The Many Ways of Good-bye

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  June 5, 2022

There are good-byes that are brief or lengthy, and good-byes that are temporary or permanent. I suspect all of us have known both. Today’s readings (June 1, 2022 – Acts 20:28-38, John 17:11b-19) speak to the meaning of the word, “good-bye.” I love words, and I love to find fresh ways to break open their meaning. So I’d like to add the nuance of language.

In Acts, Paul clearly conveys to the people of Ephesus that this is the last time they’ll see one another.  It’s quite an emotional scene, isn’t it? We read: They were all weeping loudly as they threw their arms around Paul and kissed him…They were deeply distressed that he had said they would never see his face again.” This good-bye is permanent. Perhaps we’ve been in that place.

This is anticipatory grief, because Paul is still standing right in front of the people of Ephesus. Their farewell has the feel of an Italian phrase, “Mi manchi.” I’ve been told that in Italian, there are no words that actually say, “I miss you.” Instead, there’s “Mi manchi,” which translates, you are missing from me. Can we hear the longing that’s underneath those words?

A few years ago I heard news about a father who had just found out his adult daughter had been murdered. A reporter thrust a microphone in his face and asked the question no person can ever answer: “How do you feel?” The father looked at him, wept, and then choked out, “How do I feel? How do I feel? I am incomplete! We are incomplete!” It’s the feeling of “Mi manchi.” You are missing from me. Can we hear the longing that’s underneath those words?

Jesus’ farewell has a different feel to it. Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel is part of several chapters we might call “the long good-bye.” We hear the farewell discourse of Jesus preparing us for his departure. It’s like a parent or a partner summoning every last bit of strength to capture what they want to leave as a legacy for their beloved. There’s a softness, a tenderness in Jesus’ words. He prays for us, he promises to protect and guard us. He tells us that this good-bye is necessary, but temporary. He must go so that the Advocate, the Spirit, may come. He desires us to share in his joy completely.

So Jesus’ good-bye is different from Paul’s. Jesus’ farewell has more the feel of “Auf Wiedersehen.Auf Wiedersehen, in other words, til we see one another again. It has more the feel of the Irish expression, Ta Bron Orm,” which means not “I am sad,” but instead “sadness is on me.” In other words, sadness is on me for a little while, temporarily, but then I can make room for other emotions, like joy, to be on me.

Whatever our experience with the language of good-bye, we’re all called to develop greater fluency in one language, the language of the heart. Noticing, listening deeply, paying attention to the nudges of the Holy One. Everything we’ve been about this week of retreat.

We carried with us into these days the people we love and care for. So this last day of retreat might hold an invitation to remember those in our world who, right now, at this very moment, are experiencing the pain of letting go and leavetaking. The raw wounds of the people of Uvalde, Texas. The ache of relationships that are terminated not by choice. The farewell that is the death of a loved one. The heartbreak of the refugee from Ukraine or Central America, forced to leave behind everything that speaks of home. Perhaps our own diminishment, loss, illness, or the saying good-bye to a way of life we have cherished.

Our time of retreat will be ending soon, but we take with us the experience of deep reflection and rich silence. A deep knowing that all our longing for the Holy One is really an echo of God’s first longing for us, isn’t it?

As we leave, we carry with us and within us a world that is at once hauntingly beautiful and profoundly wounded. Our challenge is to be people of hope who refuse to allow sin and death to have the last word. Our call is to be agents of healing for a world that longs to taste God’s dream for us.

Matthew Henry, Unsplash

All our farewells, past, present, and to come, are held in the heart of the Holy One, and so, from the spaciousness of that loving heart, we offer our thanks for these days and we say “Good-bye.” In other words, “God be with us always and everywhere!”

Vaya con dios. Go with God.

May it be so!

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on any good-byes, past or present, that remain in your heart.
Ask the Holy One for healing for yourself and for those in our world carrying the heartache of farewell.
Spend time in that healing space.

Featured Image: Aziz Archarki, Unsplash

NOTE:
Today’s blog was actually the homily I shared on June 1st, when I was one of the guest directors for a directed retreat at Eastern Point Retreat House, Gloucester, MA, May 26 – June 2. Thank you for your prayer for the wonderful people who were part of that retreat experience. Special thanks to Father William Campbell, director, for his gracious hospitality and the many touches of beauty he added to our time together in that lovely place by the ocean.

June 12-18:
Please now hold in your prayer all who will be part of a guided retreat for Sisters that I’ll be leading at Holy Family Passionist Retreat Center in West Hartford, CT. Thank you.

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I Thirst for…

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   May 22, 2022

In many years of befriending plants, I’ve learned something about thirst. People bring me ivy, African violets, spider plants and more, all seeming to be on life support and beyond resuscitation. I’ve learned not to despair over withered stems or drooping leaves, because as long as there’s even the tiniest bit of green, there is hope. Sometimes all that’s really needed is a long, cool drink, and the result of that action is a dramatic transformation. Within an hour, neglected stems resurrect and stand up straight. It seems that all sentient beings have thirst and need to notice and tend to that thirst.

We’ve learned that we can endure longer without food than we can without water. But here’s the thing: we sometimes don’t recognize spiritual thirst and instead look for other ways to compensate for our feelings of incompletion or emptiness or a general unsettledness, a feeling that there’s something beyond our searching. What is often underneath these feelings is thirst, longing, a desire we’re not fully able to articulate.

Johnny McClung, Unsplash

“I thirst” (John 19:28) was among the last words Jesus uttered from the cross. I see a parallel as I’m accompanied and as I accompany others in spiritual direction or in retreat ministry. Among the questions I ask myself and others: What is your deepest desire? What is it that you long for? We’re really asking: what do you thirst for? These are questions that are at the heart of each of us, questions that form and influence our choices and our way of acting in this world. Questions which, if courageously explored, reveal our own deep desire and our profound longing.

Recently, a Sister of St. Joseph informed me of the death of Msgr. Peter V. Kain of the Diocese of Brooklyn, NY. I knew him slightly as he was often the priest celebrant during guided retreats I offered at St. Joseph Villa in Hampton Bays, NY during the summer.  Msgr. Kain’s memorial card was enclosed with her note. When I turned the card over, I gasped. This was the quote Msgr. Kain had chosen:

“To come to the living water of Christ,
you need no merit.
All you need is thirst.”

“All you need is thirst.”

Do you hear echoes of Mary Oliver’s wondrous poem, “Wild Geese”?

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees 
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”  

“To come to the living water of Christ, you need no merit. All you need is thirst.”

The doors are open. The welcome is waiting. The water is flowing. What a consolation for us–to know that, to approach the Holy One, we don’t have to prove our worth, we don’t have to come prepared with a list of reasons affirming we’re deserving of a place near that loving heart. No, all we need is thirst. Desire. Longing.

mrn photography, Unsplash

So what is your thirst? Could it be a sense that you are on the right path? That your life bring blessing to the Earth? That your prayer become more engaged and inclusive? That your time in this world make a difference for good? That your relationship with the Holy One deepen and grow?

Whatever you’re thirsting for, take a deep breath and enter into the Takeaway right now.

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Place in front of yourself a glass or bowl filled with water.
Take a long, slow sip. Savor the water.
Reflect on what it is that you’re thirsting for.
Tell the Holy One about your thirst.
Offer a prayer of trust that your longing, whatever it is, will be fulfilled.

Featured Image:  Kerem Karaarslan, Unsplash

NOTE:
My weeks of guided and directed retreats are beginning May 26 and will continue through November.

May 26 – June 2:  Please hold in your prayer all who will be part of a directed retreat at Gonzaga/Eastern Point Retreat House, Gloucester, MA. I’ll be one of the guest directors for this retreat. Thank you!

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Seeing Up Close

by  Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   May 8, 2022 

Spring, wherever and whenever she makes an appearance, is a breeding ground for mystics. There’s a palpable invitation to live close to the earth with an ear to the heavens, to see, with heightened clarity, how the Holy is all around us in our everyday lives. As we pull out the rakes and shovels, broadcast the seeds, and dig our hands into the holiness of dirt, the elements of worship converge. How can we not live as mystics during this season when what was once buried is rising to new aliveness?  

I have my own early formative memories of spring as the wonder of sacred soil shaped my life from a tender age. What memories do you hold of yours? If you lived in a city without garden space, did you have access to a park or community garden? What might you have discovered in those common spaces? What learnings came to you from your solitary adventures or those shared with friends?

If you lived in a suburban or rural area, what everyday experiences can you claim as yours? Perhaps the barely contained delight of picking out a few seed packets at the garden store. The careful preparing of the planting, with at least a few earthworms cheering you on. Each morning’s excitement as you anxiously checked rows of seedbeds for signs of brave sprouting. And then, finally, the mystery of earth cracking open, tiny leaves emerging, the wild greening of a patch of soil. Enough to make you fall down in worship. It still is.

In spring, it’s especially easy to affirm Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem that, “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.” That grandeur is most demonstrative in this season of greening. There’s something deeply connecting about putting our hands into the rich, fertile ground which we and all creation share. Something primordial and ancient as we reflect on our ancestors, on other feet that have walked the same paths, other hands that have cultivated and dreamed about the same dirt. Something profound in knowing ourselves in kinship with a universe far beyond our small corner of the world.

Hopefully, these deep connections have invited us to move beyond a worldview of dominance to one of caretaking and then on to one of kinship with the entire created world. To live into an understanding that Earth and her creatures are not an “it” to be managed by us for our own needs. To knowing in our very bones that the fuzzy bumblebee, the cheery daffodil, the insistent cardinal, all of us created by the same hand of the Holy, are charged with healing and enhancing lives beyond our own.

Julianne Lieberman, Unsplash

In this season of noticing, discovering, listening, the poet Rumi wants to know

“How can you look so needy?
God is growing in fields you own.
He hangs from trees you pass every day.
He is disguised as that peach and pine cone.”

So what are we waiting for? Let’s move to a world opening up outside our windows. Let’s notice and give thanks for this season so revelatory of the Holy.

Featured Image:  Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash

Takeaway:

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
If you live in the Northern hemisphere and weather permits, choose a spot outside where you can gaze at the unfolding of creation.
If you’re a neighbor to the South, adapt this to your region’s experience.
Notice the sounds, scents, sights that call to you.
Breathe in deeply, and savor every revelation.
Bow and give thanks for the gifts of creation.

NOTE:
Happy Mother’s Day to all who birth new life and faithfully nurture it. Thank you for the giving over of your lives to greening our world with love and compassion.

A note for all of you who have been sending good thoughts and healing energy to the hydrangea that occupied my last blog post. It’s still on life support after enduring a brutal, unseasonal snow storm, but we’ve not given up on each other. And some related but unexpected news: I emailed White Flower Farm, where I had ordered the hydrangea, telling them what had happened and asking if they had any suggestions for care that might lead to resurrection. The next day I received an email response stating that they were sending me the exact same Color Fantasy hydrangea without charge! I’ve been a loyal customer of White Flower Farm for years, always impressed by the quality and care of the plants they offer, and now I’m overwhelmed by their thoughtfulness and generosity as well. Thank you, White Flower Farm!

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The Rising

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    April 24, 2022

What qualifies as resurrection? Fresh from the celebration of the Easter mysteries in the Christian tradition, I’m holding that question.

A week ago, I planted a small, tender hydrangea bush outside, assured it was safe to dig a hole for its new home. In my tiny garden, a dozen narcissus buds were on the verge of opening up. A peony plant was peeking out from the soil. And then, this past week, the Northeast had an unwelcome and unexpected visitor: two inches of heavy, wet snow, ice, fierce winds, and falling temperatures.

nine koepfer, Unsplash

Like a worried parent, I raced outside ahead of the unseasonal storm to place towels around the base of the hydrangea. I uttered prayers of protection over my tiny garden. And then, when the last snowflake had disappeared and the winds had been tamed, I surveyed the damage. I wiped ice off the drooping heads of the narcissus. There’s hope for you, I said. But oh, the hydrangea seemed to have borne the brunt of the storm. Her small leaves were encased in ice and turning black, her fragile stems were bent and close to being sheared off by the relentless winds. Hold on, I pleaded, come back to life. 

How I wish that were true, that the power to resurrect was in my tool kit! But one of the learnings of many years is that we need to own our inability to save others. That’s a hard one, isn’t it? We want to protect the people, pets, plants, all those beings we love, from harm, from heartbreak, from disappointment, from illness, from tragedy. And still, in spite of our best efforts, the floods surge, the fires rage, the diagnosis shatters, the hearts bleed.

“Where is God in all this?” demanded a person I was accompanying in spiritual direction as she grieved a loved one lost to COVID-19. I had no answers to the question of human suffering then or now, but I’m certain now as I was then about the whereabouts of the Holy One. God was gasping for breath in the isolation ward. Weeping with the bereft. Working feverishly to create a lifesaving remedy in the lab. So yes, even in our deepest, most despairing moments, the rising of the Holy One is unfolding all around us. Ilia Delio asks, “Where is this risen Christ? Everywhere and all around us—in you, your neighbor, the dogwood tree outside, the budding grape vine, the ants popping up through the cracks. We are Easter people, and we are called to celebrate the whole earth as the Body of Christ.”

If we intentionally look for signs of resurrection, we will find them in our time and place. In making care for Earth, our Common Home, a priority, as our planet continues to cry out in pain. In battered hydrangeas and drooping narcissus who are not yet ready to be counted out. In ordinary people practicing extraordinary compassion, kindness, and solidarity in their everyday lives.

When we feel our lives surrounded by the powers of death, may we remain open to possibility, hold onto hope, and discover fresh evidence of rising. The spiritual writer Carlo Carretto confirmed the “everywhereness” of resurrection when he listed for us these seemingly ordinary signs of extraordinary doings:

Gaetano Cessati, Unsplash

When you forgive your enemy
when you feed the hungry
when you defend the weak
you believe in the resurrection.

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

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

Blessings of Easter, and Passover, and Ramadan. May each day find us rising into new ways of carrying the Holy into our world.

Takeaway:
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on what you’ve been about this past week.
How have you been a resurrection person, someone who brings life wherever you go?
Give thanks, and carry the blessing of your presence into this new week.

Featured image:  Fumiaki Hayashi, Unsplash

NOTE:
Thank you for holding my IHM Congregation’s elections in your prayer. We now have a new leadership team and we ask you to bless the generous women who will lead us into the days ahead.

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Present to the Drama

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM     April 10, 2022

These days are rich with scenes lived large before us. In the Christian tradition, we’re on the edge of Holy Week and entering through the doorway of Palm Sunday. We may hold a fistful of palm branches and shout or sing our praise for the Holy One who appears to ride triumphantly into Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-40). And then, only a few breaths later, we may take on the role of the crowd, thirsting for the spectacle of capital punishment, demanding blood of that same Holy One (Luke 22:14-23:56). In the space of a few minutes, we may move from being joyful, prayerful celebrators to being people swept up in a mob mentality, mindlessly calling for an excruciating death. From the best of human nature to the shadow side of it, it all seems to come down to where we choose to stand and what we choose to voice.

These days we’re seeing the consequences of choice writ large in the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Images that show the consequence of one person’s choices for cruelty, domination, and brutality are excruciating to watch. At the same time, as we view choices for courage, for compassion, for spaciousness of heart from Ukraine and the global community, we are offered hope and a tender perspective. We may squirm and want to turn away from watching the broadcast images of savagery because the difficult truth is this: as humbling as it is to acknowledge, the potential to live and act from our shadow side also exists within us. On the hopeful side, the potential to be a person of peace, of justice, of generosity exists in us at the same time.

Palm Sunday and the events of Holy Week invite us to reflect: Which path forward shall we choose? How shall we bear witness and be present to the crucifixion and the resurrection, both on display right now in our time and place? 

Bruno van der kraan, Unsplash

The Holy One chooses to be present, not only during this week we call “holy,” but always. May we choose as the Holy One, the Suffering Servant, the one who empties himself in extravagant love, does. I leave you with this prayer, “Palm and Passion,” from Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light:

           “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of God!”
                           —Luke 19.38

           “Crucify him!”
                           —Luke 23.21

He knows.
And chooses so anyway.
He knows how fickle our love,
how fleeting our kindness.
We reject what we most deeply desire,
condemn what we most deeply need.
Our glory and our ruin both clamor.

Into that very wound he rides,
into the deepest divide of our souls.
On the Scorned Way—
into the scorn itself—he rides.
Into the choice between love and the way of the world,
and into our failure to choose well, he rides,
having chosen.

To prevail in the battle between good and evil,
between love and fear,
one must embrace them both
and enter the cleft
and still choose.

Worship the One
who embraces our beauty and our woundedness,
who forgives the failure of our worship.
Come with him on the Foolish Way,
the Way of Love,
…and fail… and be forgiven… and come again.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
You may want to place before you an image of the suffering of the human family or the pain or diminishment of any part of creation.
Simply hold that image in your consciousness.
Sit, breathe, and listen.
Then send your healing energy into the place of your attention.

Featured Image: Grant Whitty, Unsplash

NOTE:
As you hold in prayer our world that is both beautiful and broken, know that you are in my prayers of gratitude for the countless ways in which you breathe beauty and peace and compassion into this global space we share. May the blessings of Passover and Easter surround and sustain you in every choice you make.

Please remember in prayer my IHM Congregation, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Scranton), as we hold our Chapter of Elections for new leadership April 21-23. Thank you.

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Praying Our Song

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM     March 27, 2022

Sometimes the warmup begins even before the first streaks of morning light. Chirp, whistle, trill, caw, cheep, twitter, warble, cluck, tweet. Repeat. Yes, it’s that lovely season here in the Northeast when the shrillness of an alarm clock gives way to the gentle but insistent melody of birdsong. A sound so familiar that we may be inclined to linger in bed listening to the choir warm up. A sound so reassuring that we may feel especially grateful to be awakened these spring mornings by a chorus of lilting notes rather than the scream of an air raid siren or the growing din of mortar shelling.

I learned long ago how birds survive a storm. Most birds stay where they are and strategically seek shelter. They may cling to the side of a sturdy tree, hide inside a hole, or find a protected spot in a dense thicket or grove. A few who don’t have nests with helpless young are free to escape and fly ahead of a darkening sky.

Robert Eklund, Unsplash

But I’m led to wonder about birdsong in a time of war. With the shelling of Ukraine, the pulverizing of her towns, and the merciless killing of her people, I’ve been wondering if the birds have gone silent these days. Each morning as I’m graced with a free concert outside my window, I’m reminded of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. In that groundbreaking book, Carson underscored DDT’s power to alter the reproductive capacities of birds, causing entire species to become extinct and silence the singing of birds. I wonder, could war also have the potential to still Earth’s birdsong? To permanently leave us with an unbearable and totally silent spring?

As I watch in horror the violence inflicted on the people and landscape of Ukraine, I wonder if there is any birdsong left to be heard. I wonder if that war-torn country is suffering a contemporary version of “Silent Spring,” the kind noted by the Greek poet Odysseas Elytis, “incomprehensible…like birdsong in a time of war.”

But then I wonder also, might it be possible that there are other ways to sing, to keep the welcome music of spring alive these days? I’m imagining birdsong as the “Bridge of Toys” connecting Ukraine and Romania. The city of Sighetu Marmateiei filled the length of that bridge with dolls, stuffed animals, and other toys so that every refugee child leaving the familiar behind could choose a toy to cuddle for comfort. I’m imagining birdsong as the Polish train station where weary and desperate refugee mothers found baby strollers left by compassionate and knowing Polish mothers. I’m imagining birdsong as seven-year-old Amelia Anisovych singing Frozen’s “Let It Go” in a bomb shelter in Ukraine, her pure, innocent voice lifting hearts and spirits with every note. And I’m imagining birdsong as seventeen-year-old Russian Olga Misik, a small, lone figure sitting in the square in Moscow, reading aloud over and over again the section of Russia’s constitution which affirms the right to peaceful protest. The officers surrounding her listen to that music and are frozen in place, not knowing how to respond.

Joshua J. Cotten, Unsplash

As witnesses these days to both the horror of war and the incredible bravery of the human spirit, might we be summoned now to find new and creative ways to keep the music of protest and solidarity alive? I ask myself, I ask all of us in our beautiful yet wounded world, how can we keep from singing?

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One. You may want to enter into one of these practices as you begin:

  • View one of the many YouTube clips of the song, “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Miserables, connecting us to a similar struggle for freedom.
  • If you live on an area where there is birdsong, open your window and listen to the music.
  • Play a recording of birds singing.

Let the music sink into your soul. What does it awaken in you? To what are you being called?

Sit with this as you hold in your heart the suffering people of Ukraine and all the crucified peoples of our world.

Featured Image:  Will Bolding, Unsplash

NOTE:

Thank you for your prayer for my IHM Congregation’s Chapter of Affairs, which concludes March 26. We are most grateful and will lean into your prayer again next month when we hold our Chapter of Elections for a new leadership team.

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The Weight of Safe Harbor

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM      March 13, 2022

What is the value of safe harbor unless we share it? That’s what I was wondering as I worked in my apartment office. This space also functions as a sun room, its five spacious windows flooded by sunshine from dawn to dusk. But the real magic unfolds in the afternoon. When the sun shifts and blankets with warmth my plant neighbors who share this room, I can almost see photosynthesis springing into action. I can almost hear sighs of comfort and thanks breathed by this sentient tribe of cyclamen, violets, succulents, pothos, infant basil, and narcissus bulbs. A riot of purple, fuschsia, and deep red blossoms tilt their heads in response to the sun’s kiss. A profusion of green and emerald leaves signals contentment.

What is the value of safe harbor unless we share it? That’s the question I’ve been carrying around since the first excruciating images of human anguish and Earth’s devastation were beamed into my living room from suffering Ukraine. That’s the question that haunted me when I went into Lowe’s a few days later. There, in a center aisle, stood a rack littered with half dead, dried out, post-Christmas plants, 90% off. Many were beyond saving. Some clutched a green leaf or two. I did what I could, rescued a crippled amaryllis and a few shriveled aloe vera, carried them tenderly home, performed triage on their wounds, and welcomed them into my tribe.

All the while, I was mindful of train stations jammed with fathers hugging their families good-bye; mothers wiping tears from exhausted faces; toddlers clutching stuffed animals alongside buildings bombed into ruin. I was mindful of the safe harbor in which I live, and wondering what more I could do besides offer safety and shelter to a few neglected and abandoned plants. True, every act of human kindness, no matter how seemingly small, extends the field of loving presence out into the Universe. But with the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, I’m feeling so deeply my inability to save others. It seems that Elie Wiesel, himself a survivor of another atrocity, the Holocaust, understands that inability when he writes, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

Chris Koellhoffer, my rescued Amaryllis – See what love can do

Now is the time to protest, to choose the way of peace and the works of justice. To do what we can, committing acts of defiant hope in the face of monstrous cruelty. To accompany the Holy One as the Holy One suffers in the crucified people of Ukraine. To pause throughout the day, breathing the energies of compassion, creating a protective shield around the mass of terrified, weary, but courageous refugees making their way out of their beloved homeland. To donate to collections of funds for food and supplies. To arm ourselves with letters and phone calls to protest every egregious violation of human rights. To further the inspiration of the global community as it opens wide in welcome both borders and hugs for refugees. To engage in radical acts of beauty and of hope. To come together to light a virtual candle for peace, setting an intention, sharing a dedication, collectively illuminating the darkness.

Max Kukurudziak, Unsplash

It’s true, Elie Wiesel tells us, that sometimes we may be powerless to prevent injustice. But always, he insists, we must not fail to protest. I wonder, what form might my protest, your protest, take today? What safe harbor will we share from our corner of the world?

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One. Open your heart to the suffering people of our world. Listen to what they are asking of you. When you have finished listening, open your arms in a gesture of welcome, and bow in reverence.

Featured image:  Di Maitland, Unsplash

NOTE:

Please hold in your prayer my congregation, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Scranton), as we come together March 22-27 for our Chapter (a governance gathering held every four years). We will be praying for you and the needs of our world as you remember us. Thank you!

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Moving through Time and Space

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    February 27, 2022

Have you ever noticed how our surroundings can alter the speed with which we move?

During some of the years I lived in Jersey City, NJ, I worked in Manhattan. Every morning I would walk to the Grove Street station on the New Jersey side to take the PATH train to the Ninth Street station on the New York side. As soon as I disembarked at Ninth Street, I would be swept up in a crowd of hundreds of commuters, all moving rapidly and as one body before breaking away to their destinations. The movement reminded me of a human murmuration, with the click and squeak of heels and soles replacing the humming of starlings. Even during those years when I could walk easily and without limitations, I found the pace challenging. No dawdling, no idling, no browsing. Move, or be carried along by the crowd.

Quite the opposite experience when I returned home and began to walk along Manila Avenue. The Downtown section where I lived was marked by neighborhoods—Puerto Rican, Dominican, Filipino, Polish, African, Irish–the kind of living space where people might not know your name but they know your face and see you as a welcome resident. Here there was a whole lot of greeting, ambling, strolling, taking one’s time, and yes, sauntering. My kind of walking.

Nicolas Cool, Unsplash

From Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl, I learned the origin of the word, sauntering. “At a certain point in time,” they write, “medieval Europeans developed the custom of ‘sainting’ things…The cross was sainted (Santa Cruz) and even the earth was sainted. This became St. Terre, from which we gained the phrase, ‘to saunter,’ that is, to walk on the earth with reverence for its holiness.”

It seems that sauntering might describe not only a slower-paced stroll but also an attitude, a soul practice of graciously encountering and moving through the world. When so much of our lives feel hurried, pressured, or stressed with our responsibilities and to-do lists, we are in profound need of what I like to call “the power of the Pause.” Earth, our Common Home, invites us into such pauses every day. Even in a pandemic, we can stop and safely breathe in Earth’s breath. Or stand in awe before a sunset. Or make friends of forest neighbors. Or discover the secret code of crows. Or lose ourselves in garden prayer. Or bow before the dome of heaven illuminated by moon and stars. But to do this, we need the attitude of one who saunters, one who walks on our Earth with reverence and respect for her holiness. We need the practice of one who pauses and offers thanks to the Holy One who, I believe, is sauntering alongside us at this very moment in our beautiful, yet wounded world.

Linda Roberts, Unsplash

Takeaway

For this reflection, you may wish to sit in stillness near a window if that is most comfortable for you, or saunter outdoors.

Whichever movement you choose, be sure to pause and invite the Holy One to accompany you.

Gaze at whatever gifts Earth offers you. Notice where your eyes linger. Offer a prayer from your slowed down, grateful heart.

Featured image: Craig McLachlan, Unsplash

NOTE:

As we stand at the threshold of the season of Lent, may we deepen the practice of sauntering through these 40+ days.

On Ash Wednesday, may we all come together to respond to Pope Francis’ call for prayer and fasting for peace in Ukraine, peace for all the crucified peoples of our world. Blessings of peace this season.

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Getting Fully Dressed

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    February 13, 2022

Today is a rarity in my world: though I woke up at 4:30 am, I didn’t move. I simply savored the comfort of the flannel sheets and the utter stillness of the room. I also savored what my calendar revealed: no need to get myself moving immediately into the day, on to a cup of tea, on to a quick shower, on to a car in need of defrosting.

So I lingered in bed for a while, giving thanks for what is surely a life of acknowledged privilege: That I make my home in an environment that’s welcoming, safe, and nurturing of my creative spirit. That I belong to a community that inspires, challenges, and offers my life meaning. That I have friends and family who love and cherish me. That I’ve been granted expansive educational opportunities and profound life-changing experiences. That every day my spirituality ministry brings me into an arena where I get to witness the Holy at work in people’s lives.

I was in one of those arenas yesterday when I offered a retreat for our IHM Associates. I was moved by witnessing their joy in coming together, their hunger for spirituality, the depth of their own lives of prayer. And then, I was emotionally spent, with no thought of writing this blog. When I climbed into bed exhausted, I prayed for Spirit and for words.

This morning, it was my fuzzy, raggedy slippers that spoke to me. Over time, they’ve conformed themselves to the shape of my gnarled toes and bony feet. They feel like home. They feel like a blessing. And they reminded me of Julian Norwich’s comments about putting on God like a garment, because every morning when I slip my feet into them, I pray that the Holy One will walk with me into the day ahead. In My Soul in Silence Waits, Margaret Guenther stretched that image of God to “a favorite roomy sweater, a little baggy in just the right places, or maybe a soft old bathrobe.”  St. Paul called it putting on the mind of Christ (Romans 13:14) like a piece of clothing. (But apparently Paul didn’t share my practice of lounging in bed because the Message Bible’s translation of his words is, “Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger…Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!”)

Source unknown

So what does it mean to clothe ourselves in the Holy? In Putting on the Mind of Christ, Jim Merion notes that to clothe ourselves in the Holy, to put on the mind of Christ, is not just to admire Christ but to acquire his consciousness. This is beyond questions of wardrobe. This is about acting as the Holy One would. How do we see the world through the eyes of God or feel with the divine heart? How do we clothe ourselves in compassion so that we move closer to fulfillment God’s dream of abundant life for everyone? How do we put on the garment of healing for a world both beautiful and broken?

These are the big questions that came from my frayed and tattered slippers. It seems I won’t be discarding them any time soon. After all, they brought me to this. And then they brought me to you.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
If you have a garment that expresses your image of God, hold it, or wear it, or imagine it.
Ask to be in sync with the beating heart of the Holy One.
Ask to see with the eyes with which God gazes at our world.

Wrap this worldview around yourself, and linger in this image.

Featured image:  Source unknown

NOTE:

Thank you for your prayerful support of all who were part of the retreat day I led for IHM Associates. Their living of IHM spirituality continues to inspire all who know them.

On February 14, as we celebrate the feast of love known as Valentine’s Day, know that you who follow, support, and comment on Mining the Now are specially in my heart and prayer.

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In Praise of Lingering Lights

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    January 30, 2022

While driving home this past week in the pitch dark of a late January night, I came upon a lone house with its Christmas lights still displayed and twinkling. I smiled, thinking, “There’s always one that has the lights up way past the holidays.” Somehow, I felt especially grateful for that single home that stood out because its radiance pierced the darkness all around me on a lonely stretch of country road.

I immediately thought of another occasion when outdoor Christmas decorations had overstayed the Christmas calendar but when their timing was perfectly placed.  

When I was new to community life, we were told that we’d be able to go see our families some time in January in one of the first ever family visits. Yes, we’d miss the Christmas holidays but we’d get to spend some winter days with our loved ones. So when the appointed date in late January arrived, my Dad drove to the motherhouse in our family station wagon and picked me up. We chatted all the way home until we neared our long, winding driveway. Then he became strangely silent. Looking around, I slowly understood why. Every other house in our neighborhood was dark and bare of decorations, but there, shining from the second floor deck of our home, hung a huge plywood star, brilliantly lit. I gasped and cried and hugged my Dad, who whispered, “Merry Christmas, and welcome home!”

Aaron Burden, Unsplash

Later on, my mother told me how proud my father was of that creation. At some point after Christmas, she said, a howling wind had knocked the star off its perch and onto the ground. But Dad insisted on putting it back on the house so that I could see it when I arrived home. My heart was moved at the image of him clambering up a rickety ladder to the second story in what was surely an act of craziness, but just as surely an act of love.

So this past week when I came upon the single house with its Christmas lights beaming, I was taken back to another light that ignored the calendar many years ago. I was remembering my thoughtful, tender, star-loving Dad, the creator of that oversized, welcome home, plywood star. I was remembering the thousands like him who have been lights to me, whose witness continues to illumine my way, especially in my most despairing and lonely hours. I was remembering the brave beacons who persist and endure, who show up even when the timing of another’s critical need for light announces itself at a moment that’s inconvenient and interruptive. I was remembering those who stay and shine.

Maria Brauer, Unsplash

Surely, we have all met them, those concentrated beams of light that punctuate our everyday living. They are the farolitos, the luminaria our bleak and darkened world waits and hopes and longs for. They are the wisdom figures who have stoked the flame within by entering into deep, inner soul work and cultivating radiant spaciousness of heart. They are the welcoming hearth at which we warm our chilled bodies and thaw our frozen spirits. They are the holy ones who know, with a primal, intuitive knowing, that for some things, there really are no wrong times. There really is no such thing as being out of season.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
You may want to set a candle or a light of some kind in front of you.
Gaze at this light for several minutes.
Recall and name persons who have shared their radiance with you.
Give thanks for that holy, light-filled litany.

Featured image:  Timothy Eberle, Unsplash

NOTE:

Please hold in your prayer all those who will be part of a Zoom retreat morning I’m leading for IHM Associates on February 12. Thank you.

IHM Associates are women and men from all states of life and various creeds who are seeking a deeper experience of God for their own transformation and for the transformation of the world. Attracted by the charism of the IHM Sisters, Associates join with the sisters in the living out of the IHM charism within the context of their everyday lives.

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