A “Going Deeper” Special Series: “Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter”

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IMG_0715 - Version 2Well, friends, our walk through some of Henri Nouwen’s reflection on the life we live as Christians–as God’s beloved–is finished. If you’ve followed along I’d love to know. I hope, too, that it’s been worth your while: useful, challenging, hopeful…whatever. May God be with us as we’re with each other and the world. May we be at home in the love of God wherever we find ourselves.

If you want to share in the comments section any insights you’ve had, or let us know if this series was worth your while, feel free to do so. Maybe we’ll have others like it in the future.

peace,

rich

Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter: “Spiritual Direction: “Listening to the Voice of God” (Part II of II) 

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IMG_0715 - Version 2I wonder if any of us have considered absurdity as Nouwen framed it in the last post–our own absurdity, that is, our deafness to God and what it does to us?

Today, Nouwen talks of its alternative. This comes from the same source as the previous post, on the following page:

The obedient life forms the other end of the spiritual spectrum. The word obedience includes the word audire which means “listening.” Living a spiritually mature life is living a life in which we listen to the voice of God’s Spirit within and among us and in which we try to respond to that voice at every moment of our lives. The great news of God’s revelation is not simply that God exists but also that God is actively present in our lives at all times and at all places. Our God is a God who cares, heals, guides, directs, challenges, confronts, corrects. God is a God who wants to lead us closer to the full realization of our humanity. To be obedient means to be constantly attentive to this active presence of God and to allow God, who is only love, to be the source as well as the goal of all we think, say, and do. It is, however, far from easy to live a life of listening. There are strong resistances in us to listening. 

What an understatement that last line is!

I can’t read today’s passage, today, and not think of Good Friday and of Jesus shouting to God from the cross of his forsakenness. I wonder if one of the great resistances I face to not listening to God is, simply, the petulant belief that He doesn’t listen to me–at least, not the way I want Him to.

The truth is that this “great news” that Nouwen points out undoes deafness when its taken seriously. To live a listening life, an obedient life, is to believe that we’re heard, too, that our obedience is warranted, reasonable.

I believe that…sometimes. Today I do. I pray tomorrow as well.

How about you?

Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter “Spiritual Direction: “Movement From Absurdity to Obedience” (Part I of II) 

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A number of themed compilations of Henri Nouwen’s work have been published. One of these, In My Own Words, was compiled by Nouwen’s long-time friend, Robert Durback. (Durback wrote a forward to one edition of Beyond The Mirror, a book we looked at just a couple of weeks ago.) In the section of the book we’re quoting, below, Durback relies heavily on Nouwen’s work Spiritual Direction. Both these books are available from Amazon, and very likely on the shelves of your local used bookstore, too.

IMG_0715 - Version 2Today’s devotional is the first part of a two part series. While Nouwen talks of “an absurd life” today, on Friday–Good Friday–we’ll read about its alternative, an “obedient life.” Good Friday reminds us of many things; Jesus’ own obedience to his calling and mission in the world is just one of these. Ironically, of course, Jesus’ death as a necessary and obedient thing has always struck people as itself “absurd.” But more about that in a few days…

Here, for now:

The spiritual life is a life in which we struggle to move from absurd living to obedient living. The word absurd includes the word surdus which means “deaf.” Absurd living is a way of life in which we remain deaf to the voice which speaks to us in our silence. The many activities in which we are involved, the many concerns which keep us preoccupied and the many sounds which surround us, make it very hard for us to hear the small voice through which God makes God’s presence known (see 1 Kgs 19;12). It seems that the world in which we live conspires against our hearing that voice and tries to make us absolutely deaf. It is therefore is not surprising that we often wonder, in the midst of our very occupied and preoccupied lives, if anything is truly happening. Our lives might be filled with many events–so many events even that we often wonder how we can get it all done–but at the same time we might feel very unfulfilled, and wonder if anything is happening which is worth living for. Being filled yet unfulfilled, being busy yet bored, being involved yet lonely, these are symptoms of the absurd life, the life in which we are no longer hearing the voice of the One who created us and who keeps calling us to a new life in God. This absurd life is extremely painful, because it makes us feel as if we are living in exile, cut off from the vital source of our existence. (In My Own Words, p.89)

There’s little I could add to Nouwen’s “own words,” here. What is your response to this? I find myself led to prayer, asking, as I mull this over, “Lord…how deaf am I to you? And why?” And do I want to know the answers to these questions…?

Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter: “Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World” 

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IMG_0715 - Version 2Nouwen’s work Life of The Beloved is a long reflection on the Emmaus Road scene at the end of Luke’s Gospel. Nouwen sees, in Jesus’ breaking of the bread at the end of Luke and his self-understanding as God’s Beloved,  a pattern for our own way of life in the world. It was meant as a sort of Apology (a defense) of the Christian faith for a good friend; the friend found it unconvincing, but many, many others have been touched by this book of Henri Nouwen’s. He wrote this, near the end of his work:

As those whoa re chosen, blessed, broken and given, we are called to live our lives with a deep inner joy and peace. it is the life of the Beloved, lived in a world constantly trying to convince us that the burden is on us to prove that we are worthy of being loved. 

But what of the other side of it all? What of our desire to build a career, our hope for success and fame and our dream of making a name for ourselves? is that to be despised? Are these aspirations in opposition to the spiritual life? 

Some people might answer “Yes” to that question and counsel you to leave the fast pace of the big city and look for a milieu where you can pursue the spiritual life without restraints. But I don’t think that that’s your way. I don’t believe that your place is in a monastery or…the solitude of the countryside. I would say, even, that the city with its challenges is not such  bad place for you and your friends. There is stimulation, excitement, movement and a lot to see, hear, taste, and enjoy. The world is only evil when you become its slave. The world has a lot to offer–just as Egypt did for the children of Jacob–as long as you don’t feel bound to obey it. The great struggle facing you is not to leave the world, to reject your ambitions and aspirations or to despise money, prestige or success, but to claim your spiritual truth and to live in the world as someone who doesn’t belong to it…

I believe deeply that all the good things our world has to offer are yours to enjoy. But you can enjoy them truly only when you can acknowledge them as affirmations of the truth that you re the Beloved of God…. That truth will allow you to receive the gifts you receive from your society and celebrate life. But that truth will also allow you to let go of what distracts you, confuses you and puts in jeopardy the life of the Spirit within you. 

We look forward to Holy Week now. Palm Sunday is soon, and with it the reminder of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and the last week of his life before resurrection. So much of Lent is about denial, about remembering our mortality and our dependance on God. This passage emphasizes the latter, while denying the former; it felt appropriate, somehow. A counter-note to that which we’ve been singing.

What do you think of what Nouwen says here? How do we accomplish “living in the world as someone who doesn’t belong to it?”

(Buy this book–for you or a friend–at http://astore.amazon.com/hennousocusab-20/detail/0824519868/186-3099699-8535739)

“Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter: “Turn My Mourning Into Dancing: Finding Hope In Hard Times”

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I’m home today, tomorrow too. Our daughter had a routine surgery, but it’s one that comes with a week (or more) of rest. It’s a quiet morning, and unusually, my mind is quiet too.

IMG_0715 - Version 2Today’s passage comes from a book compiled after Nouwen’s death. He was a prolific writer, and produced many things that were left unpublished before his unexpected passing; quite a few books were posthumously published, edited by those who had worked and lived with him for years. This is one of them. It’s an honest, raw, and hopeful sort of book, and the subtitle explains it well: How can we find hope in hard times?

As Nouwen builds his encouraging argument, we read this, below. It’s part of a discussion on how to move “from fatalism to hope.” A small passage, but:

Hope does not mean that we will avoid or be able to ignore suffering, of course. Indeed, hope born of faith becomes matured and purified through difficulty. The surprise we experience in hope, then, is not that, unexpectedly, things turn out better than expected. For eve when they do not, we can still live with a keen hope. The basis of our hope has to do with the One who is stronger than life and suffering. Faith opens us up to God’s sustaining, healing presence. A person in difficult can trust because of a belief that something else is possible. To trust is to allow for hope. 

So often I hope in things and people, in promises that they make or services they offer. The trouble, though, is that this is a weak base for hope; it can cave in quickly, and whatever is built upon it can fall apart. This small passage from Nouwen reminds of hope’s basis, of trust and faith and how intertwined all these are. I’m returned to God. (If you want to buy this small book, do it from the Henri Nouwen society! http://astore.amazon.com/hennousocusab-20/detail/0849945097)

What do you think of Nouwen’s words here?

Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter: “Here And Now: Living In The Spirit”

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IMG_0715 - Version 2Crocuses and snowdrops are blooming; the tulips and daffodils and hyacinths are on their way, and it’s been time to start seedlings for awhile now. I haven’t yet; it hasn’t made it on my to do list, and so, I only remember as I fall asleep in bed, and think “Whoops…tomorrow.” I’m a few tomorrows in.

So I’ve been thinking about the trays in the shed and what growing matrix to use, and the like. Nouwen talks about this, too, although only in metaphor. Here’s a passage from Here and Now, taken from pages 95 & 96 of that work. He writes about a reality that faces many of us, and our responsibility given the place in which we find ourselves.

We cannot live a spiritual life alone. The life of the Spirit is alike a seed that needs fertile ground to grow. This fertile ground includes not only a good inner disposition, but also a supportive milieu. 

It is very hard to live a life of prayer in a milieu where no one prayers or speaks lovingly about prayer. it is nearly impossible to deepen our communion with God when those with whom we live and work reject or even ridicule the idea that there is a loving God. it is a super-human task to keep setting our hearts on the kingdom when all those whom we know and talk with are setting their hearts on everything but the Kingdom. 

It is not surprising that people who live in a secular milieu–where God’s name is never mentioned, prayer unknown, the Bible never read, and conversation about the life of the Spirit completely absent–cannot sustain their communion with God for very long. I have discovered how sensitive I am to the milieu in which I live. With my community, words about GOd’ presence in our life come spontaneously and with great ease. However, when I join in a business meeting in downtown Toronto or keep company with those who work with AIDS patients, a conversation about God often creates embarrassment or even anger and generally ends up in a debate about the pros and cons  of religion that leaves everybody unhappy. 

When we are serious about living a spiritual life we are responsible for the milieu where it con grow and mature. Although we might not be able to create the ideal context for a life in the Spirit, we have many more options than we claim for ourselves. We can choose friends, books, churches, art, music, places to visit, and people to be with that, taken together, offer a milieu that allows the mustard seed that God has sown in us to grow into a strong tree. 

I appreciate the empowerment in this passage. Nouwen’s so right: we can rarely “create the ideal context for a life in the Spirit,” and yet, we do often too-quickly toss our hands in the air and just give up. How have you made the most of the milieu you find yourself in so that you can grow in a deepening trust in, awareness of, and obedience to God? Where do you get the nourishment your “seed of faith” needs to grow?

WALKING WITH HENRI NOUWEN TO EASTER: “Beyond The Mirror: Reflections On Death And Life”

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IMG_0715 - Version 2More than one story has begun with “There was an accident.” Nouwen, like many of us, has his own that begins this way. Anxious one day about being late to an obligation he had made, he disregarded sensible advice and decided to walk, on an icy stretch of road, to the place he needed to be. As he struggled down the slipper, dangerous berm, growing increasingly angry, bitter, and agitated, he was hit in the back by a large mirror of a passing van. He nearly died from internal bleeding. The experiences, reflections, and relationships that surrounded this event make up the heart of Beyond The Mirror. 

The book is deeply personal, as every “there was an accident” story is, and today’s passage may not resonate with all of us. At least, not now; maybe someday? (The passage is slightly longer than some others, but I think it’s worth the extra three minutes.)

…What I learned about dying is that I am called to die for others. The very simple truth is that the way in which I die affects many people. If I die with much anger and bitterness, I will leave my family and friends behind in confusion, guilt, shame, or weakness. When I felt my death approaching, I suddenly realized how much I could influence the hearts of those whom I would leave behind. If I could truly say that I was grateful for what I had lived, eager to forgive and be forgiven, full of hope that those who loved me would continue their lives in joy and peace, and confident that Jesus who calls me would guide all who somehow had belonged to my life–if I could do that–I would, in the hour of my death, reveal more true spiritual freedom than I had been able to reveal during all the years of my life. I realized on a very deep level that dying is the most important act of living. It involves a choice to bind others with guilt or to set them free with gratitude. This choice is a choice between a death that gives life and a death that kills. I know that many people live with the deep feeling that they have not done for those who have died what they wanted to do, and have no idea how to be healed from that lingering feeling of guilt. The dying have the unique opportunity to set free those whom they leave behind. During my “dying hours,” my strongest feelings center don my responsibility toward those who would mourn my death. Would they mourn in joy or with guilt, with gratitude or with remorse? Would they feel abandoned or set free? Some people had hurt me deeply, and some had been deeply hurt by me. My inner life had been shaped by theirs. I experienced a real temptation to hold on to them in anger or guilt. But I also knew that i could shoot to let them go and surrender myself completely to the new life in Christ. (Beyond The Mirror, 51-53). 

Maybe the only thing more common than “there was an accident” is “they died.” Or, as we so often say, “they passed away.” For any of us who are privileged enough to have space to act between now and our deaths, Nouwen’s words can have great implications. “The dying have the unique opportunity to set free those whom they leave behind,” Nouwen says. As one who isn’t facing my “dying hours,” I wonder: While living, right now, who do I need to set free?

Thoughts on Nouwen’s passage? Email me, comment below, or let’s talk.

peace,

rich

Walking With Henri Nouwen To Easter: “In The Name of Jesus: Reflections On Christian Leadership”

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IMG_0715 - Version 2Nouwen was asked to give a series of lectures on leadership; out of those, and the deep reflection on the topic, In The Name of Jesus was written. In it he lays out three “movements” that underlie Christian leadership: the movement from “relevance to prayer,” “popularity to ministry,” and “leading to being led.” Each of these rely on rejecting a temptation Nouwen sees Jesus  (and Peter) facing: the temptations to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful.

Ever wanted to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful? Me too.

The book is quite short, and easy to read; the information harder, I think, to incorporate into a life well lived. Its content is radical and important in a time when every day brings new volumes on Christian Leadership to, geeze, everywhere: book shops, airport kiosks, pharmacies. Sneeze and you hit someone reading about some new secret tactic to achieve excellent Christian Leadership.

Although nearly every page has something of value in it–Nouwen never wastes words–I’ve chosen the following passage out of the “power to love” section:

What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe is is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life. Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” We ask, “Can we sit at your right hand and your left hand in the Kingdom?” (Matthew 20:21). Ever since the snake said, “The day you eat of this tree your eyes will be open and you will be like Gods, knowing good from evil” (Genesis 3:5), we have been tempted to replace love with power. Jesus lived that temptation in the most agonizing way from the desert to the cross. The long painful history of the church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led. Those who resisted this temptation to the end and thereby give us hope are the true saints.

One things is clear to me: The temptation of power is greatest when intimacy is a threat. Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead. Many Christian empire-builders have been people unable to give and receive love. (In The Name of Jesus, 77-79, available from the Henri Nouwen Society, for only $12, at http://astore.amazon.com/hennousocusab-20/detail/0824512596/191-7732189-2970924)

There’s little I could–or should–add to this. Let me ask just this: When do you find yourself wanting to exert control? When do you find yourself leaning into the exercise of power? And is this tied up in relationships for you?

(If you want to read this book, let me know; I’ll gladly lend you my copy…)

peace,

rich