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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.