Henri Nouwen's voice is one of those rare ones that bridge the gulf between different Christian traditions. His qualities of honesty and self-knowledge, desirable in any Christian, are consistently evident in The Genesee Diary, his account of his seven-month stay in a Trappist monastery.
This visit was no vacation for Nouwen. He struggles, first of all, with loneliness:
When nobody writes anymore; when hardly anyone ever thinks of you or wonders how you are doing;. . . when you have been forgotten by people-maybe then your heart and mind have become empty enough to give God a real chance to let his presence be known to you.
Loneliness, therefore, may actually prove to be a blessing. If you are a young adult living on your own for the first time, or a senior feeling forgotten by the family, this may be hard to believe at first. But no prayer is more heartfelt than the private one-the one that is experienced only by you and God. We remember Matthew 6:6: "But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (ESV).
We do not want to stay locked in our rooms forever, of course. We want to come out and relate to people in a positive, loving way-a way that is befitting a servant of God. The challenge of understanding complex relationships is, however, always with us. Learning the subtleties and nuances of good communication is a life-long learning process. One problem we might find ourselves dealing with is our own lack of self-esteem, and surprisingly enough it appears that Nouwen struggled with this: "My general abstract feeling of worthlessness becomes concrete in a specific encounter, so there my false fears increase rather than decrease." He discusses this problem with John Eudes, his spiritual counselor and discovers a solution, best described as meditation:
There you can be with him who was before you came, who loved you before you could love, and who has given you your own self before any comparison was possible. In meditation we can come to the affirmation that we are not created by other people but by God, that we are not judged by how we compare with others but how we fulfill the will of God.
There is no indication of anything "mystical" about this kind of meditation. It seems more a matter of remembering and taking to heart the basic foundations of faith. Nouwen reminds us of 1 John 4:19- "We love because he first loved us." Once again we see how a problem of earthly existence-complex, demanding relationships and our desire to act with confidence-can be put into perspective by remembering our primary relationship: that is, or course, our relationship with God through Jesus.
Nouwen also admits to a fear of physical and mental pain. Once again he discovers that a problem that seems insurmountable in human terms can be put into proper perspective: "When my 'self' is anchored
not in people but in God, I will have a much greater resistance against pain." We know this must be true after even the briefest reflection on the trials and tribulations of the Apostle Paul. After hardships and imprisonment, Paul states "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21).
As evangelical Christians, we want to invite our neighbours to share in the joy of the gospel. We know, however, that the life of a Christian will not be problem-free. Let us, therefore, be prepared. Let us draw near to God both before and during the hard times. Let our fellowship be honest and open as we hold each other up through waves of pain and doubt. Let our hearts accept the encouragement of Paul:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Praise the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
In faith and fellowship,
New Life Community Church
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