“ 3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 6If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
I was first introduced to the writings of Henri Nouwen a number of years ago when I read his book “The Wounded Healer” in which he dared to suggest that we could minister to others out of the pain we have gone through. In fact, it’s that pain that God can use to connect hurting people with those who have been hurt before. The book was very well written and it challenged me. It reminded me of what God can do with those hard times in our lives and why we should give God every part of our lives, including the bad stuff.
I just got a new book to read called “Reaching Out” by Henri Nouwen and I can already tell God is going to challenge me once again. This one is about the Spiritual life and I can already see the same themes that ran through “The Wounded Healer.” I’ve decided to use my experience of this new book as blog-fodder so I can share it with anyone will read this. So expect a few more blogs on whatever God stirs up within my soul as I read this book
So let me introduce the book with an extended quote that really sums up the entire book in a few sentences:
“During our life we become more aware not only of our crying loneliness but also of our real desire for a solitude of the heart; we come to the painful realization not only of our cruel hostilities but also of our hope to receive our fellow humans with unconditional hospitality; and underneath all of this we discover not only the endless illusions which make us act as if we are masters of our fate but also the precarious gift of prayer hidden in the depth of our innermost self. Thus, the spiritual life is that constant movement between the poles of loneliness and solitude, hostility and hospitality, illusion and prayer. The more we come to the painful confession of our loneliness, hostilities and illusions, the more we are able to see solitude, hospitality and prayer as a part of the vision of our life. Although after many years of living we often feel more lonely, hostile and filled with illusions than we had hardly a past to reflect upon, we also know better than before that all these pains have deepened and sharpened our urge to reach out to a solitary, hospitable and prayerful mode of existence.”
It sounds ominous. The more I reflected on what Nouwen is talking about with regards to these poles, the more I can already connect. I’ve seen these at work in my own life. Loneliness is meant to stir up a desire for solitude, hostility leads us to a desire for real hospitality, and our illusions of being in charge of our lives causes us to long for prayerful guidance from God. Nouwen’s desire is to take these “ambiguities, uncertainties and painful conditions of life” and use them to discuss the inner workings of the spiritual life, our relationship with God.
I’ve always been fascinated by the different perspectives people approach life from. Henri Nouwen’s experience is significantly different from mine and it has colored his perspective. Perhaps it’s even made him just the right person to humbly write a book about how we seek, discover and grow in our relationship with our Maker. He was a contemplative Catholic priest from the Netherlands who spent a lot of time teaching in universities and working with people who have mental disabilities. I know that his Catholic background colors how he approaches the inner workings of his own soul just like my background colors my approach of those same workings in my own soul. For some this journey is harder than for others. Some obsess about such things and some don’t want to even think about it. I’m in the middle of those poles and, when I find moment to take a breath and reflect, I discover there is much work to do in my heart.
So I’m taking a journey through my soul as I read this book. Perhaps you’ll find yourself willing to take that journey with me and reflect on the spiritual journey you are on as well.