Finding the Lost

crow with bauble copy

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    June 28, 2020

A decade ago, I lost an earring. Only one, of course, as seems to be the way with earrings, socks, and gloves. The loss of just one of a pair makes their absence more striking and noticeable. My lost earring was costume jewelry, of slight value, but it was a gift from a dear friend and held particular meaning for me.

I suspect in the jostle of my morning walk the earring had loosened, slipped from my ear, and landed on a soft bed of grass. For days afterwards, whenever I took that same path I would scan the ground, expecting to see a glint of silver. When, after weeks of searching, I couldn’t find the earring, I liked to imagine that a crow had discovered it, for crows, like some people, delight in shiny things. I pictured a jubilant crow proudly displaying my earring in its nest and cawing over its sparkling beauty.  As time passed, the earring–whether in the crow’s nest or elsewhere–disappeared from my memory.crows with shiny things copy

Something parallel happens with words. Since language is a living thing, always changing and evolving, some words cease to be part of language when they fall out of common usage. Some words are added to language to reflect new patterns of use. Words disappear from language, from memory. That’s the usual way of evolving, but the loss of certain words is cause for concern.

That concern was the genesis of the exquisite and charming book, The Lost Words. Lost, meaning no longer in our consciousness. Lost to us in the present age and lost to all who will come after us. The Lost Words came into being after a reader of the Oxford Junior Dictionary noticed that some forty common words related to nature were no longer included in the dictionary. The dropped words were left out because children weren’t using them often enough to merit a place in the reference work. Most telling, each of the excluded words  had a connection to the natural world. So good-bye to acorn and bluebell and dandelion and fern and otter and willow and wren, among others. Lost. Disappeared from children’s experience and from their consciousness. Taking their place: attachment and blog and broadband and voicemail and cut-and-paste. The indoor and virtual world was displacing the outdoor and natural one.

The authors of The Lost Words set out to create a spell book of sorts, a book to conjure back some of the disappeared, from acorn to wren, to breathe new life and usage into them. Through text and watercolors, they sought to summon these words out of obscurity and help them to live again in the voices, stories, and dreams of children and adults alike.Butterfly in garden copy

I’m writing this in the early morning hours when I savor a silence punctuated only by birdsong, the chatter of cardinal and wren and crow. It has not been lost on me that one of the gifts of lockdown for some of us has been time to re-discover the natural world, to make or renew our acquaintance with our furry and winged and green and blooming neighbors. To deepen a wider kinship as we stroll through parks or hike local trails or are stunned by the beauty of a crimson sunset. To awaken our consciousness, to feed our souls, to return us to Eden.

As it was in the beginning, when God named all of creation and saw that it was good, may it be so in our language for us and for our children, today, tomorrow, and beyond.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Sit outside or, if that’s not possible, sit indoors by a window that offers a view of the natural world.
Simply gaze at whatever is before you.
Notice what you see, hear, feel.
Give thanks to the Holy one for creating such a wonderful world.
If you’re so inclined, you may want to listen to Louis Armstrong sing, “What a Wonderful World.”

NOTE:
Before the restrictions put in place for COVID-19, I was scheduled to offer a guided retreat for the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM – Immaculata) during this time.

This retreat has been canceled  but I ask you to remember in your prayer the IHM Sisters who would have been part of the retreat and the IHM Spirituality Center which made the difficult but necessary decision to protect and safeguard lives. I’m grateful for their wisdom and thoughtfulness. 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Messages Within

delawarewatergap copy

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    June 14, 2020

There’s something mysterious about stones and rocks. When I drive through the Delaware Water Gap or pass through portions of Interstate 81, I’m surrounded by this mystery as I’m bookended by mountains, mountains that have been cut open or dynamited to make way for highways. That expansive surgery exposes horizontal layers of shale and limestone and chalk and flint deposited over thousands of years, layers that are storytellers of sorts. They speak of seasons of geography and shifts in changing climates over centuries.

I pass by these exposed entrails of mountains in awe. Yet what intrigues me even more are the stones that are intact, not cut open, not revealing their secrets. I’ve had the privilege of making the acquaintance of some of these guardians and protectors in my lifetime and am humbled by their solid, silent presence.

EPSON MFP imageOne of these stone formations is Stonehenge, a circle of concentric rings perhaps built by the Druids over 4,000 years ago. No one can fully explain how such enormous structures could have been transported without any modern engineering equipment. When I visited this site on the Salisbury Plain, I had a long list of questions to ask. I wanted to tap into their wisdom accumulated over centuries. What have you learned, I wanted to know, as you looked out into a sea of human faces? What have you witnessed of the longing and the curiosity and the spiritual hopes of the human family over the years? Deep within your stone center, has anything moved, shifted from darkness to light, because of the hopeful, reverent, or wondering gazes looking back at you?

Another stone formation dear to me are the Dolmens, stone tables scattered throughout the Southwest of Ireland. These megalithic monuments dotting the Irish landscape may stand as memorials marking lives once lived in the rugged countryside. Again, I wanted them to give up their secrets. I felt so pulled toward their altar-like formations, so drawn by the primal energy of my ancestors, that I instinctively approached one and raised my hands in a priestly blessing.

EPSON MFP imageFor me, the most intimate and personal of stone formations is the Inukshuk. When I spent a week in Vancouver, British Columbia, fifteen years ago, I explored the majestic beauty of Stanley Park every day on foot. In my hiking, I stumbled upon my first Inukshuk, five stones arranged on top of one another to create something of a human form. Since the XXI Olympic Winter Games held in Vancouver in 2010, this rock formation became the symbol of the area, but at the time of my hikes was a curiosity to me.

I learned the richer story of the Inukshuk, which is more than simply a random formation of stones. In his poem, “Inukshuk,” Rob Jacques begins with a note: “On frozen trails of the far north, Inuit people placed five stones in rough human form as a testament of endurance and as warm encouragement from those who had gone before to those who were coming after.” What a tender, loving awareness of our shared need for affirmation. What a compassionate way of leaving footprints of hope for those who will follow later. What a beautiful gesture, especially in times of uncertainty such as surround us right now. The poet continues in the voice of those who went before and who continue to speak through the Inukshuk:

“We were here. We saw sorrow.
Across our hearts, emptiness and cold
pulled hard, as they do in you now,
and we pressed on as you will do.
We did all that possibility will allow
and expect nothing less of you.
We stand guard over accomplishment
and a strong journey through all this.

See in gray desolation how we made
this five-piece thing and left it here,
a strong creation to bring you certainty
in this dreary, frozen waste, showing
you and we are keepers of a flame
melting chaos. You and we proclaim.”

I wonder, what do you and we proclaim with our lives to all who will come after us?

Takeaway:

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on a person in your life who has been an Inukshuk for you, someone who has experienced challenges yet not only endured but mentored you, cheered you on when you longed for encouragement and a sense of hope for the future.
Hold this person in tender love and gratitude.
Give thanks to the Holy One for their presence in your life.

NOTE:
Before COVID-19 canceled many events, I was scheduled to offer a day of rest and renewal for caregivers in the Diocese of Albany, NY and to lead a guided retreat for Sisters at Holy Family Passionist Retreat Center in West Hartford, Connecticut during this time.

All of these events have been canceled and re-scheduled but I ask you to remember in your prayer the communities and organizations that sponsored them. I applaud their wisdom and thoughtfulness in caring for the common good and ask you to pray for those who would have been part of this spiritual work.  

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!

Scentsations

trailsheddingtreemine

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    May 31, 2020

I’m starting to write this on Memorial Day while I’m out for a walk. My walking is somewhat painful and lacking in grace these days because of continuing nerve trauma. But I’m walking. And without any assistive devices. That alone borders on the miraculous and puts me in a state of constant gratitude.

As a writer, I never go anywhere without a notepad and pen, so I’m pausing to sit at a picnic table, having completed a stroll along the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail. What’s striking me is that the slower pace of my movement has invited me to notice in detail and in fresh ways how the trail has come alive with wildflowers and shrubs bursting with both blossom and scent. And one phrase keeps coming back to me. “The air is heavy with fragrance.”trailgardenia.net.copy

Suddenly, these scents pull me back to Haiti. It’s the feast of Corpus Christi in 2000, and I’m awakened at dawn not by sound or light but by the perfume of tropical flowers wafting through the window. The air is heavy with fragrance and it pulls me out of bed to take in an amazing sight: children and villagers and the Little Sisters of Saint Therese coming together to spread thousands of petals on the road. With these blossoms, they outline a ciborium, a host, a heart. Later that day, we’ll process with the Blessed Sacrament around their early morning art, strewing showers of petals and drinking in their intoxicating scent as we prayerfully move forward.

The air is heavy with fragrance. Now it pulls me toward the story of the unnamed woman (Mark 14:3-9), she who knows herself harshly judged and unwelcome in a gathering of men only. She trembles before their disdain but keeps her gaze fixed on Jesus. She pours out not only her alabaster flask of perfume but the overflow of her grateful heart. Her gesture is at once tender and extravagant, an emphatic statement of the power of love, an offering that will forever be remembered. And the air is heavy with fragrance.Anointing copy

This morning’s contemplation triggered by scent has left me wondering. What fragrance is my life leaving behind? What is the air around me heavy with? When I leave a room, when I move forward from an encounter, what lingers after I exit? My hope is that it’s an aura of compassion, a feeling of being heard, a sense of loving presence, a gentle peace. I thank all that’s blossoming and scenting the air today for reminding me that wherever I go, the air is heavy with fragrance. And the fragrance remains.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
If you have a flower, a scented candle, or anything that offers a pleasing fragrance, hold it in your hands.
Slowly inhale its essence.
Savor its scent and notice what moves within you as you do.
Ask the Holy One to infuse your actions today with a fragrance that remains.
Slowly breathe out a blessing.

NOTE:
Before the restrictions put in place for COVID-19, I was scheduled to spend 11 days this month offering retreats for the Grey Nuns in Ottawa, Canada, and to offer a day of restoration and renewal for caregivers in the Albany, NY Diocese in early June.  

All of these events have been canceled and re-scheduled but I ask you to remember in your prayer the communities and organizations that sponsored them. They have made the difficult but necessary decision to cancel gatherings so they can cherish lives and protect and safeguard those who would have been part of this spiritual work. I’m grateful for their wisdom and thoughtfulness. 

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!

 

In Praise of Love That Delivers

mailhandsreachingout copy

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    May 17, 2020

In these days of quarantine and staying at home, it may feel as if the world as we know it is shrinking. I’m not speaking of the thousands of healthcare workers and first responders who are meeting a tsunami of critical human need each day. I’m speaking of those of us staying at home, with our daily lives in some ways bounded by four walls. We are seeing less and less of people’s faces, covered as they are with a professional mask or a makeshift bandana folded over for protection, only eyes and hair exposed. We may venture out for a daily walk regulated by safe social distancing or a necessary but cautious trip to the supermarket. Is the world as we know it shrinking by the day?

Not at all! I think of COVID-19 as the great amplifier. For me, it has turned the volume up on some questions that have always resided in my heart, but which are now so loud that they can’t be ignored:

What do I fear?
What do I cherish that is greater than my fear?
What do I long for with all my heart?
What fills me with gratitude?
What do I miss most?
What have I discovered I no longer need?

I find my world expanding as I live with a new and grateful awareness of what is sometimes the underbelly of our lives: the support service people. Those who truck our goods, those who stock them, package them, disinfect shelves and registers, those who deliver our mail and our packages. I have been seeing some extraordinarily exhausted service people in my occasional trips outside.

I’m living with a fresh and renewed gratitude for Ray, my mail carrier, who is living the Post Office’s unofficial motto of “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their daily rounds.” Not even COVID-19, it seems.mailbox

With the arrival of the corona virus, I started a new spiritual practice. Every week I leave Ray a note of thanks and a remembrance of prayer in my mailbox, accompanied by a small treat—a box of M & Ms, a travel-size bottle of hand sanitizer (when those were easier to come by), some homemade cookies. When I do this, I pray for his and his family’s safety and well-being and my world grows larger as I include the thousands of unnamed and unrecognized public servants who provide food and medicine and care and communication for us day in and day out.

With Ray in mind, I recently discovered a U.S. Post Office inscription different from the “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” version that’s so familiar to many of us. This relatively unknown version is inscribed at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. It was originally called “The Letter” and was written by Dr. Charles W. Eliot, former president of Harvard University. I think it is spot on in describing the heroic work of so many service workers who insure that we can go on living day to day, often at significant personal risk to themselves and their loved ones.

mailglobepackagesPerhaps you’d like to join me in praying Dr. Eliot’s words as a litany of thanks and protection for all those who serve us in so many faithful, hidden ways. I’ve added a response after each of the Smithsonian’s titles for these dedicated service workers:

Messenger of Sympathy and Love… Bless you!
Servant of Parted Friends… Bless you!
Consoler of the Lonely…Bless you!
Bond of the Scattered Family…Bless you!
Enlarger of the Common Life…Bless you!
Carrier of News and Knowledge…Bless you!
Instrument of Trade and Industry…Bless you!
Promoter of Mutual Acquaintance of Peace and of Goodwill Among Men [People] and Nations…Bless you!

For all the ways you bless our lives, may you be blessed, today and always.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Call to mind a person who enriches your life through hidden, often unrecognized  service.
Ask the Holy One to safeguard their protection and safety.
When possible, communicate your deep gratitude to that person.
Thank the Holy One for creating them and placing them in your life.

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!

The Ones I Can

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   May 2, 2020

umbrellas on a rainy day copy

They came by the hundreds. Their numbers stretched out as far as the eye could see. This was not some bad dream. This was my ongoing challenge in a rainy season that seemed to have no end.

Before you think I’m obsessed with earthworms, let me note that in NEPA the forecast has included rain, light rain, heavy rain, showers, flash floods, and thunderstorms nearly every day and every evening during the month of April. When the downpour happens overnight, the already waterlogged ground becomes so saturated that earthworms are forced to leave the shelter of their homes. And so they appear during daylight scattered across parking lots, sidewalks, asphalt, macadam, places that hold the potential of killing them if the worms don’t move before the available moisture dries up.rainy-day-wallpaper6 copy

Standing on the Heritage Trail lot today, I was overwhelmed by the sight of so many creatures presenting themselves for rescue. The limitations of my not fully healed leg and back prevented me from scooping up all of them and returning the lucky ones to the safety of grass. Indecision paralyzed me. What should I do? What could I do? How could I possibly make any difference to the hundreds scattered before me?

I remembered a line from “The Guardian,” a film about Coast Guard rescue swimmers whose job it is to respond to frantic calls from swimmers or boaters in distress. The Coast Guard swimmers risk their lives daily, often leaping out of helicopters into huge swells during fierce storms in order to save people clinging to life in the waters below. In the film, a novice Coast Guard trainee asks the weathered instructor how he decides who to help when there are multiple cries for his attention. He replies, “I swim as fast as I can and as hard as I can for as long as I can. And I save the ones I can.”

I save the ones I can. That was good enough for me at the moment, so I slowly moved forward, picking up any struggling earthworms that were in my immediate walking path. I needed to be at peace with my inability to save them all.

My interrupted walk gave me a chance to reflect further on the real life situation of our first responders and healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like the Coast Guard rescue swimmers, they’re facing a daily tsunami of critically ill patients clamoring for rescue. Wave after unending wave of the faces of the desperately ill looking for a glimmer of hope on the faces looking down at them through layers of protective gear. Every one a mother, father, sister, brother, relative. Someone’s beloved. Someone’s caregiver. Someone’s partner, friend, mentor. Every one of them torn from the embrace of their loved ones to avoid contagion. Every one of them facing the possibility of unaccompanied death. Every one of them fearful and looking for reassurances when there are none that can be given.rainyday copy

No nurse, doctor, paramedic, law enforcement officer should ever be charged with deciding, beyond triage, who lives and who dies in such tragic circumstances. How can these courageous heroes and heroines, whose mission it is to heal and to save, not forever bear the mark of witnessing a last word or a final faltering breath? How can they not find themselves haunted by the memory of all their eyes have seen, their ears have heard, their hearts have held? Where do they go, where can they go, with their pain?

It is their anguish I’m carrying this morning as I cross the pavement, stoop down, and save the ones I can.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Listen to your body.
Name how you feel today: worried, content, happy, fearful, angry, weary, etc.
Share your emotions with the Holy One who is listening.
Ask for the grace you need for this day.
When you finish your reflection, share your feelings with a friend, neighbor, or family member, as you wish.

IMAGES:
Pinterest.com
livewallpaper.info
taborsyard.blogspot.com

NOTE:
Please hold in your prayer a stay-at-home project I’m working on with others for the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. It’s a series of recorded presentations to be offered as part of live Zoom sessions, “God’s Deepening Life in Me.” Thank you.  

On a personal note, I’m so grateful for all of the prayer offerings that have been created in this time of social distancing. May we all continue to be safe and well these days. 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Here, with Love

franklin_trees_01 copy

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM       April 17, 2020

In these days when it may feel as if the very air we breathe is a potential enemy, when  the familiar ground under our feet is unstable and shaky, I’ve been mining some questions: What is my role in the healing of the world? How do I carry the pain and grief of the pandemic without collapsing under the weight of that burden, without surrendering my own wholeness and well-being? How am I to be that will make some difference in our world?

I’m not a healthcare worker, a first responder, an employee in an essential business. Like many, I’m staying at home these days and holding in my heart and prayer all who are suffering due to the effects of COVID-19. But beyond that prayerful and faithful remembrance, I wonder, what does this time of pandemic call from me?

I packed up that question and carried it with me into my daily walk as I took a day off away from my usual work. Light rain was falling so I parked my car in the local high school lot and strolled close by. There was just one other car around, a woman inside staring at her phone. I wondered if this was perhaps her only chance at stillness, sitting in a car by herself in the middle of an empty parking lot. I waved a blessing to her for whatever had brought her to this place.

I started to walk but quickly realized I wouldn’t get far. After a night of rain, earthworms had left the safe haven of the grass and were strewn across the asphalt. Part of my spiritual practice is picking up any struggling living things who find themselves stranded and delivering them to safety. This stooping down and picking up made for very slow going, and my efforts were received with resistance as every earthworm tried to wriggle its body out of my grasp. But I persisted and eventually deposited each worm on a grassy stretch of soil. Now, I thought, at least some of them would be spared a slow death when the moisture on the parking lot dried up later in the day.

I came home to take a load of laundry out of the washing machine. Sleeves and pant legs were inside out. Pants and shirts clung together in a tight embrace. I gently smoothed and separated each of them. I made a few phone calls to fragile or worried friends and family, listening to their stories of fear, anxiety, concerns for the future. I responded with attentiveness to emails inquiring about calendar changes for retreats and presentations. I offered spiritual guidance online. I took a virtual tour of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. I chopped a shallot, marveling at its purple veins, then fried it with some leftover baked potato for lunch.spiritualcleaningbucketflowers copy

And then I sat down to what I had considered the real work of this day off, writing my blog post. Only now I realized that what had been in front of me all morning was actually a response to the question I carried, a deep knowing that my role in the healing of the world is simply to live with consciousness so I can be the presence of Love. Present to the cries of human pain and loss I had held in my heart and prayer. Present to the stranger sitting alone in her car on a rainy day. Present to the struggle of unruly earthworms. Present to the tangled confusion of my laundry. Present to the faces on the other end of the phone or the other end of cyberspace. Present to the unfolding sacred story of another. Present to the saving beauty of the arts. Present to the generosity of shallots and potatoes giving their lives over in love for me.

I confess that in my younger years I was often puzzled by the spirituality of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. How, I wondered, could picking up a pin with love and attentiveness—an act that seemed so insignificant–ever change the world? How grateful I am now, so many decades later, to slowly discover what she intuited in her twenties: That the seemingly small elements of a day are graced invitations when entered into with consciousness and compassion. That it is we ourselves being transformed by paying attention to the Holy One at work in our hearts, in our world. That sometimes breathing the energies of love into universes great and small is all we can do. And sometimes, it is everything.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Gently review your day so far.
Where have you noticed yourself acting with generosity, care, compassion?
Thank the Holy One for the graces of this day, and ask for even greater spaciousness of heart for tomorrow.

P.S.
Today, when I was about to post my blog, I came across this glorious, sweet poem from Jane Hirshfield, one of my favorite poets. I think it speaks beautifully to today’s blog post so I’m adding it here as a bonus for all of us:

blackant copy

When I Could Do Nothing
by Jane Hirshfield

Today, when I could do nothing,
I saved an ant.
It must have come in with the morning paper,
still being delivered
to those who shelter in place.
A morning paper is still an essential service.
I am not an essential service.
I have coffee and books,
time,
a garden,
silence enough to fill cisterns.
It must have first walked
the morning paper, as if loosened ink
taking the shape of an ant.
Then across the laptop computer — warm —
then onto the back of a cushion.
Small black ant, alone,
crossing a navy cushion,
moving steadily because that is what it could do.
Set outside in the sun,
it could not have found again its nest.
What then did I save?
It did not move as if it was frightened,
even while walking my hand,
which moved it through swiftness and air.
Ant, alone, without companions,
whose ant-heart I could not fathom—
how is your life, I wanted to ask.
I lifted it, took it outside.
This first day when I could do nothing,
contribute nothing
beyond staying distant from my own kind,
I did this.

NOTE:
Please join me in setting an intention to prayerfully remember our fragile world and its suffering people during this pandemic. Whoever you are, wherever you are, and however you are at this moment, know yourself held in love and tenderness through the days ahead. 

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!

 

 

 

 

Surprise! It’s the Ordinary Things

Holy Week crosses copy

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM      April 3, 2020

My choices during these days of social distancing and staying in place have offered some surprises. Besides holding in tender prayer the collective suffering of our world and praying intensely for our first responders, medical and support staff, the newly unemployed, the small business owners, those ill or dying from COVID-19 and those who love them, I’m one of the privileged few who are able to work from home and am using this time for retreat planning and writing assignments. I’ve not yet straightened out my sock drawer, entered into deep cleaning of my apartment, or downsized my expansive files—that, I suspect, will be coming—but I have just completed something I’ve been meaning to do for at least the past five years: planning my own wake service and funeral liturgy.EPSON MFP image

I’m not ill or overtaken by premonition. What I am at this moment is given to gratitude. To sit with and break open anew the riches of songs, poems, and Scripture that have given my life meaning is like writing a spiritual autobiography, a looking back and seeing my life as whole instead of lived piece by piece. My companion during this time is Carrie Newcomer’s question that will not let me go: “How do I find beauty and what is unbroken in a landscape that must always include broken things?”

For me, this time of planning is marked by empathy and a fresh understanding. I’ve sung each song aloud as it filters through my phone and sound system. I’ve savored every word of every poem that has nourished me—oh, they are so many!—feeling the words roll around in my mouth, tasting their sweetness, naming how they have let mystery in, how they have animated, inspired, consoled, and healed me. I’ve felt in my body why Mary Oliver calls these words “fires for the cold, ropes let down for the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.” I have been warmed, saved, and fed, and I am so in love, all over again.

The real gift of this time and this reflection has been the re-discovering of something that I already knew: that what I cherish most, what I will most keenly miss from this world that is so very dear to me, are not the big moments of my life, but the sweet and tender things we might describe as ordinary. The wrapping of a loved one’s arms around us. The wordless understanding between friends. The hush of dawn as we hold a steaming cup of coffee or tea and enter into prayerful stillness. The way we are startled, the way we sit up and take notice when music pours over us and shakes our soul. The scent of lavender or honeysuckle or mock orange wafting over us on any summer day. The awe that overcomes and silences us when we stand before a crimson sunset. The lullaby of waves gently breaking on shore. The list is endless.

In so many ways, this time has afforded me the chance to reflect on my own version of Linda Pastan’s poem, “The Almanac of Last Things”:

“From the almanac of last things
I choose the spider lily
for the grace of its brief
blossom, though I myself
fear brevity,

but I choose The Song of Songs
because the flesh
of those pomegranates
has survived
all the frost of dogma.

I choose January with its chill
lessons of patience and despair–and
August, too sun-struck for lessons.
I choose a thimbleful of red wine
to make my heart race,

then another to help me
sleep. From the almanac
of last things I choose you,
as I have done before.
And I choose evening

because the light clinging
to the window
is at its most reflective
just as it is ready
to go out.”

Empty tomb

My almanac of last thing is rich with delight and hope and profound gratefulness. Maybe that’s because, in our shared time of loss and pain and uncertainty, I still have to believe, with Louis Armstrong, what a wonderful world this is.

Skip the ad and take a moment to sit with his loving reminder here.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Spend some moments naming some of the “last things” you cherish.
Savor these ordinary things and reflect on why they are precious to you.
Give thanks to the Holy One who has blessed your life with reasons to be grateful.

NOTE:
We continue to hold in tenderness and prayer all those suffering from the impact of COVID-19. As we continue to practice safe social distancing, we may be grieving our inability to celebrate Holy Week and Easter in person, but we can be consoled in knowing that there are no boundaries to our consciousness and our loving prayer. Please join me in breathing our intention to collectively bless our beautiful and broken world. May we all experience the fullness of new life this Easter and in the days to come. 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mining for Gold

meditatebeachG copy

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    March 20, 2020

Sometimes the very element that can inspire, call us to awe, or put into perspective what’s happening around us is the one thing we don’t see because our focus is solely and entirely elsewhere.

I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, but a visit there is on my bucket list. I haven’t yet met anyone who traveled to that natural site and left without feeling something close to humility and awe in the presence of the canyon’s vastness and stunning beauty. But in More Together Than Alone, Mark Nepo relates that in 1540, Captain García López de Cárdenas, with the aid of Hopi guides, led Spanish soldiers down the magnificent rim of what we now call the Grand Canyon. He had been charged with finding the legendary Seven Cities of Cibola, which were rumored to be cities of gold.Gold coins

Nepo relates that the soldiers, not finding what they were looking for, “turned their backs on one of the world’s natural wonders and left. They showed no interest in the culture or wisdom of the Hopi nation or the Zuni people who had created the Seven Cities of Cibola. They only had one form of gold in mind.”

And so they left. And turned their backs. And failed to notice other kinds of gold right in front of them. Intent on only one thing, they were blinded to both the magnificence of the Grand Canyon and the cultural treasures of the Hope nation and Zuni people.

How might this story speak to us at a time when the attention of the global community is focused on the corona virus, COVID-19? Of course our attention rightly needs to be on following all the measures of vigilant self-protection, of caring for ourselves and for others in ways that prevent the spread of this highly contagious disease. And these practices must continue, along with our prayer for all those whose lives have been upended.

At the same time, we don’t want to miss another reality. Life as we know it has changed dramatically, but if our focus is only and entirely on the virus and nothing else, we risk being blinded to a form of gold right in front of us: acts of heroism and compassion and altruism and beauty unfolding in the midst of this pandemic and in our cherished histories.

How are we meant to be in a time of crisis? The witness of artists and spiritual leaders–and often they are one and the same—offers a response. We’re reminded of Paul Robeson, whose passport to travel into Canada was revoked because of his outspokenness during the civil rights movement. Denied the ability to cross that border, he parked himself at the crossing and sang across the boundaries from the U.S. to Canada. His body remained in the U.S. but his voice knew no restrictions.

We’re reminded of Vedran Smailovic, cellist with the Sarajevo Orchestra, who, on the day after the bombing of a bakery that killed 22 desperate people lined up for a crust of bread for their families, sat himself down in the rubble and played Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor. He did this for 22 days in remembrance of the 22 people killed. The citizens of Sarajevo credit him with helping them to endure the siege of their city, keeping alive the hope that peace and beauty would one day return.

We’re reminded of Yo Yo Ma, seated in the shadow of a Texas border crossing into Mexico, sending the music of Bach to listeners gathered on both sides. He imagined it as a cultural bridge, an experience of beauty uniting both the people of Mexico and the people of the United States during a time of division and separateness.

We’re reminded of a nameless woman who, during an oppressive regime, boldly stepped out of a crowd, smiled, and placed a flower into the barrel of a soldier’s gun as he marched by.

These memorable acts of beauty are also acts of defiance. They are the artists’ way of reminding us that current realities, no matter how seemingly full of hopelessness, are not ultimate, that current realities are not the last word spoken from a bleak landscape. It’s not easy to remain hopeful in times of crisis, but these acts of defiance, these acts of creating the beautiful, are the artists’ emphatic refusal to give in to despair.violet lavender copy

They are a reminder that even in these times, or in any time of crisis, beauty is all around us, if only we can see. We may find it in a Skype or Zoom chat, a phone call, a book, song, film, or video, a walk outside, a budding tree, a blooming house plant, and so much more. So in the midst of our new normal, what will we choose to notice, create, imagine, experience, or pay attention to today?

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
In the quiet, notice your breath.
Begin to intentionally inhale and exhale at a slower pace.
Sit with this slow breathing as you call to mind an experience of beauty.
Savor the memory and breathe with awareness for several minutes.
Place your trust in the Holy One and close with a deep breath.

IMAGES:
english.manoramaonline.com
Chris Koellhoffer

NOTE:
Please hold in your prayer all who would have been part of any retreats or presentations I expected to be leading in March and April, as well as the groups or centers hosting those gatherings. For the safety and well-being of participants, those events have been canceled. May we all experience peace, good health, and moments of beauty during the coming days.

 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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presuming the Hidden Hurt

heart hidden hurt copy

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM      March 6, 2020

There are stories that delight us, stories that touch us, and then there are stories that grab our souls and won’t let go. Such stories haunt us. Such stories compel us to enter into deep inner soul work. Such stories challenge us to transform attitudes and behaviors. This is one of those stories. Because of the sensitive, personal nature of what’s being shared, names used in this true story have been changed.

Michael and his wife, Cathy, shared every expectant parent’s joy: waiting for the arrival of their first child. Cathy had a pregnancy that seemed perfect and reassuring in every way, but towards the end of nine months, she noticed a subtle change, the kind a mother would immediately recognize: it seemed that her baby was no longer moving. Her worst fear was confirmed by her doctor, and that devastating news was followed by a second shock. Even though this baby—this child of their hopes and dreams—would be stillborn, Cathy would still have to endure labor and delivery. The child of their longing would come into the world lifeless and without breath.heartbrokenstone copy

Michael remained with Cathy all through the hours of pushing and pain until the moment when they could both hold their beautiful little girl. Through tears and self-searching, they wondered how this could happen. They had done everything possible to insure the safety and well-being of their baby. How could she be dead when she looked so perfect and blissfully asleep?  It seemed the only response to their unanswerable questions was mourning and weeping.

That evening, Michael left the hospital, beaten down, emotionally drained, exhausted. He stopped at a supermarket to pick up a few items for Cathy. Lost in grief, he parked his car and threw the door open, accidentally nicking the door of the car parked next to him in the lot. The owner of that car happened to be sitting inside, got out to inspect the small dent, and launched a torrent of accusations at Michael. Threats about carelessness, damage done, and the cost of repairs. Angry words poured over Michael as he stood there, numbed into silence. As the barrage continued, he began to cry, to weep for the enormity of his loss, to grieve for promises shattered, to lament the unfairness of it all. The other man, taken aback, stopped shouting long enough to ask, “Are you okay?” And Michael choked out the only response he could manage, “I just came from the hospital. My baby is dead. My baby is dead.”

What response is possible in the face of such naked truth? What hardened heart could compare the two losses as equal: a barely perceptible nick in a car door and a dead, lifeless baby? Shamed into silence, the angry driver mumbled his condolences, jumped into his car, and departed as quickly as he could.

For some thirty years I have carried that story around with me as a reminder of the fragility of us all. A reminder to approach others, those familiar to us and those we’re just meeting, with great care and tender reverence. A reminder that we are all broken,  wounded, and in some way carrying loss around with us. Our scars may be years old or  terribly new and fresh. They may be wounds barely acknowledged and not easily seen or discovered. But I believe this is one of the few instances when we can and should presume, presume that side by side with experiences of the beautiful sit stories of grief or shame or failure or dismissal in the hearts of those we encounter, in their often untold histories.heartekg copy

May we walk on this holy ground in the company of the Holy One who walks beside and among us. May we be open to and recognize the beautiful yet wounded world we each carry within. May we be compassion.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Call to mind the pain of a person(s) you know and for whom you have concern.
Bless them and ask for healing energy for them.
Ask the Holy One to also bless the many in our world who are struggling with suffering of any kind.
Give thanks to the Holy One for the gift of accompaniment.

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

March 6-8:  It’s my privilege to be one of the guest directors for a Directed Prayer Weekend at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth in Wernersville, PA. Thank you.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kindness Remains

diversity hands design

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   February 23, 2020

The Australia brush fires have left in their wake not only catastrophic and irreplaceable losses in the human, animal, and plant kingdoms, but also enduring acts of kindness offered by those same communities. We’ve witnessed images of firefighters risking their lives to rescue endangered residents running from billowing flames. Border collies shepherding stunned koalas away from the fires. Wombats welcoming other animal species into the safety of their underground burrows. Perhaps we’ve also noticed that, in times of crisis, in the big issues of life, whatever differences we harbor seem to dissolve into expressions of help and support. No matter how long ago we may have been on the receiving end of such goodness, the memory of kindnesses past lingers with us.

Today might be a day to recall the heartswell, the quickening of spirit, the inner gratitude such experiences unleash. Today might also be an invitation to sit with a prayerful remembering of those who have blessed us with such profound kindness.tablechairs

In the late 1990’s, I had moved into an apartment for the first time and was shopping for furniture to supplement the basics that family, friends, and community had given me. I needed two wooden chairs to accompany the small table I already had, so I stopped in to a furniture chain store and immediately experienced sticker shock. Clearly, my meager budget was no match for the displays in the showroom. As I was about to leave, a sales clerk approached to ask if I needed assistance. There were other customers in the store waiting to buy complete bedroom and dining sets, but this man listened with such attentiveness to my minor request that I felt as if I were his only concern of the day.

“Wait here, please,” he said, and disappeared, returning minutes later with two elegant wooden chairs. He confided that I was doing him a favor because, “Everyone else wants only sets of four chairs so these two have been sitting in our storeroom for a long time.” And then, as I held my breath, he quoted a price that comfortably matched the cash I had in my wallet. X-ray vision? Or a heart that took in the hopeful longing on my face?

I’ll never know, but nearly ten years later, I was once again visiting that furniture chain but in a different location. As I browsed the displays, I heard a man talking on the other side of the store and thought his voice sounded familiar. Could it be? I walked over and quietly asked the sales clerk if he had ever worked in the Bayonne store.

“Yes,” he answered, looking puzzled. So I shared my memory of how his kindness had allowed me to keep my dignity at a time when I had very limited means, how his attentiveness left me feeling heard and respected and a bit more at home in a strange new city. As I spoke, he began to weep, and I was concerned that my story had disturbed him.

“Oh, no!” he insisted. And then he proceeded to tell me that this week was his last before beginning his retirement. Although he was looking forward to the future, the transition had also surfaced some troubling questions in his soul. He wondered, had his lifelong job of selling tables and chairs and sofas, this work that supported his family, had a lasting impact? Had his faithfulness to showing up and treating customers with respect and fairness made any difference in his city? Had his efforts to be a listening presence to everyone he encountered brought meaning in some way to the larger world? Yes, yes, and yes, I answered. Because on a seemingly ordinary day in a seemingly ordinary place, the practice of kindness not only stays with us but also blesses and expands and continues out into the universe. Kindness remains.Heartmadeofhearts copy

Kindness, I believe, is one of the litmus tests of how we bear witness to the Holy among us: in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), where compassion is expressed by crossing to the other side of the road to dress wounds; in the challenge of the Last Judgement (Matthew 25:31-40) where our ability to recognize the divine in suffering neighbors is a measuring stick of holiness; in the pouring of water into a basin (John 13:1-5), the washing and drying of the disciples’ feet, the final tender gesture of service by a person who knew his hour had come and who loved to the very end. In the day-to-day embodiment of the words, “You are here. That is good. You are not here. The fragrance remains.”

Long after the wildfires have been extinguished by the collective heroics of others, long after every story of pain or doubt or utter heartache has been listened to with unwavering attention, long after the last customer has purchased the last chair from the last store, we will remember how beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it, how beautiful a life can be when love surrounds it.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Prayerfully reflect on a memory of a kindness shown to you.
How did that kindness look? sound? feel?
Bask in the remembering.
Offer your thanks and bless the person(s) who offered you such a gift.
Ask the Holy One to deepen your practice of kindness in all your encounters today.

NOTE:
As we enter into the season of Lent, know that I’m profoundly grateful for your kindness and support of me and my writing for Mining the Now. You and your intentions are held in my heart and in my prayers of gratitude. Lenten blessings!

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!