Friends! A more personal note today; I hope that’s alright.
Nouwen’s The Way of The Heart has been one of the books with the most spiritual impact on my life. been one of my favorite of his book’s for a long time. When I first read it a decade or so ago,
Out of all the spiritual formation books I’ve read, written by Nouwen or anyone, The Way of The Heart has had some of the most impact in my life. I’m grateful for it, and find it challenging and clarifying in all sorts of ways. What I’ve appreciated so much about it is that reading this book at different points in my life, in the different situations I find myself in, has meant different insights each time.
The most recent time I opened it I was struck by a number of things, but as I read the passage below I felt as if it was written about me. Nouwen is writing on “solitude” here, what he calls “the furnace of transformation”–that is, the place where we fight against “the three compulsions of the world”: to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful (25). It’s a great concept, a great chapter. But Nouwen says this soon after, as a corrective:
In order to understand the meaning of solitude, we must first unmask the ways in which the idea of solitude has been distorted by our world. We say to each other that we need some solitude in our lives. What we really are thinking of, however, is a time and a place for ourselves in which we are not bothered by other people, can think our own thoughts, express our own complaints and do our own thing, whatever it may be. For us, solitude most often means privacy. We have come to the dubious conviction that we all have a right to privacy. Solitude thus becomes like a spiritual property for which we can compete on the free market of spiritual goods…[or] a station where we can recharge our batteries…[or] the corner of the boxing ring where our wounds are oiled” (The Way of The Heart, pp.26-27).
What is solitude, if it’s not this:
“It is the place of conversion, the place where the old self dies and the new self is born, the place where the emergence of the new man and the new woman occurs” (27).
So, so often, and to my embarrassment, I don’t want solitude–the opportunity to have my world-shaped compulsions reshaped by God’s Spirit, by the simple fact of staying put, with God, when what I’d rather do is check my phone, check the web, check out from the moment. What I really want is privacy; the ability to do whatever I want by myself. Frankly, this has only grown since having a little one, but it’s always been something I’ve sought out.
I think, frankly, privacy is solitude’s cheap, sugar-instead-of-nutrition craving that I have. I should eat dinner; what I want is a Coke and some Reese’s Cups.
I think most of us are more honest than Nouwen gives us credit for. We say “I just want some time alone,” and that’s what we mean: time by ourselves, without anyone nagging us, and definitely not time in which we challenge our “false selves.” But I could be wrong.
What is your relationship with solitude? Privacy? Alone time or whatever way you talk about this? Do you think what Nouwen says about what we really want rings true? What’s your relationship with these things?
Comment if you want…
(Today’s book, which I completely recommend, is available from the Henri Nouwen Society’s Amazon Book Store: http://astore.amazon.com/hennousocusab-20/detail/0345463358)
~Post written by Rich Hagopian
Today’s selection comes from a passage in Nouwen’s book, “With Burning Hearts.” It’s a book about the Eucharist, and Nouwen lets the story from Luke 24 of the travelers on the road to Emmaus guide his reflection on the way the bread & the cup connect to our daily lives. (This passage is actually taken from a book called The Only Necessary Thing, a collection of assorted quotes and passage from Nouwen that are divvied up into topical chapters.) While Brethren have always emphasized the way Communion draws us together as well as draws us to God, Nouwen’s focus here is on that “vertical” relationship. If you read carefully you’ll notice his allusions to the Luke 24 story as well.
Without further ado:
It is this intense desire of God to enter into the most intimate relationship with us that forms the core of the eucharistic celebration and the eucharistic life. God not only wants to enter human history by becoming a person who lives in a specific epoch and a specific country, but God wants to become our daily food and drink at any time and any place…
Communion is what God wants and what we want. It is the deepest cry of God’s and our heart, because we are made with a heart that can be satisfied only by the One who made. God created in our heart a yearning for communion that no one but God can, and wants, to fulfill. God knows this. We seldom de. We keep looking somewhere else for that experience of belonging….Still if we have mourned our losses, listen to him on the road, and invited him into our innermost being, we will know that the communion we have been waiting to receive is the same communion God has been waiting to give. (Excerpt from The Only Necessary Thing, 180-181; available at Amazon.com, ISBN 10 is 0824524934; 13, 978-0824524937).
Can you relate to Nouwen here? Have you experienced that sense of belonging that he describes, or even the desire for it that he says our hearts long for?
I think about what it means to belong for all sorts of reasons; it’s easy for me to feel like an outsider, to notice outsiders, and to endlessly reflect on just how much I believe God’s love for me is relevant for whatever happens to be going on around me. (Notice the language: It’s not hard to feel like a stranger to my own life sometimes!) And I have spent enormous amounts of energy trying to find that place where I belong. And yet, discovering my heart’s satisfaction in the communion with God that Nouwen speaks about here has fundamentally changed how I relate to the entire world around me. It’s a daily task, a discipline, for me to return to that communion. The Eucharist–Communion!–is a reminder of it, of course, but it’s been good work to find the ways to return to the truth that Nouwen so honestly describes here.
~Post written by Rich Hagopian
Nouwen was invited to write a daily devotional called Bread For The Journey (Available here: http://astore.amazon.com/hennousocusab-20/detail/0060663766/178-3659070-5197431). It’s kind of a weird piece of work: People very familiar with Nouwen’s life and thought can immediately connect a day’s entry to some larger book, where he more completely explored the idea at hand.
Today’s entry comes from the “February 10th” entry. It’s not cheerful, but it’s really, really honest, and it follow the themes of Lent that we’ve already been considering. Nouwen writes, in a devotional titled “Dying Well,”
We will all die one day. That is one of the few things we can be sure of. But will we die well? That is less certain. Dying well means dying for others, making our lives fruitful for those we leave behind. The big question, therefore, is not “What can I still do in the years I have left to live?” but “How can I prepare myself for my death so that my life can continue to bear fruit in the generations that will follow me?”
Jesus died well because through dying he sent his Spirit of Love to his friends, who with that Holy Spirit could live better lives. Can we also send the Spirit of Love to our friends when we leave them? Or are we too worried about what we can still do? Dying can become our greatest gift if we prepare ourselves to die well.
We could get bogged down in the theological precision of what Nouwen says here, but that’d make bad use of this little passage.
His question, “How can I prepare myself for my death so that my life can continue to bear fruit in the generations that will follow me?” is one that is relevant no matter what our age. I doubt it’s one that feels important, though, for many of us: the urgent stuff of life wins for our attention. Like many things, to die well for Nouwen is tied up in living well in the relationships we have now.
Does Nouwen’s concern feel irrelevant or is it–for any reason–something that’s on your mind right now? What does it practically mean to live in such a way that our lives bear fruit even after we die? That our friends are connected to God through our passing, somehow? I’m thinking of forgiveness, of blessing, of nurturing relationships… You?
Is this relevant at all?
~Post Written By Rich Hagopian
Today’s passage comes from a book written by Nouwen in 1977, during his tenure at Yale Divinity School, for those involved in pastoral care of some sort or another. I first received a copy of this at my bachelor party…wild time right? (The party was great: barbecue and soccer. Friends brought me first edition copies of various books; The Living Reminder was given to me by one of my groomsmen.)
“It is central to the biblical tradition that God’s love for his people should not be forgotten….Through memory, love transcends the limits of time and offers hope at any moment of our lives.” Henri Nouwen: The Living Reminder. 38-39.
In memory we are able to be in touch with each other’s spirit, with that reality in each other which enables an always deepening communication. There is little doubt that memory can distort, falsify, and cause selective perception. But that is only one aspect of memory. Memory also clarifies, purifies, brings into focus, and calls to the foreground hidden gifts. When a mother and father think of their children who have left home, when a child remembers his parents, when a husband and wife call each other to mind during long periods of absence, when friends recall their friends, it is often the very best that is evoked and there real beauty of the other that breaks through into consciousness. When we remember each other with love we evoke each other’s spirit and so enter into a new intimacy, a spiritual union with each other. At the same time, however, the loving memory always makes us desire to be in touch again, to see each other anew, to return to the shared life where the newly found spirit can become more concretely expressed and more deeply embedded in the mutuality of love. But a deeper presence always leads again to a more purifying absence. Thus the continuous interplay between presence and absence, linked by our creative memory, is the way in which our love for each other is purified, deepened and sustained. Henri Nouwen: The Living Reminder. 40-41.
Nouwen writes this in service to his call that Christian care-givers realize that their absence can be just as important as their presence. I find this challenging of course; our entire society is built on presence, on staying in touch. To be absent is…weird, at least, and now and then “wrong.” If you’re not checking your texts, voice and emails, not opening up Snapchat, or Twitter, or Facebook, not making yourself available all the time, then you become different; and our world doesn’t have much time for different.
But if we’re connected all the time, do we miss out on the “purifying, deepening, sustaining” memories of those who we love, and instead trade these memories for inconsequential small-talk, gossip, or irritation from over-exposure? I don’t know.
I know that absence matters, though. What Nouwen talks about here is true: it drives us to seek each other, our memories nourish our soul, and when we gather again, we can show the love that we’ve felt for the person we’ve missed.
But when was the last time you were absent at all? When was the last time we didn’t check in? What was it like, and what forced your hand…because of course, we almost never choose it.
How can our absences from others matter for the relationships we value? Thoughts? Leave a comment.
Today’s selection, The Living Reminder, is available for purchase through the Amazon Bookstore of The Henri Nouwen Society. Direct Link: http://astore.amazon.com/hennousocusab-20/detail/0866839151