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Forward Friday: Seek the Hidden Life

This week we’ve been discussing what Lent is all about in the wise words of Henri Nouwen.  We’ve looked at being ready, returning to God and our true identity, pursuing the hidden life, and being reconciled both to God and to others.

There are so many ways we could use what we learned this week to move forward toward a holistic body theology.  But this weekend, let’s focus on what we need first to get it all started.

Seek the hidden life.

There are all sorts of ways we can pursue the hidden life that Jesus modeled for us. This weekend, look for opportunities to choose the hidden life over the praise of the world.

Here are some ideas:

  • Make an anonymous donation.
  • Get up early or in the middle of the night for some alone time with God, and don’t share your experience with anyone.
  • Put a rubber band around your wrist and take a moment to pray (without anyone noticing) every time you notice it’s there throughout the day.  If anyone asks about the rubber band, just tell them it’s there in case you need it.
  • Perform a random act of kindness when no one is around to see or thank you.  This could be anything from running the dishwasher to picking up trash on the sidewalk.
  • Fast something. Whether it’s for Lent, for the weekend, or for a day, give something up, and make sure no one notices except you and God.

 

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Reconciliation and the Hidden Life

 

On Monday, we looked at an excerpt from Henri Nouwen‘s Sabbatical Journey and unpacked some of his reflections about Lent.  We focused more on the beginning and end of the passage, but today I really want to focus on what he says in the middle.

Jesus stressed the hidden life.  Whether we give alms, pray, or fast, we are able to do it in a hidden way, not to be praised by people but to enter into closer communion with God. Lent is a time of returning to God. It is a time to confess how we keep looking for joy, peace, and satisfaction in the many people and things surrounding us, without really finding what we desire.  Only God can give us what we want.  So we must be reconciled with God, as Paul says, and let that reconciliation be the basis of our relationship with others.

I always love how honest Nouwen is about what it’s like to be human.  He acknowledges all our fallen nature, our pride and guilt and selfishness and all the rest, yet he uses his own vulnerability to draw us into closer relationship with the Divine.

How often I fail at living the “hidden life” Jesus modeled for us.  How easily I am distracted and motivated by the praise the world gives.  How quickly I stray from the one thing I want.  The psalmist calls it an undivided heart.  John calls it remaining in God.  Nouwen calls it communion with God.

It is only when we are living this hidden life that we are able to be in right relationship with others.  It is only when we acknowledge our need for and accept God’s forgiveness that we are able to acknowledge our need for and ask for forgiveness from others or give them our forgiveness, even if they do not ask or acknowledge the need.

Lent is a time for reconciling ourselves to God and to others (not to mention to ourselves) so that when Easter morning comes, we are fully able to understand and celebrate the event that forever reconciled the world to God.

This process is big and important. It is difficult. It requires humility and honesty, vulnerability and transparency.  It requires intention and space.

But the good news is, reconciliation starts with God, and with God, it is already finished!

 

On Obeying the Traffic Signs (Part 2)

Read part 1 here.

When we get into this kind of frame of mind, this need to hurry up and rush and get there, we miss everything that happens in between “here” and “there.”

In school, we cram for tests and immediately after forget everything we learned.  In relationships, we force people into the expectations and assumptions we already laid out for them.  In our spiritual lives, we speak and act according to the authority we recognize without ever considering for ourselves what we really think, how we really feel, and who God really is in our own experience.

Culture doesn’t help. We’re encouraged and even required to fill up our lives with busy-ness, productivity, activity, movement, achievement, and DOING without allowing for any space of quiet, rest, stillness, or being.

But sometimes, if we are attentive enough in the moment, we might notice signs alerting us that we are soon to be driving through a construction zone.  We might be able to justify breaking the speed limit (just a little) in construction-free areas, but now the signs warn us of an extra consequence: traffic fines are doubled in construction zones.

Now we have to slow down.

As we begin to pay attention to the traffic signs in our lives, learn to slow down, and sometimes even stop altogether at the roadblocks in our lives, we may recognize — as I did — that we are being routed a whole new way.

My detour has been neither the shortest distance nor the fastest route to my destination.  Rather, this detour I am on is the only way to the place where I am going.  Without this detour, I would still be spinning my wheels at the roadblock, intent on taking the road I had chosen and ignoring all the signs around me telling me it was not the way.

In The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen talks about the phrase, Peregrinatio est tacere: to be silent keeps us pilgrims.  Ironic that just at the time that I am finding my voice and learning to use it, I am also learning the value of silence in my own life as well as the value of my own silence in the lives of others.  Silence keeps us moving down the path, keeps us walking toward God.  In silence we learn the value of our words; we learn wisdom; we learn purification of the heart.  To walk this path, the path toward God, we must be silent.

Nouwen also talks about the Greek word hesychia, meaning “the rest which flows from unceasing prayer, needs to be sought at all costs, even when the flesh is itchy, the world alluring, and the demons noisy.”  Nouwen describes this kind of prayer as the prayer of the heart, “a prayer that directs itself to God from the center of the person and thus affects the whole of our humanness.”

The prayer of the heart, then, is prayer born out of silence and solitude, defined by a rest that keeps us moving forward toward God, and encompassing our whole selves — mind, body, and spirit. 

This is what creating a holistic body theology is moving us toward: a full integration of our whole selves in pursuit of the God who created us a mind-body-spirit beings. 

Over the next few months, I’ll be moving toward creating a more intentionally spiritual component to Holistic Body Theology Blog.  While there will still be an emphasis on the categories of body theology as defined here, the blog will also be a work in progress toward fuller integration.

For more updates, sign up for the free monthly newsletter.

I invite your thoughts, perspectives, and ideas along the way.  You can always reach me in the comments section, on my Facebook page, or by email at bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.

Do Not Be Afraid

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  – Luke 2:10-11 TNIV

More than any other emotion, fear is what keeps us apart from God.  We fear that we are not worthy.  We fear that we are not enough.  We fear that the letting go will hurt more than the holding on.

As we prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus on this Christmas Eve, consider once more the powerful words of Henri Nouwen, this time from Gracias!

God came to us because he wanted to join us on the road, to listen to our story, and to help us realize that we are not walking in circles but moving towards the house of peace and joy.  This is the greatest mystery of Christmas that continues to give us comfort and consolation: we are not alone on our journey.  The God of love who gave us life sent us his only Son to be with us at all times and in all places, so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles but always can trust that he walks with us.

The challenge is to let God be who he wants to be. A part of us clings to our aloneness and does not allow God to touch us where we are most in pain.  Often we hide from him precisely those places in ourselves where we feel guilty, ashamed, confused, and lost.  Thus we do not give him a chance to be with us where we feel most alone.

Christmas is the renewed invitation not to be afraid and to let him — whose love is greater than our own hearts and minds can comprehend — be our companion.

My prayer for us all this Christmas season is that we would allow God to walk with us in our deepest places, hold us in our pain and loneliness, guide us in our confusion, forgive us in our guilt, and wash away our shame.

Tomorrow, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, let us receive fully and respond with joy to the real and active presence of God in our lives.

Merry Christmas!

The Compassionate Way (Part 2)

It’s our final day with Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison.

Last week in The Compassionate Way (Part 1), we talked about what it looks like to live a life of compassion through voluntary displacement, the individual choice to move ourselves (both inwardly and outwardly) out of what is comfortable and familiar in order to answer the unique call of God in each of our lives.  We established that we cannot act — rightly, timely, compassionately — if we have not first established a lifestyle of prayerful listening to the loving voice of God through the discipline of patience.

More on The Compassionate Way

It is not just the practice of prayer that positions us for compassion.  It is also the celebration of the Lord’s Supper:

When we eat bread and drink wine together in memory of Christ, we become intimately related to his own compassionate life. In fact, we become his life and are thus enabled to re-present Christ’s life in our time and place. (111)

[O]ur praying together becomes working together, and the call to break the same bread becomes a call to action. (113)

This is one reason I am in favor of the open table, which allows everyone (even those who may not fit into our neat categories and labels) to participate together in one of the most sacred and intimate sacraments of the Christian faith.  When we pray together — listening for the loving voice of God — and eat together — with the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in our minds and hearts — we cannot help but be drawn together toward compassionate action as the unified body of Christ.

The authors are adamant that we need both prayer and action to live the Compassionate Way:

Prayer without action grows into powerless pietism, and action without prayer degenerates into questionable manipulation. (114)

But our actions — like our prayers — must be tempered by the discipline of patience that marks the Compassionate Way. It is only through this patient action that we can truly experience the Compassionate Life we have been called to by our Compassionate God.

Patient actions are actions through which the healing, consoling, comforting, reconciling, and unifying love of God can touch the heart of humanity. (115)

Action with and for those who suffer is the concrete expression of the compassionate life and the final criterion of being a Christian….Precisely when we live in an ongoing conversation with Christ and allow the Spirit to guide our lives, we will recognize Christ in the poor, the oppressed, and the down-trodden, and will hear his cry and response to it wherever he is revealed….So worship becomes ministry and ministry becomes worship, and all we say or do, ask for or give, becomes a way to the life in which God’s compassion can manifest itself. (119)

It is important to remember, above all, that when we choose voluntary displacement, guided by the loving voice of God, we are merely joining in with what the Spirit of God is already doing in the world.  The Compassionate Life is really an invitation into the fullness of life that we have been promised.  It is the ushering in — as well as the recognition of — the kingdom of God:

Our action, therefore, must be understood as a discipline by which we make visible what has already been accomplished. (121)

At the end of The Compassionate Way, the authors add that a compassionate act may also require confrontation — both of the sin in ourselves as well as the harmful competition and pursuit of power in the world.  Without this confrontational voice, we would not be able to be defenders of God’s justice.  If compassion is the daily act of kindness toward those individuals hurt by competition, then compassion is also the confrontation of systemic injustice in the world:

Compassion without [humble] confrontation fades quickly into fruitless sentimental commiseration. (123)

Confrontation always includes self-confrontation…each attempt to confront evil in the world calls for the realization that there are always two fronts on which the struggle takes place: an outer front and an inner front. (124)

Only when we voluntarily displace ourselves, listen to the voice of love, and follow that unique calling into patient prayer and patient action will we truly experience the freedom offered to us as children of God because of the compassionate obedience of our incarnate God. The Compassionate Way is the way of grateful, free, and even joyful action:

[T]he compassionate life is a grateful life, and actions born out of gratefulness are not compulsive but free, not somber but joyful, not fanatical but liberating. (125)

This is the deepest meaning of compassionate action. It is the grateful, free, and joyful expression of the great encounter with the compassionate God. (127)

Conclusion

[Compassion] is hard work; it is crying out with those in pain; it is tending the wounds of the poor and caring for their lives; it is defending the weak and indignantly accusing those who violate their humanity; it is joining with the oppressed in their struggle for justice; it is pleading for help, with all possible means, from any person who has ears to hear and eyes to see. In short, it is a willingness to lay down our lives for our friends. (136)

In the conclusion, the authors restate the message of Compassion as the true mark of the Christian life precisely because compassionate action is larger than any one person or organization. Compassion is the collective activity of the body of Christ in the world to bring healing, justice, wholeness, and completion to the broken world our incarnate Christ died to save. Compassion is living into the kingdom of God:

[W]e can only live the compassionate life to the fullest when we know that it points beyond itself…There is a new heaven and a new earth for which we hope with patient expectation.(131)

How are you ushering in the kingdom of God?

What do you think of Nouwen’s perspective on the Compassionate God, the Compassionate Life, and the Compassionate Way? Is he right?

Listen to the loving voice of God in your life. What is God revealing as your unique calling to the Christian life of compassion?

 

Forward Friday: Listen to the Voice of Love

Displacement begins with the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and it is that movement that we must be sensitive to if we are going to identify and join in the calling of God on our lives.

We’ve been going through Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life for the last couple of weeks.  If you’re feeling moved by Henri Nouwen’s message of choosing voluntary displacement but are unsure how to start listening to the divine voice of love, I encourage you to check out Tim Hoekstra’s wonderful devotional Miles to Run Before We Sleep.  All proceeds from book sales are donated to World Vision‘s clean water project in Africa, so you can’t go wrong.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, my husband and I know Tim (he married us in April 2011), and he is an unbelievably gentle and driven man of God with a passion for both running and racial reconciliation in the Church.  His devotional provides readers the opportunity to think, pray, move, and discover the unique calling on each of our lives toward what Nouwen calls voluntary displacement. 

Both of us are reading through the book ourselves and have already had some very unexpected insights.  I may share some of my meditations here in the future, but for now, I highly recommend Tim’s book to anyone looking for guidance in recognizing the displacement in our lives.

If a devotional isn’t your thing, you may also find one of these books helpful in learning to listen to the loving voice of God:

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen

Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer

Sacred Compass by Brent Bill

Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr

If you need more suggestions, drop me a line! I’d love to chat more with each of you.

Making God Visible

Nobody can say “I make God visible,” but others who see us together can say “they make God visible.” Community is where humility and glory meet. – Henri Nouwen

What I tried to say last week with so many words, Nouwen achieves (as always) with a few, well-chosen and profoundly accurate.

Without the body of Christ, we are just fingers and elbows and appendixes.  We need each other, not only for the value of being in community but also for the ability to be — collectively — the image of God in the world.

Participating in the community of God requires preferring the other — letting go of our need to be always right, always first, always best.  But when we are working together through the power of the Holy Spirit, we not only experience God ourselves, but we also create space and opportunity for others to experience God.

This is how we can glorify God and enjoy God forever.

This is how we have been created and designed to be.

This is body theology — the community of God making God visible in the world.

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