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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Finding Our Prayer Mat

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    January 16, 2022

In my home, I have a simple ritual center. A cloth from Peru covers a small table. A blue hued painting reveals my IHM community’s founders. A photo of my parents on their wedding day gazes back at me. Memorial cards of community, family, and friends remind me of so many graced companions.

And then there’s the prayer box, filled with slips of paper scrawled with the names of those who have asked for prayer. “Once your name is in the prayer box,” I tell people, “you will be there forever.” The prayer box also holds a tiny plastic bag filled with soil from El Salvador. The nephew of Maura Clarke, a North American churchwoman martyred in El Salvador, placed this soil into my hands from the place where his aunt’s body was discovered after her death. I added soil from my own digging when I prayed at this grave site in 2010. Clearly, there’s nothing on the ritual table without purpose or meaning.

Every morning, I hold a steaming cup of tea and nestle into my easy chair near my sacred spot. I feel myself surrounded, in a primal way, by the palpable energies of love. I can feel love in every thread woven into the colorful Peruvian fabric. Love from my IHM founders captured in oil and canvas. Love from my parents embracing, their young lives spread out before them. Love in the faces stilled, remembered, and printed on holy cards. Love in the dreams or the desperation spelled out on slips of paper and forever finding a home in my prayer box.

Of course, when I’m on the road, as I often am for retreat work, I can’t take all this with me. I have to improvise, to find fresh ways to connect to those energies of love. So I tuck into my suitcase a sachet filled with lavender grown and harvested from my tiny summer garden plot. One whiff, just one whiff, and I am home, grounded in the dirt that yields such beauty and holds such holy connections.

Chris Koellhoffer, summer garden

In The Illuminated Prayer, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen observes that, “For those who have come to know God, the whole world is a prayer mat.” The whole world. So what and where can we name as our prayer mats, those people, living creatures, experiences that deeply connect us to the Holy, that open us to the presence of the divine, that remind us that wherever we are, we are on holy ground?

That holy ground might be a prayer table or a lavender sachet. A photo of a beloved soul mate. A Golden retriever nestled against our legs. A cat softly purring its prayers. An African violet surprising us with blossoms. The chirping of early morning robins. The brilliance of a setting sun. The lapping of waves. A place of stillness. The prayer mat is under our feet, before our eyes, outside our ears, within our hearts. Everywhere and everywhere and everywhere.

May each day in this new year expand and stretch our prayer mats and grow our spaciousness of heart so that we may recognize and welcome the holy that is at every moment all around us.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
You may want to sit near your prayer table, your ritual center, or whatever serves as your prayer mat today.
In what ways does this draw you to the Holy One?
Ask for openness of heart to recognize the many invitations to prayer that will present themselves to you today.

Featured Image:   William Farlow, Unsplash

NOTE:
Please hold in your prayer my congregation, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Scranton), as we enter into a day of prayer and reflection to prepare for our upcoming Chapter, which will include time to contemplatively tend to the work and mission of the Congregation (in March) and time to elect new leadership (in April). Thank you.

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Don’t Rush the Blooming

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   January 1, 2022

It’s a new year, arriving as one of the rituals of a new year begins: taking down the Christmas decorations. Keeping everything displayed until Epiphany or the Baptism of Jesus may be a more traditional practice, but I need to un-decorate whenever time is available, and so for me, that time is now.

Here’s the thing, though: with all the trimmings packed away, the room looks, well, bare. Gone are the sparkle, the bold red splashes of color, the outward signs of joy and celebration. There’s a longing in me to somehow compensate for that dramatic downturn in scenery.

Enter the season of the amaryllis. Every December, I purchase several bulbs as gifts for friends, and I include myself on that gift list. According to its box, this year’s blossom will have dainty red candy cane-like stripes on it. My affection for the amaryllis grows from the fact that, during winters in the Northeast often marked by dull landscapes and invisible gestation, I feel in my soul the need for frequent reminders that quiet growth is happening, even when I can’t see it.

EtAm Ba, Unsplash

As anyone who has watched an amaryllis sprout from its large bulb knows, its rate of growth is both astounding and eerie. Leave the plant for a few hours, and the light green stem will have propelled itself upwards several inches before your return.

As we observe the amaryllis’ inexorable and seemingly effortless movement upward, we may be hard pressed to find a parallel in the life of the spirit. With our own deep inner soul work, transformation often happens in increments at a glacial pace. Or it can feel as though nothing in us is changing for the good. Or that any tangible progress has halted and arrived at a permanent standstill. Or worse, that we’re tilting towards a backwards slide.

Fortunately, what the Holy One desires of us is our faithfulness, not our rapid and relentless “success.” With God’s grace, we make the big leap of faith that our daily practices of prayer and meditation make a difference. That our efforts to live compassionately and justly make a difference. That our seeking of spiritual guidance to discern where and how God is active in the stuff of our lives makes a difference. Even when, and perhaps especially when, we’re blind to the truth that, seen or unseen, the Holy One is present and grace is at work.  

Mikel Parera, Unsplash

So this year, as the newly planted amaryllis hastens closer to full flowering each day, may we be reminded to activate gratitude for whatever is unfolding in our hearts. To engage in patient and active waiting. To apply Linda Myoki Lehrhaupt’s plant wisdom, soul wisdom, to our spiritual lives. In her book, T’ai Chi as a Path to Wisdom, she includes a chapter entitled, “Shouting at a bud does not make a flower blossom more.” Helpful wisdom to remember in our own lives as we enter 2022, a season of renewed hope and an invitation to fresh growth and grace in the company of the Holy One. May it be so!

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
If you have a blossoming houseplant or a photo of something about to bloom, place this in your prayer space. Gaze at this image.
What might be longing to unfold in your life as you stand at the edge of this new year?
Ask the Holy One for the grace to commit to whatever soul work is called for and to wait in patient hope.

Featured Image: Mihaly Koles, Unsplash

NOTE:
Happy new year! Thank you for following and commenting on Mining the Now through 2021. May the year ahead be filled with peace and good health for you and for all in our beautiful, yet wounded world.

I send you into 2022 with my prayer and my deep thanks and with the wisdom of Anne Hillman’s poem, “We Look with Uncertainty”:

We look with uncertainty
beyond the old choices for
clear-cut answers
to a softer, more permeable aliveness
which is every moment
at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us
if we but let it.
We stand at a new doorway,
awaiting that which comes…
daring to be human creatures,
vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
Learning to love.

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What the Holy One Loves

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM December 19, 2021

One of my spiritual practices every November includes setting a bit of time aside to reflect on what I want to do, how I hope and desire to be for the coming season of Advent. As part of my pre-Advent reflection, I pray for an image, a phrase, or a quote to draw me in and set the tone and the direction for the next four weeks.

This year what came to me were two words: “The Body.” My immediate response was, “Not again!” As many of you who follow my blog are aware, the past two plus years have made both necessary and urgent the constant giving over of my time, attention, energy, and care to “The Body.” Two years spent on physical therapy and healing practices rather than on other elements of my life—like play, or creativity, or yes, how about some fun for a change?

How about it, indeed? Fortunately, my initial “Oh, no!” reaction was tempered by another of my spiritual practices: mining whatever comes into my life and what I might learn from it. My attitude was also redirected by receiving a beautiful Christmas letter from Eileen of the Andes, which included Ronald Rolheiser’s reminder that, “God in Jesus became what God loves—everything human.”

Brytny.com, Unsplash

That sentence stopped me in my tracks. God in Jesus became what God loves, and that is everything human. Isn’t this at the heart of the Incarnation we celebrate this Christmas season? We bow before the mystery of a God who loved us so completely, so extravagantly, that the Holy One wanted no separation between Jesus and us. Jesus, the son of God who, though also divine, knew what it was to fully inhabit a human body, to become what God loves. Jesus experienced the fullness of our human bodies when he shivered with cold, fell into bed exhausted, savored fresh bread, drank wine at a wedding, as we do. When he laughed with friends, hugged toddlers, wept over rejection, felt the sting of criticism or the loneliness of prophecy, as we do.  

This Christmas, may we take time to celebrate the truth that Emmanuel, God-with-us, gets it. He really gets what it means to inhabit everything human. As he read from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue (Luke 4:16-21), he proclaimed that he was anointed to bring good news to humble and fragile bodies; that he was called to heal broken and wounded bodies; that he was sent to announce liberation to captive bodies, just as we are.  

May we, who share the “everything human” that God loves, be tender and gracious with ourselves and others when we notice the limitations that come with being human. Perhaps we’re at a juncture in our lives when we can no longer do what we once did, but can we pause every day to give thanks for the gift of being alive, grateful for what we can do? May we reverence and respect our precious bodies that are the vehicles for our awakening at this time, in this place, this Christmas and always.

Jon Tyson, Unsplash

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Spend time reflecting on the seeming ordinariness of Jesus’ daily life and of how the everyday activities of your human body mirror his.
Offer thanks to the Holy One for inviting you to become the “everything human” that God loves.

Featured Image: Leon Oblak, Unsplash

NOTE:

Christmas blessings! Know how grateful I am for your comments, support, and following of Mining the Now. May you and those you love experience peace and healing in this holy season. I look forward to learning from and being blessed by your good company all through the new year ahead.

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Beyond the Crèche

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    December 5, 2021

One year in early January I happened to be working in Rome. Since it was still considered the Christmas season, a friend invited me to join her for a day of visiting some of the neighborhood churches, still fully and festively decorated. I carried with me memories of setting up our family nativity scene each year as Christmas approached. The central figures of Mary, Joseph, and the Infant Jesus were often joined by shepherds and angels and later, by the Magi. So that’s what I expected to see as we neared the first of the local churches.

Nativity village, Italy

Once inside, I was stunned into silence by the enormity of the scene, for the Italian nativity took place not as an isolated event but in the full context of the world of its time. I gazed at an entire, vast village that surrounded the scene of Jesus’ birth. Reverent worshipers knelt and prayed in the temple. Shopkeepers sold their wares of blankets, pots and pans, water jugs, meat and grain. School teachers and students gathered in small rooms of learning. Farriers trimmed the hooves of patient horses and donkeys. Small children engaged in games of hide and seek. Families sat around steaming kettles, intent on breaking bread and filling hungry bellies. Parents tucked their little ones into bed. Somewhere in the middle of all my eyes took in were the Holy Family, the familiar shepherds and angels, the sheep and cattle, yes. But what was striking is that they didn’t exist alone. They were part of a fully formed, colorfully detailed setting.

The rightness of this imagining was clear, for the Incarnation took place not in isolation but in the midst of a world both beautiful and broken. The Italian nativity offered an emphatic, visual statement: Jesus, the Holy One of God, came for all of us, not just a privileged few. Jesus, the Holy One of God, arrived in a world where people were going about their daily lives, sometimes in unrest or chaos or messiness, sometimes in play or peace or contentment. Today, in our time and place, Emmanuel, God-with-us, comes anew, right into the dailiness and seeming ordinariness of our lives. All of our lives.

We often hear this truth proclaimed as “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14) I’m rather partial to the Message Bible translation of this same passage: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”

The neighborhood, the place where we find God in all things. Our neighborhood. Into this neighborhood, this here and now, Jesus comes again today. He enters into our lives in the midst of whatever might be unfolding. Perhaps this Advent we may be nudged into deep inner soul work, tweaking our patterns of thought or behavior. We may be invited into practices of more engaged prayer. We may be among those who have been numbed by despair in the disappearance of our jobs, in the deep-seated divisions in our country, in the now empty places at our tables. We may be carrying burdens of grief or uncertainty or worry. We may be rejoicing in the birth of a new grandchild or a return to family gatherings after the long winter of the pandemic. However we are, wherever we are, and whatever our life experience may be, Jesus comes again, offering his graced presence and accompaniment.

Fotolia

May the neighborhood into which we welcome him today embody a spirit of welcome and spaciousness of heart. May the neighborhood offer a soft space for the healing of wounds—our own and others’. May it empty us of clutter and the rush of activity and open our hearts to deep listening and availability. May our neighborhood make room for the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us, in whatever form the Holy One appears.

Takeaway
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Call to mind your neighborhood, the place where you live and love, work and play. Place yourself and Jesus at the center of this scene.
Ask for the grace to both recognize and welcome him in the dailiness of your life.
Bless your neighborhood. All of your neighborhood.

Featured Image:  Pedro Lasta, Unsplash

NOTE:

I’m grateful to Teddy Michel, Director of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC) of Northeastern PA, for the invitation to write this reflection for the IVC December newsletter and for permission to re-post it with some tweaking as a blog for Mining the Now. The Ignatian Volunteer Corps provides mature men and women the opportunity to serve the needs of people who are poor, to work for a more just society, and to grow deeper in Christian faith by reflecting and praying in the Ignatian tradition.   

Thank you for holding in your prayer all who were part of the Thanksgiving dinner and other events prepared by Friends of the Poor in Scranton, PA. Because of the support of hundreds of volunteers and the prayerful support of even more friends, over 3,500 complete Thanksgiving dinners were either picked up by guests or delivered to guests in nursing homes. Every year I am in awe of how this incredible feast comes together, and every year I am profoundly grateful for the outpouring of kindness and generosity. May this spirit of gracious giving continue as we move further along on our Advent journey.

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Wisdom from the Margins

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   November 21, 2021

Every person can be a bearer of wisdom.

I met one of those unexpected carriers when I was making my way home from work in New York’s Greenwich Village one evening. There she was: a homeless woman who had set herself up at the side of the stairway leading to the West 4th Street subway station. Strategically placed out of the way of foot traffic, she knelt on the sidewalk next to a neatly placed pile of blankets, the sheets carefully turned down as if she were a guest in a Manhattan hotel. The location was unusual, yes, but that’s not what claimed my attention. What actually rooted my feet to the ground, what halted me in my tracks, was that, seemingly oblivious to the hundreds of commuters passing by, this woman was kneeling outdoors at the side of her makeshift bed, her head bowed in prayer.  

I remember being so captivated that I couldn’t move. I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t keep my eyes from welling up. The silence was sacred, so I didn’t interrupt her. But clearly, she spoke to me in some profound way, because more than twenty-five years later, this woman is still in front of me, witnessing gratitude as we enter another season of giving thanks.

When I recounted this story shortly after it happened, one listener wondered, “What could that woman possibly be thankful for? I mean, look at what her life was reduced to, sleeping on the sidewalk.” True, on the surface this unnamed woman had an abundance of reasons to complain: the chill of the evening air, the hardness of the concrete on which she knelt, the lack of privacy, the circumstances that had set in motion her place in that scene of homelessness.

I had a different imagining as I gazed at her. I wondered what pleas for safety and protection, what litanies of friends lost to the harshness of street life, what remembrance of kindnesses given and received, what words of gratitude poured from her heart as she engaged in night prayer right there on West 4th Street.

Because the reality is that, if we’re looking for reasons to complain, we’ll have no difficulty finding examples to support our attitude. The list of all the things we wish were different or somehow better in our lives might be pretty lengthy. At the same time, if we’re looking for reasons to be grateful, we will find them just as easily, and that recounting might be endless.

The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen insists we’re called to gratitude no matter what is happening in our lives. He writes that, “To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our life–the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections–that requires hard spiritual work. Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to the present moment.”

So what do we choose to pay attention to and emphasize? Can we notice all the seemingly small, subtle, often unexpected moments that make up a human life, and offer a prayer of gratitude to the Holy One?

This Thanksgiving, I’m going to see my sisters and their families in New Jersey. And the woman who knelt in prayer next to the West 4th Street station is coming with me. I hope that she will never stop accompanying all of us and witnessing to us what it means to live with a truly grateful heart.

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on what has unfolded in your life since you last offered prayers of gratitude.
Include times that felt like a challenge as well as those that seemed a blessing.
Say “Thank you” to the Holy One for everything.

Featured Image: BBC Creative, Unsplash

NOTE:

Please remember in your prayer all who will be part of an Advent weekend guided retreat, “A Heart for Our Time and Place,” at St. Francis Center for Renewal in Bethlehem, PA, December 3-5. For more information or to register: 610-867-8890 or https://www.stfrancisctr.org/upcoming-events

At this Thanksgiving holiday when we especially remember those who have no welcoming table to come to, please remember the hundreds of volunteers and guests who will come together for the 45th annual Thanksgiving Community Program organized by Friends of the Poor, an IHM sponsored ministry, in Scranton, PA. Friends of the Poor brings together in friendship people in need and people who wish to assist in partnership. The Thanksgiving program includes an Interfaith Prayer Service, a Thanksgiving dinner for 3,500 adults and elderly (this year pre-packaged for giveaway because of the pandemic), and a Thanksgiving food basket giveaway. For me personally, these events are a contemporary version of the banquet feast where all are welcome and none are turned away.

I’m especially grateful this year for all of you who so faithfully follow my blog, Mining the Now. May you and all those you love experience many blessings this Thanksgiving and all through the coming season of Advent.

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An Underground Perspective

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   November 7, 2021

Autumn planting is all about taking the long view. Quite a different feel from the season of spring where seeds are broadcast in sunshine and increasing warmth, causing them to sprout within a week’s time. In autumn, everything pauses and slows down. First frost hovers in the forecast. All about us appears to be in decline or decay. And that, paradoxically, is exactly when we’re summoned to burrow spring bulbs into the cold ground of fall. Clearly, this is not the season of immediate gratification and rapid results. This is the season of hope-filled, patient waiting.

Sandra Grunewald, Unsplash

Last week I did some autumn planting of a half dozen narcissus. I’ve always loved their cheerful, cupped faces set against tones of bright orange and pale yellow and creamy white. I hold childhood memories of scrutinizing winter dirt once snow had thawed, searching for barely visible eruptions of green. The spring air was heavy with a comforting certainty that the coming alive of spring would surely follow the hibernation and hiddenness of winter. And as expected, some weeks later, persistent shoots would poke through the thawed earth and grow into narcissus buds.

I felt a particular empathy for the gnarled bulbs I held in my hands last week. I admired their willingness to be buried. Buried more than six inches deep, my instructions read, and covered well. Buried into a silence that is dark. Buried into a time of quiet waiting. Buried into the unknown future. Buried in an act of trust that the harshness of winter is not the final word.

It’s no coincidence that autumn planting takes place before or near the feast of All Souls. That’s the day when we remember all those whose lives once visible and cherished among us have been transformed into the radiant presence of risen life. That’s the time that challenges our faith in all that’s taking place beyond our sight, in all that is birthing a new aliveness, impelled by the grace of the Holy One.

At times we may feel ourselves ushered into a season of enveloping darkness by sudden or subtly changing circumstances. We or those we love and care for may feel our lives so full of loss that they read like the story of Job. We may be buried under anxiety or shame or a sense of failure. We may struggle with the blanketing darkness of depression. We may carry heartache so crushing that wholeness and healing seem like an impossible dream. We may feel unable to lift our head above the weight of a diagnosis or the termination of a desperately needed job. We may come to awareness of an exquisite pain: owning our inability to save another we deeply love, someone who is right now in such a space. We may, in a word, feel ourselves buried. And buried deep.

Christine Caine offers an autumn perspective that juxtaposes how we may feel in such times and what might actually be unfolding:

“When you’re in a dark place,” she writes, “you may sometimes think you’ve been buried. But perhaps, you’ve actually been planted.”

Perhaps we’ve actually been planted. If so, then what fresh and unexpected blessings might the Holy One be inviting us into in this underground season? What practices of surrender and letting go are required so that the grace of the divine may be most fully active in us? What deep inner soul work, what reserves of patience and hope and trust, shall we be cultivating?

MohammadHosein Mohebbi, Unsplash

Here in the Northern hemisphere when everything above ground seems to speak of departure and the finality of endings, let us plant spring bulbs. Let us plant bulbs in the emphatic belief that resurrection is coming, and it will not be denied. May it be so!

Takeaway

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
You may want to place before you a flower bulb or an image of one.
What longings in your own heart need to be more deeply planted, rooted, or nurtured?
Ask the Holy One to bless the deepest desires you hold for yourself and for our world.
Offer a simple act of trust in the power of the divine to bring to completion the dreams buried within you.

Featured image:   Maarten van den Heuvel, Unsplash

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

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