester, NY. Thank you.

To automatically subscribe to receive new posts from Mining the Now: 

Go to the Home Page of Mining the Now (chriskoellhofferihm.org) In the left-hand column above the section marked “Archives,” you’ll see the words, “Subscribe to blog via email.” 

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

Thank you for following!

Cultivating Juiciness

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM     September 11, 2022

I’m a fan of summer’s ripening. There are few seasonal moments I await with more anticipation than the first appearance of a beefsteak tomato. Not the kind of tasteless thing that shows up in supermarkets in November. No, this tomato comes from the summer farmstands of New Jersey and Long Island, the farmers’ markets of Pennsylvania and beyond. This tomato has heft and substance in the hand. This tomato demands the simplest of pairings with white bread, a sprinkling of salt, and a generous spread of mayonnaise (We won’t get into the Hellmann’s vs. other brands right now, but of course, it’s Hellmann’s!). And finally, this tomato yields the utter joy of a first bite as its abundant juices run down one’s face. Chin, neck, fingers taking a tomato bath.

So many of summer’s fruits are juicy: the plump, dusty peach offering a sweet experience from the first bite of summer to the licking of peach nectar from one’s hands and neck, every drop liquid gold.  The strawberries of June and the blueberries of July. Raspberries on the vine, slowly turning from green to red. Succulent plums showing off the darkness of hidden delight. Watermelons offering their refreshing sugar to our eager mouths.

As we savor these gifts of summer, we give thanks for all the elements that converged in just the right way at just the right moment to bring such juiciness to our tables. A balance of warm sun and cooling rains. The watchful gaze of farmers. The tender touch of laborers carefully plucking by hand, for many of these gifts are too fragile to withstand harvesting machines. The truckers carrying summer’s best along the highways. The workers who weigh and bag our selections and hand over their labor to us.

Perhaps we can taste their collective labor as we bite into these fruits. Perhaps, along with our thanks, we might want to pray with every sweet mouthful, “Keep me juicy!” It’s a simple way to articulate our desire to intentionally cultivate a different kind of year-round juiciness. A ripeness of spirit. A tenderness of manner. A sweetness steeped in gracious hospitality. Perhaps we might offer spaciousness of heart to the family new to our school, parish, or neighborhood. Or donate our time serving meals in a local food kitchen. Perhaps recycling with a consciousness of care for Earth, our Common Home. Or we might practice courtesy on the road, navigating traffic jams and the challenges of driving in rush hour. Perhaps we might find a few extra minutes each day to sit in silence and breathe a blessing to our world. Juiciness upon juiciness!

We might wish that the perfectly ripe local summer fruits we enjoy would offer their juiciness all seasons of the year. No worries there, because until these summer delights return here in the North, and certainly after they return, we can cultivate the spirit of their juiciness every day, offering compassion, kindness, and deep listening to the orchards of people all around us. I leave you with this ripe and lovely poem from Li-Young Lee, a September offering from Gratefulness.org:

Ian Baldwin, Unsplash
 
From Blossoms
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Takeaway
You might want to begin by savoring this poem and then placing a symbol or image of juiciness in front of you.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Where in your life do you show juiciness of spirit?
Might there be anywhere that you notice a call to more ripening?
Ask the Holy One for an infusion of the juices of kindness, understanding, or whatever you most desire.
Bow and offer your deep thanks for the abundant grace that the Holy One offers you at every moment.

Featured Image: Caju Gomes, Unsplash

NOTE:
Thank you for returning to my blog, Mining the Now. During August, I took a pause from blogging but offered a guided retreat at St. Joseph’s Villa in Hampton Bays, NY. I also took some time for my own self care. Thank you for your prayerful remembrance of all who were part of the August retreat and for your good wishes for my briefly stepping away from my blog. Welcome back if yo’re returning to Mining the Now, and welcome if you are a new follower.

As I write, I ask you to pray for all who are part of a directed retreat taking place now at Gonzaga Eastern Point Retreat House, Gloucester, MA, September 7-15. I’m serving as one of the guest directors for this retreat. Thank you.

Twenty-one years ago, on September 11th, I was in New York City on my first day of studies to be certified as a spiritual director. The memories of that day have not faded. May we hold in tenderness and prayer all those who were killed, wounded, or traumatized by the terrorist attacks, as well as all those who suffer violence every day in our beautiful, yet wounded world. May our lives given over to compassion, justice, and juiciness move closer to fulfillment God’s dream of peace for all of us.

To automatically subscribe to receive new posts from Mining the Now: 

Go to the Home Page of Mining the Now (chriskoellhofferihm.org) In the left-hand column above the section marked “Archives,” you’ll see the words, “Subscribe to blog via email.” 

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

Thank you for following!

Forever Found

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    July 31, 2022

There’s something of the feel of a mini-resurrection about it: those times when we’ve hunted, scoured, turned upside down and inside out every possible hiding place for a lost object. The set of keys, the cell phone, the eyeglasses, the scrap of paper with contact information that’s critical for our next step. And then, if we’re very fortunate, the longed for, prayed for reappearance of what was lost, the relief, the utterances of gratitude.

A few weeks ago I was flying home from Kentucky after leading a guided retreat. As usual, my heart swelled with gratitude because of the wonderful people I had prayed and reflected with that week. Also as usual, I was utterly spent from the outpouring of psychic energy that presenting and facilitating and travel demand. All I wanted was to be home.

I waited at the Scranton airport as bag after bag passed by on the carousel and was claimed. I waited when every other passenger had gone home and the carousel stood motionless and empty. I waited at the ticket counter as an agent checked my receipt, informing me that my luggage was recorded as having arrived in Scranton. Except that my bag was nowhere to be found.

My wandering suitcase

And then something took place that could probably happen only in the tiny Scranton airport: a posse of sorts was formed to search for my missing luggage! Agents and baggage handlers disappeared and fanned out into the land of unclaimed bags, onto tarmacs, around vehicles and other hiding places. Finally, the message, “The lost has been found!” Indeed it had, and a beaming search party proudly presented my bag to me.

I received it with deep gratitude, then walked to my car and sat without moving for a long while. I was spent from a week of presenting, of traveling, of anxiety (and all those prayers to St. Anthony). And I began to sit with what it is to be lost and then recovered.

Jesus left us with three parables that I dub “the lost and found”: the errant sheep, the misplaced coin, the wayward child (Luke 15:4-32). These stories followed criticism by the Pharisees because Jesus was hanging out with people of doubtful and unsavory reputation, people whose good name had long been “lost” to them because of the judgment of the seemingly righteous. The Message Bible translates the grumbling of these observers as, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Like old friends. Like people no longer on the outside looking in. Like people who belong. Like the longed-for, long-awaited beloved. And yes, that is who we are.

Jonny Gios, Unsplash

Jesus’ story reveals his vision of a kin-dom where no doors or walls or gates keep anyone out. His parable underscores the predilection of the Holy One for all that has been judged as less than, as wanting. He shows a bias towards those who have been shamed, broken, silenced, overlooked, rendered invisible, lost to the world. And just like the posse scouting for my lost luggage, Jesus refuses to give up the search until lost moves to found. In Jesus’ telling, the pursuit comes to a hopeful conclusion, marked by a dance of delight, a clapping of hands, or a rather raucous party. And always, the seeking leads to a homecoming, a reclaiming of our rightful place in the family of God, a profound knowing that we are, and always have been, beloved.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Have you ever been lost or lost something/someone?
Name how that felt.
Now name yourself “beloved.”
What does this feel like? Sound like?
Savor the sweetness of knowing your place in the heart of God, no matter what is happening in your life.
Offer words of thanks for being forever found.

Featured Image: Jon Tyson, Unsplash

NOTE:
I’m posting this a bit early and asking you to please remember in your prayer my IHM Congregation as we come together this weekend for our annual Assembly and for the Jubilee celebration of our Sisters who have given their lives over to 25, 50, 60, 70, 75, and 80 years of joyful, loving service to the People of God.

Please also pray for the success of St. Joseph Center’s Festival this same weekend. Rooted in the core values of care, concern, compassion and commitment, Saint Joseph’s, sponsored by my IHM Congregation, humbly serves people who are diagnosed with intellectual disability and those who seek pregnancy support, adoption assistance, outpatient therapy or medical day care services. The Festival is a major fundraiser that benefits those served by St. Joseph’s Center.

Thank you for your prayer for those who were part of my most recent guided retreat at Villa Pauline, Mendham, NJ. A delight to be with everyone and to re-connect with longtime friends.

August 13-19:
Please hold in your prayer the Sisters of St. Joseph (Brentwood) who will be part of a guided retreat I’m leading at St. Joseph’s Villa, Hampton Bays, Long Island, NY during this time. Thank you.

This is my last blog post until September. It’s my custom to keep the month of August as much as possible for renewal and self care. So I offer one retreat in August (13-19) but no additional writing or direction appointments. I hope to use this restorative time for my own retreat and for tending to the rhythms of my body and spirit.

May you also have time to savor the last weeks of summer. Thank you for following Mining the Now, and see you in September.

To automatically subscribe to receive new posts from Mining the Now: 

Go to the Home Page of Mining the Now (chriskoellhofferihm.org) In the left-hand column above the section marked “Archives,” you’ll see the words, “Subscribe to blog via email.” 

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

Here, There, and Everywhere

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    July 17, 2022

I’ve been carrying the ancestors especially close to my heart for the past few days, ever since I was stunned and struck mute as the first images from the Webb telescope appeared on the evening news. Such a glorious, revelatory moment! I immediately felt myself in communion with every stargazer who ever peered at the night sky, wondering what might be waiting beyond that dome. I was looking through a window that Galileo and the host of astronomers who lived in centuries past longed to see. I was invited into the dawn of time, into Mystery. And I wanted to bow down in worship.

The Webb telescope was built to answer some of the most fundamental questions about our existence. Its infrared cameras can capture things formed in the afterglow of the Big Bang. It has the potential to pull the curtain back on the formation of far-flung galaxies and to reveal the chemical signatures of planets beyond our beloved Earth.

What the Webb telescope might further reveal is not a surprise to those of us who have a primal, intuitive knowing that the dust we heard about on Ash Wednesday, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” is actually stardust, that sacred dust linking us to our relatives, the stars. We are composed of, we are filled with the cosmos!

I was carrying all of that in my consciousness a few days later when I went for my annual eye exam by my ophthalmologist. As part of his examination, he uses a machine that takes images of the inside of a person’s eye and then displays them on a computer screen. These images indicate the health of a person’s eye, revealing potential issues and concerns. I’ve seen those images every year, but this year there was no escaping the parallel. In the bursts of color, the reflected light and shadows, the delicate pattern of veins crossing over one another, the subtle glow of the whole, I felt as if I were looking at a new image from the Webb telescope. I gasped and blurted out, “The whole universe is in my eye!”

NASA, via Unsplash

What a blessing that my ophthalmologist shared my enthusiasm! So we engaged in an animated conversation about the origins of life, the frontiers we’ve yet to discover, and the presence of the Holy in every atom of our existence.

In my heart, I know that the Webb telescope is offering us a longed for gift, an experience of “first light,” a journey back to the time when the earliest stars and galaxies began to shine, and far beyond that. I’m filled with eager anticipation expressed in a hundred questions about kinship and belonging. What might it now mean to be a child of the Universe? How do we adequately describe and define “neighbor?” In what ways might our hearts and minds need to expand to embrace life forms beyond those familiar to us? How does this revelation inform our day to day living for the good of the whole? And what might we learn about the place of death in our lives as we study the star “cemetery,” the place where stars go to die when their purpose has been fulfilled and they have reached completion? What comes next, and are our hearts ready?

Greg Rakozy, Unsplash

As we gaze at the night sky from our Earth-bound perch, as we feel the pull of the moon, the lure of the stars, the deep knowing that the Universe is already within us, what spaciousness of heart must we now embrace to be the presence of Love in this Universe so beloved of the Holy One?  

O come, let us adore!

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Go outside to view the night sky or sit inside with an image from the Webb telescope.
What moves within you as you gaze at a Universe already at home within you?
Offer words of praise and gratefulness to the Creator of such splendor.
Hold in your heart and prayer all who belong to this larger image.

Featured Image: Jeremy Thomas, Unsplash

NOTE:
I’m sending this blog post a few days ahead of time since I’m leaving Friday to lead my next guided retreat at Villa Pauline Retreat Center in Mendham, NJ. Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of this retreat from July 15-21.

Thank you for your prayer for those who were part of the guided retreat for the Sisters of Divine Providence in Melbourne, KY that ended with my travel home July 10. I felt accompanied by your prayerful remembrance and made all my connecting flights without difficulty. Amazing! Special thanks to Sister Lucy Zientek, CDP, who attended to every detail of the retreat with such graciousness.

To automatically subscribe to receive new posts from Mining the Now: 

Go to the Home Page of Mining the Now (chriskoellhofferihm.org) In the left-hand column above the section marked “Archives,” you’ll see the words, “Subscribe to blog via email.” 

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

Taking in Soul

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    July 3, 2022

Perhaps when you were a child, you were taught the importance of eye contact, of looking someone in the eye when having a conversation with them. As much as giving a firm and welcoming handshake, that custom was part of the culture in which I was raised. I’ve always wondered if it was grounded in the belief that, “The eyes are the windows of the soul.” That when we truly pay attention to and notice the other, we are in some way, at least briefly, peering into their soul, their essence. Even from a young age, I experienced that connection as holy.

Amber Kipp, Unsplash

I thought of that last Sunday morning when I was driving to Scranton for the installation of our new IHM leadership team. Just as I was moving through a residential area on Sanderson Avenue, a deer that had been hidden by shrubbery jumped into view and sprang into the road directly in front of me. She was not as young as a spotted fawn, but only slightly older. We stopped less than five feet apart. And we both froze.

I can’t speak for the little deer, but I was afraid of misinterpreting her next move and injuring this exquisite animal. So for at least thirty seconds, neither of us advanced. We made eye contact in those thirty seconds and I was held in the unblinking gaze of this beautiful, fragile creature. I felt completely taken into her wild soul.

When she finally jumped back into the shrubbery, my car and I remained still for a few seconds longer. I was immensely relieved that we had avoided an accident, but mostly I was shaken. I had landed in the realm of awe. I had taken in soul. And I could no longer be the same person I was when I first turned onto Sanderson Avenue that Sunday morning.

Without analyzing what actually unfolds in such experiences, can we agree that beauty and relationship alter us? That such moments tap into our deepest longing for  something beyond our limited imagining? No matter that we often find ourselves unable to wrap words around those encounters. No matter that we often can’t fully articulate what has just bumped into our everyday living. It is enough to be stopped in our tracks and shaken to the core. It is enough to be silent and grateful in the presence of Mystery. It is enough to feel summoned to bow down before the holy.

It is enough. In accompanying others as a spiritual guide, I’m often awestruck at stories of profoundly spiritual experiences that are shared, and I wonder: why are we so hesitant to name them as mystical? For that is what I believe they are. Seemingly simple moments like feeling the warm, furry body of a Golden Retriever leaning against us in contentment. The slowly goldening rays of a rising sun. The luminosity of a full moon. The taste of a beefsteak tomato and its juices running down our cheek. The miracle of ripe summer berries and the joy of savoring them.

Ana Tablas, Unsplash

And then those seemingly random moments when we catch the eye of another creature like the little deer. When we recognize the holy in a random stranger on the subway or the market or the waiting room and it takes our breath away. When we finally glimpse understanding in the eyes of a struggling student. When we gaze into the face of a newborn and our hearts expand with reverent amazement as that tiny face gazes back. When someone offers us the look of love in all its vulnerability. Soul meeting soul.

The poet Max Reif knows that look and remembers it well. I leave you with his exquisite piece, “To A Visionary Whose Name I’ll Never Know.”

“This is to you, lady who smiled at me
as I came out of the subway at 14th Street
and walked down 6th Avenue in the winter of ‘74
having just arrived in New York. Gentle feathers
of snow had just begun falling from the black.


I felt myself taken into your eyes, and suddenly
was no longer a confused young man
wondering whether every next step was the right one,
but a light-being, love built into his cells,
leaning forward, poised to give.


Thirty-five years later
I still walk those tunnels of your eyes
down the line of your smile
toward the person you saw in me.”


Takeaway  
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Revisit an experience of beauty or awe (or both!) that moved you.
What were the feelings that surrounded that moment?
Savor those feelings and mine them.
Thank the Holy One for all that this world created and sustained by love offers us.  

NOTE:
I’m publishing this blog a bit earlier than usual because I’ll be traveling July 2 – July 10 to be with the Sisters of Divine Providence in Melbourne, KY for a guided retreat. Please pray for my safe and uneventful air travel and all who will be part of this graced time.  

Please also hold in your prayer all who will be part of another guided retreat I’ll be offering at Villa Pauline, Mendham, NJ, from July 15-21. Many thanks for your gracious remembrance.  

To automatically subscribe to receive new posts from Mining the Now:  Go to the Home Page of Mining the Now (chriskoellhofferihm.org) In the left-hand column above the section marked “Archives,” you’ll see the words, “Subscribe to blog via email.”  Enter your email address in the space provided and then click on “Subscribe” and follow any prompts. You’ll then be subscribed to automatically receive any future blog posts from Mining the Now.  Thank you for following!
   

The Portability of Soul

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   June 19, 2022

When you’re on the road a lot, you start to look for travel companions that are easy to transport and that take up the least amount of space. I’ve noticed that over the years my laptop has downsized from 10 to a svelte 3 pounds. The stack of books I used to haul around on every trip has now been compressed into the width of my Kindle. (I still feel there’s nothing quite as satisfying as turning the actual pages of a paperback, but expediency sometimes wins out). My bulky CD player has given way to hundreds of songs stored on my iPhone and paired with a Bose speaker that’s both lightweight and compact. I don’t cart around a 12 ounce bottle of shampoo any more since I know I can squeeze out two weeks’ worth of washing from a travel size bottle. And I’ve improved my clothes rolling skills to the point that I can conserve space and avoid wrinkles at the same time.

So yes, there’s something to be said in praise of portability. At the time of this writing, I’m serving as a presenter for a guided retreat at Holy Family Passionist Retreat House in West Hartford, CT. I look around my lovely suite of rooms and note with pride how I’ve successfully packed a week’s worth of clothing, toiletries, and books into a small suitcase. It seems I’ve mastered that level of portability.

But reading Spirituality & Practice’s “Spiritual Practice of the Day,” I sat up and took notice after reading the quote of the day from Richard J. Foster’s Prayers from the Heart. He wrote,“My whole life, in one sense, has been an experiment in how to be a portable sanctuary, learning to practice the presence of God in the midst of the stresses and strains of contemporary life.” 

That image of a portable sanctuary grabbed my soul and made me sit up in attention. A sanctuary is defined as a place of refuge, safety, shelter, an oasis, retreat, or holy place. We tend to think of that type of sanctuary as fixed or stationary, standing in one specific geographic place. But since all our other travel necessities are portable, why not, above all, do what Foster notes: have a portable sanctuary right in the heart of each one of us? Our very own retreat where we can remain grounded in the Holy while open to the unfolding of life with all its twists and turns around us. An oasis where we can return often for refreshment and renewal and perhaps a fresh sense of direction.

And to take it further: why not widen that sanctuary, stretch the boundaries of that sanctuary, so that it becomes a safe place where others can unburden themselves of worries or concerns? Why not be a refuge where long carried shame or entire decades of woundedness can be unpacked, sorted, and placed in the light of day without fear of judgment or disapproval? Why not become a shelter from the storms of life, offering a haven that is unfailingly gracious and restful and full of hope and deep listening?

Marissa Grootes, Unsplash

I’ll be packing for my trip back home soon and when I arrive there, I’ll be replenishing my supplies for my next bit of traveling to offer another retreat experience. This time, though, I’ll have a deepened consciousness of what I carry within my heart as well as within my luggage. Safe and happy trails to all of us!

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Open the sanctuary of your heart.
Invite into that space whoever is most in need of rest and renewal and welcome.
Welcome them and hold them with love.
Ask the Holy One to continue to throw the doors of your heart wide open.

Featured Image:   Mantas Hesthaven, Unsplash

NOTE:
Happy Father’s Day to all those who give their lives over as parents, guardians, mentors in caring for those entrusted to their care. May you be blessed!

Thank you for your prayers for all the Sisters who were part of the retreat at Holy Family Passionist Retreat House this past week. Special thanks to Father David Cinquegrani and staff for hosting us in such a peaceful, beautiful, and welcoming place.

Please now hold in your prayer my IHM congregation as we prepare to install our newly elected leadership team on Sunday, June 26.

Please remember in your prayer my travel and the next guided retreat I’m leading, July 2-10, for the Sisters of Divine Providence in Cincinnati, OH/Melbourne, KY. Thank you.

To automatically subscribe to receive new posts from Mining the Now: 

Go to the Home Page of Mining the Now (chriskoellhofferihm.org) In the left-hand column above the section marked “Archives,” you’ll see the words, “Subscribe to blog via email.” 

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

Thank you for following!