Leaning Towards a Larger Heart

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   February 23, 2019

There can be something of a hierarchy in ranking the desirability of neighbors of any kind. When it comes to the insect world, fuzzy bumblebees and butterflies might be near the top of the list.  But roaches, gnats, mosquitoes? What was the God of creation
thinking when they came into being? Add to that undesirable listing the stink bug family, 95% of which, according to today’s news, will be wiped out by the polar vortex if they’re unable to find warm shelter this winter. Knowing how unpopular agricultural pests are, I suspect there are few who might mourn that statistic.IMG_2017 copy

As someone who grew up surrounded by the wonders of creation spirituality, I tend to hold a tender spot for all of God’s creatures. When stink bugs occasionally appear in my apartment during cold weather, I pretty much leave them in peace, not so much out of an abundance of compassion as a leaning toward practicality. After all, I figure, their days are limited, so why not simply avoid stepping on them and give them a comfortable and safe spot in which to live their last moments on earth?

Strange as it may seem, this winter of living in peaceful cohabitation with an occasional insect roommate or two has offered me a learning. My careful, tentative coexistence with the much maligned stink bug has invited me into ruminations on a parallel experience in the human world. What must it be like, I wonder, to go through one’s life reviled, threatened, or shunned. To be the teenager in the school cafeteria socially ostracized and banished to a table for one. To be the child struggling to stand up under the weight of ongoing verbal abuse that destroys all sense of worth. To be the lonely adult whose unfounded reputation eliminates any possibility of experiencing spaciousness of heart. To be the refugee not understanding the language but accurately translating the tone of unwelcome underneath it. To be those people on the receiving end of bullying, name calling, ridicule, shaming, or worst of all, indifference.

In Jesus’ time, to be a leper, prostitute, tax collector, or foreigner was to be “those people.” To be designated as physically, mentally, spiritually, financially less. To be branded as poor, without power, prestige, or a voice. To be perceived as different, a misfit, vulnerable, outside the acceptable margins. That’s what it meant then to be “those people.” That’s also what it means today.

But to be among “those people” also meant that you had a unique relationship and home in the tender heart of Jesus. You had a reserved seat of honor at his banquet table. You held onto a deep knowing that you were branded not with the mark of a loser but with the sign of the beloved.

In an interview with Krista Tippett, Greg Boyle, SJ, the founder of Homeboy Industries, a ministry with former gang members, remarked that “the measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins [‘those people’] but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship” with them. “So how,” he asked, “can we seek a compassion that can stand in awe of what people have to carry, rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it?” That’s a question to mine for the rest of our lives.Heartradiating copy

“Those people” is a grouping in which no one desires membership. May we instead be about authentic relationship. May we align ourselves with God’s dream for our world where the category of “those people” no longer exists because they have become our people, in kinship with all. May we, with God’s grace, cultivate a larger heart that will move us from separation to communion today and always.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on a person or group currently branded “outsider.”
Welcome them into your prayer.
Place them and yourself in the heart of God.
Sit together in silence and in gratitude in that holy place.

NOTE:

Thank you to the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, NY for a graced retreat last week, and thank you to all who supported us in prayer.

May I ask you now to hold in your prayer a day of presentation and process I’m leading on March 2 for the women and men religious of the Diocese of Brooklyn, NY and the Diocese of Rockville Centre, NY. Thank you!

 

To automatically receive a new blog as soon as it’s posted:

Go to the beginning of this current blog.
As you scroll down slowly, you will see the word, “Follow”, in the lower right hand corner.
Click on “Follow” and a form will appear for you to fill in your email address.
After you do that, you’ll receive an email asking you to verify your address.
Click on this link, and you’ll receive a confirmation that you’re now automatically subscribed.

Please note that if you’re reading the blog on your phone, you may not see the word “Follow.”  Try reading it on a PC or laptop and you should have no problem subscribing.

Thanks for signing on and Following!

 

Knowing Our Own Beauty

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  February 9, 2019

What do you see when you look in a mirror, in both the external glass looking back at you and the inner reflection mirrored within your heart?

eyewithheartWhen I worked as a communications director, I noticed several responses to this question. Seldom without a camera in hand, I observed how much people appreciated viewing photos. In scrutinizing pictures of a group in which they were included, individuals would often praise other members in the photo, complimenting them on their appearance. Those same individuals, however, would sometimes be highly critical of their own image, harping on what they perceived as flaws. This response happened with such frequency that it led me to wonder, what sets us up to be reluctant or hesitant in acknowledging our own beauty, both inner and outer? What makes us blind to the amazing creation each of us is?

One of the wisdom figures in my life witnessed for me a way of looking at herself with a healthy self-love while at the same time praising God’s artistry. She related that, when she gets up at dawn and stumbles out of bed, her daily practice is to look at her face in the bathroom mirror and greet what she sees with this pronouncement: “Good morning, beautiful!”

“Good morning, beautiful!” Perhaps the 15th century Indian poet, Kabir, was thinking along those lines when he wrote, “If a mirror ever makes you sad, you should know that it does not know you.” Another mystic, Catherine of Siena, spoke of the unintentional insult we direct to the Holy One when we criticize our appearance and worth and dismiss God’s handiwork:

“What is it
You want to change?
Your hair, your face, your body?
Why?

For God is
in love with all those things
and He might weep
when they are gone.”

If we believe we’re the creation of the Holy One, why not move away from destructive self-criticism and move towards praising and giving thanks for what God has brought to birth in us? Why not imagine the utter delight of the Creator as the divine artist pauses to contemplate what love has brought into existence in us? Why not pray and worship with the words of Alan Cohen:

“Dear God,
please help me to recognize
the truth about myself,
no matter how beautiful it is.”

One of the most powerful images of God’s delight in us appeared in a video clip that captured a baby held in his mother’s arms. For several minutes, the little one gazed at his mother with unblinking eyes as his mother returned the same ecstatic expression towards the child of her womb. In their uninterrupted gaze, I saw joy, of course, contentment and astonishment, yes. But also something else, something that could only be named pure, unfiltered, unmistakable adoration and worship. Love looking at Love. Beauty gazing at Beauty. On some deep, primal, intuitive level, the baby looking into the face of his mother and his mother returning that rapt gaze revealed the awe and delight with which the Holy One gazes at us.

The poet Hafiz described this as God saying,
“I am made whole by your life.
Each soul,
Each soul completes me.”

EarthheartcopyThis is Holy Mystery indeed! That we complete the Holy One’s creation. That we help to make whole and bring to fullness the divine artistry. Me. You. Every person made in the image and likeness of the Holy One. So let’s name this for what it is, aware that no matter what is happening in our lives, no matter what choices, regrets, shame, and brokenness we might be carrying, we are still and always a thing of beauty in the eyes of the Holy One.

Our challenge, it seems, is to see with the vision of the Divine. To see from the perspective of the creation account in the Book of Genesis. There, God gazes at everything created by Love. God sees that it is good. Very good. Good and beautiful and beloved. So it is, and so are we.

Takeaway

You might want to practice this while gazing into a mirror.
Settle yourself in stillness with the Holy One.
Take a long, loving look at your image as created by God.
Give thanks that in the eyes of the Holy, you are beloved.
Greet yourself as a reflection of the Beautiful One.
Bring that insight to everyone you see this day.

NOTE:
Thank you for your prayer for all who were present for the Directed Prayer Weekend at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville.

Please now hold in your prayer the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, NY who will be part of a guided retreat I’ll be leading February 11-15. Thank you.

To automatically receive a new blog as soon as it’s posted:
Go to the beginning of this current blog.
As you scroll down slowly, you will see the word, “Follow”, in the lower right hand corner.
Click on “Follow” and a form will appear for you to fill in your email address.
After you do that, you’ll receive an email asking you to verify your address.
Click on this link, and you’ll receive a confirmation that you’re now automatically subscribed.

Please note that if you’re reading the blog on your phone, you may not see the word “Follow.”  Try reading it on a PC or laptop and you should have no problem subscribing.

Thanks for signing on and Following!

 

 

Finding a Way in the Wilderness

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  January 25, 2019

The desert isn’t the only place where we may experience wilderness. Sometimes a heavy snow or torrential rain or a blinding dust storm can provide an equally powerful stand-in for the places where we struggle to find both our way and our enlightenment.frozen water copy

A few months ago, I was among the many in Northeast Pennsylvania caught in a quick moving blizzard that unfortunately coincided with the evening rush hour traffic. Very quickly I realized that I was in a frighteningly dangerous perfect storm. Sleet and snow pummeled us so fiercely that highways became treacherous and visibility severely limited. For the last three miles of my commute I was basically driving blind, unable to see the road or any landmarks in front of me, hindered by windshield wipers totally encased in chunks of ice. I feared for my life and my safety and for the safety of other travelers around me and I unleashed some pretty desperate prayers into the universe. I’m deeply grateful that I eventually arrived home with my car intact.

My emotions took a bit longer to settle. And the memory of being truly powerless, unsure of the way forward, wondering if I would ever come out safely on the other side has invited me to sit with some parallels in the life of the spirit.

Around that time, a comment from a wise friend with whom I shared a spiritual struggle opened a window for me. My friend remarked that sometimes when we can’t see what is ahead, we feel lost but we’re not—we’re actually a little bewildered.

Bewildered. I had never thought of the word in that sense. So immediately I searched for its root. “Bewilder” is derived from the roots be + wilder, (to cause to become lost), or be (thoroughly) + wilder (to lead astray, to lead into the wild). So to be bewildered is to be utterly confused, puzzled, mystified, flustered, disconcerted, and yes—speaking to my travel experience–even snowed, for to snow under is to be utterly overwhelmed, to be bewildered.

When we think of Jesus going into the wilderness of the desert (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13), we remember he was tempted to exhibit hubris, to claim power, wealth, prestige. We can imagine he experienced all of the feelings that we sometimes share in other forms of the wilderness of the spirit. The sense of being lost. The sense of standing utterly alone. The sense that there is no clear, uncomplicated way forward. The sense that all the old and familiar maps and road signs no longer work in the strange new terrain in which we find ourselves. When we’re in a wilderness space, we may long to fast forward from Point A to the end of the story where the devil departs and angels arrive to minister to Jesus (Matthew 4:11). We may overlook the fact that, in Luke’s account, the devil ends his tempting and leaves Jesus, but only for a while (Luke 4:13). Whether we name it by geography—desert, blizzard, fog—or state of the heart—dryness, despair, confusion, uncertainty—the wilderness is not usually a place we desire to be.

And yet, in my own spiritual direction and in my companioning of others, I’ve discovered that the wilderness can be a powerful teacher, offering us lessons we may not be able to arrive at any other way. In the wilderness, we learn total dependence and trust in the Holy One. We learn there’s no escape, no detour, to distract us from an honest look into our own places of lack. Stripped of the usual supports and landmarks and staying with the difficult practice of deep inner soul work, we learn in the wilderness to see with a fresh clarity and perspective.

In “Desert Listening”, Wendy M. Wright notes of the early desert fathers and mothers that, “the greater and more difficult journey was not from the cities of the Roman Empire to the solitudes of Egypt, Syria, or Palestine; it was through the crooked pathways of the heart. To make those pathways straight for the advent of the Lord was the spiritual struggle of the wilderness.”

That is our spiritual struggle as well. Perhaps we’ve journeyed into the wilderness many times during our lives. Perhaps we are there now. Perhaps we’ve honed some of the skills of wilderness survival: profound trust in a God whose love is constant and unconditional; the company of wise and experienced wilderness guides who can listen and hear beneath and beyond the words we utter; faithfulness to the practice of prayer even when and especially when we feel like a mound of dry and brittle bones.buddingcrocusinsnow copy

As we plant ourselves in a state of discernment and attentive listening to Mystery, may time spent in the wilderness deepen our consciousness of the Holy One’s faithful presence, the Holy One forever at work in our wild and precious lives.

 

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Recall an experience of being in the wilderness.
What did that space feel like, look like, sound like?
Who or what accompanied you in your confusion and uncertainty?
Who showed you the face of a loving God?
Give thanks for holy companions and for the enduring presence of the Holy One in your life both then and now.

NOTE:

Thank you for your prayerful remembrance of all those who are part of the Directed Prayer Weekend January 25-27 at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA.

To automatically receive a new blog as soon as it’s posted:

Go to the beginning of this current blog.
As you scroll down slowly, you will see the word, “Follow”, in the lower right hand corner.
Click on “Follow” and a form will appear for you to fill in your email address.
After you do that, you’ll receive an email asking you to verify your address.
Click on this link, and you’ll receive a confirmation that you’re now automatically subscribed.

Please note that if you’re reading the blog on your phone, you may not see the word “Follow.”  Try reading it on a PC or laptop and you should have no problem subscribing.

Thanks for signing on and Following!

Holding Fast to the Heavens

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  January 12, 2019

Watching the news coverage one evening, I heard myself say aloud to an empty room, “Nevertheless, it moves.” For years, I’ve adopted this mantra from the creative genius, Galileo. It’s a truth detector of sorts for me and seems to name the discrepancy between what is publicly being stated and the subtext that I intuit to be closer to the truth.earth copy2

Even though Galileo and I live centuries apart, I feel an unexplainable kinship to this
man who’s best known for promoting the Copernican view of our place in the cosmos. Galileo insisted that, in spite of everything humankind might want to believe, we on planet Earth are not in fact the center of the universe. In a sun-centered universe, all things do not revolve around us. It’s easy to understand how such a paradigm shift, this new way of looking at ourselves and describing ourselves in relationship to our solar system, created an uproar and won Galileo far more enemies and detractors than supporters.

The Church of the 17th century commanded Galileo to desist in spreading his theory that the Earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around. When he didn’t, he was summoned to trial, condemned as a heretic, and threatened with torture unless he recanted. To spare himself excruciating pain, Galileo publicly let go of his finding that the sun was stationary and the planets, including Earth, revolved around it. But I do so love the story that, after his public recanting, Galileo muttered under his breath, “Nevertheless, it moves.” Translation: your narrative is far too limited to encompass what my heart knows to be true.

Following his trial, Galileo was sentenced to house arrest for the remainder of his days, a sentence far more harsh than it might be in our day when technology allows us to stay connected with the world wherever we may be. And that’s where the wondering comes in for me. I wonder what his remaining ten years of solitude were like for this man.

In the face of public shame and scorn by the authorities of his time and most probably the distancing of family and friends, was Galileo able to settle into a place of peace, unshaken in his belief in what his research and reflection had concluded, his eyes had seen, and his heart had intuited? Like prisoners of conscience languishing without a release date, like persons who have received a terminal diagnosis or seen a dream destroyed, an idea silenced, a cherished vision ridiculed and trampled into the dust, how did Galileo keep hope alive in the time remaining to him? How do we? What sustained him and what sustains us to keep believing that present realities, no matter how despair-filled they may seem, are not the final word?

I don’t know the answer for Galileo but I hope that, without receiving any vindication or affirmation during his last decade, he was able to hold onto hope as Langston Hughes might have admonished him:

Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly. 

I hope he held on tight. I hope he continued to fly. I like to imagine that he, like all of us in the face of ridicule, dismissal, or silencing, held fast and that he knew himself, that we know ourselves, as God’s beloved.  I like to imagine that Galileo, who’s also credited with popularizing the use of the telescope to study the heavens, made a practice of carrying his telescope to the roof of the house where he was held captive those last ten years of his life. That he trained the telescope on the midnight sky, watched and waited and noticed. That he who had pointed to the heavens and glimpsed what was up there looking back at him did not, could not return to the limits of the clearly defined world of his time. That he found some solace in knowing that, in spite of what anyone else had concluded, he was forever deeply connected and immersed in a universe rich with Mystery.2014africandust_vir_2014175_lrg-1024x768 copy

I wonder if, during the dark night, he stood in awed silence and made a prayer of the heavens telling the glory of God. I wonder if, during the afternoon heat, he felt the sun warming his face and read it as a blessing. I wonder if he anchored his feet on the ground, felt the immensity of the Earth, and whispered, “Nevertheless, it moves.”

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on what gives you hope and helps to keep it alive.
If you’re struggling to remain hopeful in the face of the world’s indifference or cruelty, share this with the Holy One and ask for sustaining grace.
If possible, spend some time outside today being blessed by the sun, the sky, the Earth.

NOTE:
Thank you for continuing to hold in your prayer my entering into these January days as a time of deep reflection, writing, and planning for future retreats. 

Please also remember all those will be part of a Directed Prayer Weekend, for which I’ll serve as one of the directors, at the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, Wernersville, PA, January 25-27. Thank you.

To automatically receive a new blog as soon as it’s posted:

Go to the beginning of this current blog.
As you scroll down slowly, you will see the word, “Follow”, in the lower right hand corner.
Click on “Follow” and a form will appear for you to fill in your email address.
After you do that, you’ll receive an email asking you to verify your address.
Click on this link, and you’ll receive a confirmation that you’re now automatically subscribed.

Please note that if you’re reading the blog on your phone, you may not see the word “Follow.”  Try reading it on a PC or laptop and you should have no problem subscribing.

Thanks for signing on and Following!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choosing a New Year

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  December 29, 2018

We’ve only recently celebrated Christmas, a time when we reflect on how the Holy One took on our human condition in Jesus. Our flesh. Our human body with all its beauty and glory. Our flesh with its limitations and restrictions. Our flesh beloved of God. Our flesh susceptible to weakness, fatigue, illness, heartache, disappointment even as we are the beloved of God and made in the image of the Holy.Starsinsky copy

The Christmas season is full of such contrasts. Just as we’re experiencing the coming of Emmanuel, entering the spirit of rejoicing and hope and promise, we’re thrown into the horror of the unimaginable: the slaughter of fragile and cherished little ones at the command of a tyrannical king. So soon after we’ve settled in to the peace of the Nativity scene, we’re jarred into a return to the reality that this world we humans inhabit is at one and the same time both beautiful and broken. The Magi’s choice to follow the star, to share with Herod the exact time the star had appeared, and then to bypass Herod on their way home set in motion the butchering of every male toddler in the city of Bethlehem. We don’t know if the Magi ever learned that their action had catastrophic consequences. But it did, as Kate Compston writes in Bread of Tomorrow,

“And yet,
in following their star, the star
that was to lead them to
engagement of the soul (their own),
they blundered mightily and set in train
the massacre of many innocents.”

I see this reality in my ministry as a spiritual guide. I often sit with and accompany people who are haunted by or anxious about choices made many years ago, choices whose unintended consequences become more visible with the passage of time. These may be choices made in anger or fear or haste, but they may also be choices made with every effort of discernment, prayerfully, thoughtfully, from a space of deep listening.

Embedded in our human DNA, it seems, is a longing to be certain that we’re choosing rightly and wisely. We hear echoes of this concern in the plaintive cry of John the Baptist as he was languishing in prison and sent a message to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?” Perhaps we’ve heard that same desperate cry in our own decision-making: “How should I choose? Am I on the right path? Has my life so far been spent in moving in the direction God desires for me?”

The reality is that, sometimes, in spite of our most sincere and good intentions, our choices don’t always play out in the way we hoped. A life partner may turn out to be abusive. A job that promised to offer us meaningful work may be stifling and demoralizing. An occasion when we’ve gathered up our courage to respectfully broach a difficult topic with a co-worker, friend, or family member may blow up in our face.  I might suggest that, after these unexpected outcomes, we first enter into prayerful reflection and then eliminate and outlaw from our vocabulary three phrases: “I coulda, I shoulda, I woulda.”  These words contribute nothing to our healing but instead send us into a spiral of berating ourselves, propel us into a revolving door of regret or shame or a sense of failure. We may forget that, no matter what choices we have made, in God’s time there is always hope of redemption and forgiveness and renewal and turning one’s life around.handscradlingcandle copy

We make our choices with only the light available to us at the time. Years later, through experience and reflection, we may often see with a new wisdom, a new clarity, a new insight and perspective. Can we accept ourselves for being limited and flawed and imperfect? The Holy One certainly does. Can we intuit that what our culture deems mistakes and failures can be a school of profound learning? Can we embrace our humanness in all its aspects?

Though we can’t change the past, we can, with God’s grace, change our response or attitude towards the past and view it through the compassionate eyes of the Holy One. There must be no room in our spiritual imagination for a God who insists we stay mired in the mud of self-loathing and self-recrimination.

Our celebration of the Incarnation takes place just a week before we turn the calendar page and enter into a New Year. May this New Year represent for all of us a fresh start, a chance to begin anew, an opportunity for a deeper awareness of just what being human and made in the image of the Holy One means. May it be so!

Takeaway:

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Name one blessing for which you’re especially grateful.
If you carry regret or shame or brokenness as you enter this New Year, name it and share it with a loving God.
Ask for the grace to look at your life with the compassionate eyes of the Holy.
Close by breathing the energies of compassion and healing out into the universe.

NOTE:
May you and all in our world experience every blessing of peace and wholeness in the New Year to come.  

Please continue to keep my mobile spiritual ministry in your prayer. I deliberately hold the first few weeks of January as a time of stillness for reflecting, writing, and creating retreats and presentations for the year ahead. Your prayerful support will help me to enter into a deep listening to the Holy One at work during this time. Thank you.

To automatically receive a new blog as soon as it’s posted:
Go to the beginning of this current blog.
As you scroll down slowly, you will see the word, “Follow”, in the lower right hand corner.
Click on “Follow” and a form will appear for you to fill in your email address.
After you do that, you’ll receive an email asking you to verify your address.
Click on this link, and you’ll receive a confirmation that you’re now automatically subscribed.

Please note that if you’re reading the blog on your phone, you may not see the word “Follow.”  Try reading it on a PC or laptop and you should have no problem subscribing.

Thanks for signing on and Following!

 

 

 

 

 

Hoping in the Fullness of Time

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  December 15, 2018

Sometimes we may find ourselves drawn to a word, a phrase, an image, a sound, an energy, without fully understanding its power to attract. We simply know in a profoundly intuitive, almost primal way, that there’s something of substance or beauty or meaning that’s beckoning us to mine the attraction further.Blue coast copylarger

“In the fullness of time,” (Galatians 4:4), a phrase that we often hear during the Advent and Christmas seasons, might be one of those that grabs our soul even if we can’t fully articulate why. I suspect it may have something to do with our own experience of finitude, of inhabiting our human condition with its limitations and constraints, its reality of never being quite finished. How astonishing that the Holy One in Jesus chose to embrace these very limits in coming to live among us! No surprise, then, that when we hear the words,  “in the fullness of time,” we sit up and pay attention, we hear a language that speaks to our longing to be made whole, a recurring theme of our hopeful waiting in these Advent days.

Recently the day’s news highlighted one of many tragic stories of loss: a woman who had been vacationing in Costa Rica missed her flight home and was later found murdered. The media coverage descended on her heartbroken father, who was asked a question no one is capable of answering in the vortex of overwhelming loss: “How are you?” He choked on his grief. He wept, wailed, struggled to find words to wrap around the unimaginable. And then this father, who had abruptly lost his cherished daughter to violence, simply put words around how he was in that moment. He cried out, “I am incomplete! We are incomplete!”

Ah, that’s it exactly, I thought. This father named so well our deep longing to be whole. Our individual sigh, our collective wound. Our knowing when something is missing, interrupted, forever lost or disappeared. Our resonance with the elevator scene in Jerry Maguire where a deaf woman signs to her beloved, “You complete me.”

I have read that, in Italian, there are no words that actually say, “I miss you.” Instead, the phrase, “mi manchi,” more precisely translates one’s heartache as “You are missing from me.” In many ways, that is our shared wound, our incompleteness.

This unfinishedness is a central core of the Advent readings where we hear about the good work begun in us that will continue to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11), about mountains being leveled, depths and gorges being filled up, winding roads being made straight (Isaiah 40:3-4). About the call to work towards bringing to fulfillment the sometimes unfamiliar, evolving landscape of God’s dream for our world. What sounds like a lesson in geography and topography is actually an expression of Advent hope.

Walter Brueggemann’s commentary on Isaiah 11:1 breaks open this theology. In reading “A shoot will sprout from the stump of Jesse,” Brueggemann notes that the stump is anything in our lives that appears dead or closed off or marked with futility and hopelessness. He reads Isaiah as insisting that God can and does bring forth life where none seems possible. That is the essence of hope, to believe in the Holy One’s generative power even in and especially in situations where the world sees only a lifeless stump.

When we dare to act out of a belief that no act of love is ever lost, forgotten or wasted, we are saying an emphatic “No!” to sin and death and “Yes!” to a hopeful vision of God’s dream for our world. When we give time over to prayerful, intentional, contemplative sitting, we are making an act of defiance against social sin and an act of hope that the promises of the Holy One are already being fulfilled in us and in our world.budsnowdrops

No matter what is unfolding in our lives this season, no matter where we may find ourselves, we are invited to bring to Emmanuel, God-with-us, our deepest longings, our yearning for healing and completion and wholeness. May we cry out to the Holy One in these words from According to Your Word, Daily Prayers for Advent:

Come, O Holy One!
To the dry and withered landscape,
to the thirsting root,
to the parched desert,
come!

To the lonely and severed branch,
to the shriveled stump that longs for green,
to the broken heart that cannot imagine wholeness,
come!

When I doubt my belovedness,
when my future stands uncertain,
when my life feels unfinished and incomplete,
come!

Even as I wait to celebrate your birth,
come, O Holy One,
green and bud in me this day.     

(Chris Koellhoffer, IHM © 2018, Creative Communications for the Parish)

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Bring before God any part of your life that may feel like “the stump,” any area that feels dead or marked by futility or despair.
Name this, and share your longing for wholeness with the Holy One.
Ask that the generative power of God bring forth new life in you and in your world.
Close by giving thanks that the Holy One is already at work in you.

NOTE:
My next post for Mining the Now will be at the end of December, so I want to take this moment to wish you and those you love every blessing of peace as we celebrate the coming of Emmanuel, who embodies the peace for which we long. Merry Christmas, and thank you for all the ways you witness to the peaceable kin-dom in our time and place.

 

To automatically receive a new blog as soon as it’s posted:
Go to the beginning of this current blog.
As you scroll down slowly, you will see the word, “Follow”, in the lower right hand corner.
Click on “Follow” and a form will appear for you to fill in your email address.
After you do that, you’ll receive an email asking you to verify your address.
Click on this link, and you’ll receive a confirmation that you’re now automatically subscribed.

Please note that if you’re reading the blog on your phone, you may not see the word “Follow.”  Try reading it on a PC or laptop and you should have no problem subscribing.

Thanks for signing on and Following!

 

Through the Lens of the Ordinary

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  December 1, 2018

One of the surprising and unexpected blessings of slowing down by choice or by circumstance is this: that, as our speed or mobility diminishes, a new awareness of our surroundings can simultaneously expand.IMG_2053 copy

Though illness or limitation often feels unwelcome, difficult, painful, or isolating, it can also be illuminating. When we have no choice but to remain confined or restricted in some way, we may more clearly hear the inanimate world around us, we may for the first time notice the silent companions that contribute to our well-being, not as disinterested, impassive bystanders, but as helpers waiting and standing at the ready to assist us.

If we’re already living with deep mindfulness, this will not be a new concept. Perhaps we already thank the mug as we hold a steaming cup of hot tea in the morning or sigh a “thank you” to the bed when we crawl into it at day’s end. Passing through a doorway as we depart our home, we may bless the space we’re leaving and pray for its safety until we return. Checking the weather, we may grab an umbrella and give thanks for the protection it offers from a downpour. With all the devices that are now part of our everyday lives, we may whisper a prayer of thanks (sometimes more like a plea for help!) to the laptop as we boot it up, or offer gratitude to our Smart phone for the ways it connects us with worlds both near and distant.

Advent is a season that illuminates over and over the presence and promise of the small and the overlooked. In the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us, we see up close a baby born in the poorest of settings—a manger in a stable–and in a town, Bethlehem, which the prophet Micah (5:2) called one of the smallest, least noteworthy of locations. Yet Micah warns us not to be deceived by the ordinariness of it all: this seeming place of nothingness is the very one selected to welcome the arrival of the Son of God. Clearly, the Holy One has a different way of reckoning importance.

I read in Micah’s prophetic words one of the invitations of this holy season: to tend with singular care to the people we often take for granted, dismiss, or fail to acknowledge: weary delivery persons as well as weary parents working multiple jobs to provide for their children; the frail and vulnerable ones, refugees and migrants, homeless neighbors, the lonely or the mentally ill. May we pay special attention to them and recognize in them a sacred Presence.

Permit me to suggest that another Advent practice might simply be deepening our spirit of gratitude as we acknowledge and thank the inanimate and ordinary things that make our days more rich and eased and beautiful. Thank them, perhaps, by treating them with respect and care as they wait with us. No slamming of doors or angry driving, conscious of the energies we put out into the universe through these everyday companions. We might thank as well those who invent and manufacture these aids so that our world may live with comfort and wholeness and well-being. IMG_2061 copy

I so appreciate the wisdom of Pat Schneider’s exquisite poem, “The Patience of Ordinary Things”, for inspiring me to recognize the grace of the everyday and to enter into a new level of grateful awareness this Advent and all year round:

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

What indeed? In this loving, attentive spirit, may we enter this Advent awake and aware and grateful.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness in the spirit of this holy season.
Reflect on some of the ordinary things or experiences that are part of your everyday life.
Share this with the Holy One.
To what might you pay particular attention today?
Ask for the grace of noticing, and give thanks.

NOTE:
Please remember in your prayer all who will be part of an Advent retreat I’ll be leading for the Sisters of Mercy and Associates in Sea Isle City, NJ, December 7-9. Thank you, and Advent blessings to you and to all those who claim your attention and care through these days.

To automatically receive a new blog as soon as it’s posted:
Go to the beginning of this current blog.
As you scroll down slowly, you will see the word, “Follow”, in the lower right hand corner.
Click on “Follow” and a form will appear for you to fill in your email address.
After you do that, you’ll receive an email asking you to verify your address.
Click on this link, and you’ll receive a confirmation that you’re now automatically subscribed.

Please note that if you’re reading the blog on your phone, you may not see the word “Follow.”  Try reading it on a PC or laptop and you should have no problem subscribing.

Thanks for signing on and Following!

 

 

 

At the Table

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   November 16, 2018

Showing up is a good start.

A pastor who engaged in quite a bit of marriage counseling often remarked that he believed many challenges and problems in a relationship could be resolved if he could get the struggling couple to come together and meet in a room with a fireplace—warm, welcoming, designed to provide the ambiance to thaw and soften differences. The real challenge, he acknowledged, was getting people to the point of showing up.breakingbreadfragments copy

I’m reminded of his words as many of us here in the United States and beyond prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. Beyond the questions of menus, traditional family favorites, and customs is also one of the practical details of any family or group gathering: where to seat everyone, how to find the optimal place for those who do show up. In my family, Aunt Mary always expected a place at the table with the light behind her (“More flattering,” she insisted.) Then there had to be end or corner seats for those  of us who were left-handed so that there was no knocking of elbows as forks were raised during the feast.

In some families or groups, consideration must be given as well to who sits next to whom. Story People’s “Rules for a successful holiday” humorously describes what sometimes can occur where deep-seated political, religious, or relationship issues come to the table:

“1. Get together with the family.
2. Relive old times.
3. Get out before it blows.”

The table illumines questions of belonging and fitting in, questions of boundaries,  priorities and values. Yes, there may be the annoying relative or the sibling who knows just how to push everyone’s buttons. But the table invites us to embody, if not genuine spaciousness of heart, at least an effort to accommodate differences, to be open to the other. Showing up and making it to the table is a promising beginning.

What Henri Nouwen says about the table of the Eucharist is also true of other tables in our lives:

“When we gather around the table and eat from the same loaf and drink from the same cup, we are most vulnerable to one another.  We cannot have a meal together in peace with guns hanging over our shoulders and weapons attached to our belts.  When we break bread together, we leave our arms—whether they are physical or mental—at the door and enter into a place of vulnerability and trust.”

Richard Rohr echoes this sentiment in describing the Eucharist as “the place where a vulnerable God invites vulnerable people to come together in a peaceful meal… Somehow, we have to make sure that each day we are hungry, that there’s room inside us for another presence.  If we’re filled with our own opinions, righteousness, superiority, or self-sufficiency, we are a world unto ourselves and there’s no room for another.”

So let us enter Thanksgiving with an awareness of how our coming to the table mirrors “eucharist with a small e.” Let us reflect on our circle of acquaintances, colleagues, loved ones, friends, neighbors, and ask how we might cultivate living most inclusively.

Because much more happens at the table than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst.  A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. At the table, we become and are becoming family, friends, community in the ways that Joy Harjo describes in “Perhaps the World Ends Here”:handstogether

“The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table.
So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it.
Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human.
We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children.
They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table.
It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow.
We pray of suffering and remorse.
We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.”

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on the different tables at which you’ve gathered and on what has happened around them.
At what tables have you most clearly experienced the presence of the Holy One?
Give thanks for those who fill the tables of your life and add a leaf for those yet to come.

NOTE:
In this season of gratefulness, I’m giving thanks for your following of Mining the Now and wishing you and those you love every blessing of this season of giving thanks.  

To automatically receive a new blog as soon as it’s posted:

Go to the beginning of this current blog.
As you scroll down slowly, you will see the word, “Follow”, in the lower right hand corner.
Click on “Follow” and a form will appear for you to fill in your email address.
After you do that, you’ll receive an email asking you to verify your address.
Click on this link, and you’ll receive a confirmation that you’re now automatically subscribed.

Please note that if you’re reading the blog on your phone, you may not see the word “Follow.”  Try reading it on a PC or laptop and you should have no problem subscribing.

Thanks for signing on and Following!

 

 

Readying for the New

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  November 4, 2018

At this time of year in the Northern hemisphere, we’re surrounded by reminders that it’s time to prepare for change as an integral part of life. Landscapes of solid green are gradually giving way to the spectacular farewell of autumn in brilliant yellow, flaming orange, fiery red. The trees, it appears, are preparing to welcome the next phase of life, fall leavespexels-photo-355302 copyletting go into barrenness, into dying, into decay. Along the rolling hills of farmlands,  fields are being plowed and hay bailed and stored for winter reserves. Squirrels are digging for, then burying, acorns. People are winterizing homes and preparing cars for cold weather and icy road conditions. Yes, it’s clear, change is coming and we need to be in a state of readiness.

Having recently experienced total hip replacement surgery, I’ve been struck by the parallels between getting ready for a change of season and getting ready for a new hip. In my last blog pre-surgery, I remarked on how we writers are shameless to the point of feeding on just about anything, so here I am, asking you to indulge a reflection on my own limited experience and my attempts to extract some meaning from it.

A month in advance of surgery, I was advised to begin a regimen of vitamin supplements and exercises so that my body might be optimally primed to welcome the elements of a new hip. In the nearly three weeks since surgery, I’ve had a front row seat to observe how I’ve responded to accommodating something new, adapting to a foreign body, and responding to its presence with pain, swelling, and bruising. As with any change, some days moving forward are uncomfortable, stretching, frustrating. Some days, encouraging and full of hope. But all days have provided an invitation for reflection on how we prepare for and welcome the new.

We can experience the newness of change gradually, wondering when those gray hairs or hard-earned wrinkles appeared, when our pace and energy subtly slowed, when our child started to look more like one parent than the other. Change can also be abrupt–a sudden profound insight or a truth about who we are. Or violent—the arrival of a brutal storm or a diagnosis that upends our world in a matter of seconds. What seems a constant is that change often brings with it an invitation to accommodate the new, to adapt and adjust, to do deep inner soul work and widen the space of our hearts. We may be ushered into a foreign landscape where the old maps, signposts, and landmarks no longer work and we’re called on to improvise and discover untapped reserves of creativity, imagination, fresh thinking. We may be invited into profound and deepening trust in the Holy One whose loving accompaniment of us is the one constant in a sea of change.boyplaying inleavespexels-photo copy

As creation prepares for a shift in temperature, sunlight, and stillness, perhaps we’re also being invited to ready ourselves already now for whatever might be part of God’s plan awaiting us. These autumn questions might help in assessing where we are and in discerning our readiness for the unknown:

  • What is nearing a harvest of completion in you?
    Where might you feel a sense of fulfillment, of God’s grace and action become visible in you?
  • What do you need to gather into your barns and store in reserve?
    What sustains, supports, and nourishes you?
    What qualities or attitudes will you, with God’s grace, depend on in the days ahead?
  • What fields are still unexplored and inviting a fresh imagining?
    What future possibilities grab your soul? excite you? energize you? stir your imagination?
  • What untended or fallow pastures call for your attention and speak to the deepest longing of your heart?
    What do you desire for yourself and others at this time in your life?
    How do you experience Spirit moving within you?
    Where are you being led now?

May the ongoing and outward change of seasons invite us to deepen an inner spaciousness of heart. May it call us into profound and growing trust in the Holy One whose faithful accompaniment is the one constant in a forever changing universe.

Takeaway:

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Pray the reflection questions above and stay with one that speaks to your heart.
Close with the words of the psalmist: “My heart is ready, O God. My heart is ready.” (Psalm 57:8)

NOTE:
Thank you for your prayer for my successful total hip replacement surgery. I’m delighted to be back with you in Mining the Now.

I’ll be on the road again offering retreats and presentations in just a few weeks and hope to take with me any wisdom I’ve mined from the slow work of God in healing and recovery. Thank you for your prayer and words of encouragement. You have mine always. 

To automatically receive a new blog as soon as it’s posted:
Go to the beginning of this current blog.
As you scroll down slowly, you will see the word, “Follow”, in the lower right hand corner.
Click on “Follow” and a form will appear for you to fill in your email address.
After you do that, you’ll receive an email asking you to verify your address.
Click on this link, and you’ll receive a confirmation that you’re now automatically subscribed.

Please note that if you’re reading the blog on your phone, you may not see the word “Follow.”  Try reading it on a PC or laptop and you should have no problem subscribing.

Thanks for signing on and Following!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Noticing Delight

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, October 7, 2018

Sometimes, if we’re truly attentive, our minds can be upended, our imaginations can be broken open, by encountering God with skin. Yes, we have a God enfleshed in the witness of Jesus, who in history inhabited our human condition and embodied the presence of the Holy. Jesus, who showed us what God might look and speak and act like. But in our time and place, we may sometimes also need God with skin, God that we can see and hear and touch.

Silhouette of Happy Family and Dog

Recently God with skin showed up in a form I hadn’t considered. I received a text from a friend who lives at a distance and who was unexpectedly going to be in my geographic area. He wondered if I would be around and available for a visit, and happily, I was.

Although we’d stayed in touch over time through social media, we hadn’t actually seen each other in nearly a decade. When my friend arrived, we hugged. And then he burst into tears, a weeping so powerful that he couldn’t speak for several minutes. As the tears continued, I became alarmed and anxious, wondering what terrible, unnamed burden, what devastating news he must be carrying. An unwelcome and unexpected diagnosis for him, his wife, his children? An overwhelming loss? An experience of anguish that cut to the core so deeply that he could find no way to express it except through weeping?

When he was finally able to speak, he told me what had so dramatically opened the floodgates of his soul: he was simply overcome with profound joy and delight at seeing me after so many years. I was stunned by his tender words, words that evoked tears of my own; stunned also by the palpable presence of the Holy One in that room at that moment. It was, for me, an image of the way God must weep with rapture and utter delight on beholding our belovedness.

God weeping for joy. Why do we not notice this more often? Perhaps because if we Google “God weeping for joy,” we come up empty. There are plenty of references to God weeping with us in our pain, our sorrow, our grief. Jesus weeping over Jerusalem or Jesus weeping over the death of his friend, Lazarus, come to mind. There’s a long list of the Divine companioning us in every aspect of loss and heartache but there’s a rather limited list of the Holy One’s ecstatic delight in our attention and our company. There are abundant references to the truth that we’re not alone in our times of darkness and anguish, that joy will come in the morning. But why only in the morning, we might wonder? Is delight meant to be limited and time-sensitive?

One image of a jubilant God can be found in the parable of the ecstatic shepherd sweeping up in his arms the lost, inattentive sheep out on a hillside. Or the joyful parent who has been, minute by minute, scouting the horizon in the hope of sighting the longed for return of the willful, wasteful prodigal child.roomheartineye copy
But it took my friend to show me in the clearest way possible an image of the Holy One unable to contain divine delight in my presence and letting it all out in a torrent of salt and water. God with skin right in front of me. Until that moment, I think I hadn’t fully imagined the Holy One as so overcome with joy that it bubbled up and out in the only way possible, an overflow of tears.

Since that graced visit, I’ve found myself looking with intention and awareness everywhere, more conscious that opportunities to encounter the Holy One’s unrestrained joy might be just around the corner. God at play, God dancing, God doing a jig in the embrace of a friend, the comfort of community, the midnight sky brilliant with moon and stars, the stillness of prayer, the lines of a cherished poem. Here, there, and everywhere. All we have to do is show up, be present, and pay attention. Who knows when a God bursting with delight might be as near to us as our very own selves?

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Call to mind a time when you experienced, witnessed, or imagined God’s delight: in you, in a relationship, in an encounter, in the natural world.
Savor the joy of that memory and sit with it.
What does delight look like, feel like, sound like?
Offer deep thanks for knowing yourself as beloved in the eyes of the Holy One.
Ask for the grace to affirm that same belovedness in those you encounter today.

Images:
Fotolia, Patrizia Tilly
Fotolia

NOTE:
Please be aware that I may not be posting a new blog for a while because I’m going to have total hip replacement surgery mid-October. I’ll be grateful for your prayer for full healing (Thank you!) and will be back to Mining the Now as soon as possible. And, since a writer can feed on almost anything, I suspect this experience might offer lots to mine for a future post. Stay tuned!

To automatically receive a new blog as soon as it’s posted:
Go to the beginning of this current blog.
As you scroll down slowly, you will see the word, “Follow”, in the lower right hand corner.
Click on “Follow” and a form will appear for you to fill in your email address.
After you do that, you’ll receive an email asking you to verify your address.
Click on this link, and you’ll receive a confirmation that you’re now automatically subscribed.
Please note that if you’re reading the blog on your phone, you may not see the word “Follow.” Try reading it on a PC or laptop and you should have no problem subscribing.
Thanks for signing on and Following!