Smile, Breathe, Go Slowly

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Current BSVM volunteers had a mid-year retreat earlier this month, which allowed for intentional space and time to explore various prayer practices, spend time in nature, and enjoy a welcome reprieve from Zoom meetings. The Contemplative Retreat has been a staple of the BSVM service year and our long-time retreat leader, Joy Aker, has led it and other retreats for over a decade.

Read below to hear from Kristin Henning (BSVM ’10-’11) who reflects on the spiritual “kick-start” she experienced through BSVM (and the mid-year retreat in particular) that helped her out of the “lull” she felt after the press and pace of college. We invite you to pause from your current bustle and reflect on your own spiritual journey and path. When was the last time you felt a sense of spiritual clarity?

If you are interested in discerning a year of intentional relationship with God and others, begin your application to BSVM here.

Smile, Breathe, Go Slowly
By Kristin Henning (BSVM 2010-2011)
a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross

When I arrived to Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry, I was at a “spiritual lull” in my life. Much of my final years of college, I took sole responsibility for managing and planning my life. Mass became a rarity as I frantically tried to meet deadlines, organize my days, save my spot in the library, and conjure something to eat—all on barely any sleep. I began my year as a Bon Secours Volunteer with the knowledge of college life and how I could manage to make most of it happen. Similar to my deadlines and assignments, I fit people into my life during homework groups or a mini-review session over Sunday brunch.

After six months of opening my schedule to be of service full time…six months of allowing others to “fit” me into their lives, at our mid-year retreat, I had a moment of spiritual clarity. I realized that I was scared. My mind was a war zone of conflicting thoughts and doubts. I had a pre-medical college degree. I also had the debt. I thought I was on the track for medical school, but that was being questioned. I needed to make a move and was unsure which way to go. I also doubted the gift of “faith” that I had gained and fostered during my high school years. I questioned if this “faith” had been purely and unrestrictedly chosen. Although they conflicted, one thing my thoughts and doubts had in common was the question: Had I just blindly accepted messages formed by my environment and authority figures’ opinions?

I needed to organize my thoughts and address my doubts with solutions. Joy Aker, the facilitator of our mid-year retreat, offered me an avenue to seek healing and peace of mind. She introduced me to authors, pastors, medical intuitives, spiritual teachers, and enlightenment seekers. [Author and] former pastor Barbara Brown Taylor taught me to see the holy in everything and opportunities for prayer in simple daily activities and conditions such as walking, encountering others, feeling pain, and even getting lost. Medical intuitive Caroline Myss taught me the importance of acknowledging one’s emotions and practicing healthy mind and body responses to stressful life events. I found redeeming qualities in her “essential truths of heaven” such as, “change is inevitable” and “don’t look to others to make you happy.” Eckhart Tolle, a renowned spiritual teacher, gave me the tools necessary to appreciate the here and now and to be more mindful of the present moment and my place in it.

These authors found a place in my life at a pivotal time. They gave me the courage to stop myself and listen to the chaos and fear in my thoughts. Finally, I could admit to myself the reality of the apprehensions I felt and the uncertainties I had about both my past and my future. Brown Taylor, Myss, and Tolle helped me look at spirituality and religious thought from a new angle, an angle in which I felt freedom to form and grow. I resolved to “smile, breathe, and go slowly,” as the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and enlightenment seeker, Thich Nhat Hanh, says.

And so I smiled even if I was tired because those around me had been tired much longer. My smiles broke down cold exteriors. My smiles opened doors to new relationships. These smiles were a constant reminder of the good I could bring and the good I could receive. I breathed when I felt pressure to plan a life beyond the present. I breathed to let go of that pressure. I breathed when the pain of those around me and their degrading environment left me in tears and hopelessness. These breaths gave me life in a city surrounded by death and destruction.

I slowed my sprint of the previous years down to a walk. I stopped thinking efficiency and instead recognized valued in the process. When I slowed down, I heard God and I saw an opportunity to learn from the more often than not overlooked peoples of this world. I practiced trusting and believing that I am exactly where I am supposed to be and that this new spiritual clarity has kick-started me from my lull toward a more fruitful spiritual path.

Having the opportunity and blessing to be a Bon Secours Ministry Volunteer in the Cardiology Department gave me the chance to smile, breathe, and go slowly into each new situation and with each person I encountered. Likewise, it has given me the chance to take the wisdom, emotions, and relationships I formed with BSVM into my future endeavors, wherever they may lead me.

I hold dear to me the words of Jeremiah 29:11-14, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for your woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope.” His plans, this plan of Bon Secours Volunteer Ministry and Baltimore, was vital to my mental and spiritual welfare and I look forward to the future with great hope that I will be exactly where I am supposed to be.

(This reflection was published in the Winter 2012 issue of The Bon Secours Beacon, now The Companion)

Kristin with colleagues in the Cardiology Department in Baltimore.