Henri Nouwen is one of my favorite Christian authors. I was first introduced to Nouwen’s work a number of years ago when my Sunday School class studied “The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming” which offered a helpful reflection on the meaning of this familiar parable. Our class had lively discussion as we identified with the characters in the story. Since then, I have noticed that a number of notable teachers and mentors refer to his work. I am currently reading Nouwen’s “Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith”, one of a trio of his books that my Spiritual Direction class is reading in nuggets and discussing over our 2 year journey together. Nouwen shared his personal, sacred story, trusting in the truth of God’s story in him. We are all encouraged to share our history with God and the ways that God has worked in our lives.
Nouwen shared that his first 24 years of life were basically years to prepare himself for the Catholic priesthood. He grew up with clear boundaries that gave him a sense of being in the right place where he felt protected and safe. After his ordination, he continued to grow as he studied, taught and travelled and through his experiences he learned that “Protestants belong as much to the Church as Catholics, that Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims believe as much in God as Christians, the pagans can love one another as much as believers, that the human psyche is multidimensional, that theology, psychology, and sociology are intersecting in many places, that women have a real call to ministry, that homosexual people have a unique vocation in the Christian community, that the poor belong to the heart of the Church, and that the Spirit of God blows where it wants. All of these discoveries gradually broke down many fences that had given me a safe haven and made me deeply aware that God’s covenant with God’s people includes everyone. For me personally, it was a time of searching, questioning and often agonizing. A time that was extremely lonely and not without moments of great inner uncertainty and ambiguity. The Jesus that I had come to know in my youth had died.” Nouwen later went on to join the L’Arche Daybreak community where he lived with and served people with mental handicaps and their assistants in a very close-knit community consisting of people from many different religions, backgrounds, communities, and lifestyles and his heart started to burn as he recognized the presence of Jesus in a radical new way.
I give thanks for the witness and wisdom and vulnerability of Henri Nouwen, one of the greatest companions for those of us on an intentional spiritual journey. I do not have the education and experiences of Nouwen, but I do have my own journey of learning and experiencing God and I have come to the same conclusions of Nouwen as I have allowed God to speak to me beyond the boundaries of the neat and tidy box that God seemed to be in. My hope and prayer is that as we continue through this holy season, we will allow God to speak to us in fresh and new ways, perhaps outside of the neat, tidy and safe box that we have put God in. We aren’t gonna get all of this figured out in the brief amount of time that we spend here on earth, but thankfully this length of time is just a small part of our total life with God. As Nouwen reminds us, “Life is just a short opportunity for you during a few years to say to God: ‘I love you too.’”
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Claire – Unwrapping the God-box this Holiday Season
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