“And as a deep peace filled the empty space between us he said hesitantly, ‘When I look at you it is as if I am in the presence of Christ.’ I did not feel startled, surprised or in need of protesting, but I could only say, ‘It is the Christ in you, who recognizes the Christ in me.’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘He indeed is in our midst,’ and then he spoke the words which entered into my soul as the most healing words I had heard in many years, ‘From now on, wherever you go, or wherever I go, all the ground between us will be holy ground.’ And when he left I knew he had revealed to me what community really means.”
This was a part of the discourse from a meeting between Nouwen and a former student. I have friends with whom our relationship is close enough that we can live many miles apart, speak only occasionally, and still maintain the kind of friendship that allows us to feel as if we have hardly been out of one another’s presence. We have touched each other deeply and the bonds of Christ have proven stronger than any other between us.
We live in a world that speaks uncomfortably about such things. When I first read the statement by Nouwen I was at once embarrassed to read it and longing to experience it. The perversions of homosexuality and adultery in our country have made it difficult for people to seek out a close spiritual relationship. When it happens it is almost in spite of what the world thinks. This all makes sense in what we talked about in the last blog about how our relationships and emotions are often compromised by sin when we do not first give them to the Lord in true relationship and heart-solitude deep inside of our souls. Even the purest of intentions are often misconstrued by a world that can’t help but believe otherwise because of sin. Some cultures seem to have less trouble with this than does the American culture.
This quote is deeper than all of that. “It is the Christ in you, who recognizes the Christ in me.” When I first accepted Christ it seemed almost as though I had developed a sixth sense for spotting other Christians. This has confused me over the years but often I could look into the eyes of another and see the light of Christ glowing from behind and I’ve had many friends who said the same thing. I’ve even had Christians come up to me in a store and ask me if I was a minister. They didn’t know me and had never met me and yet they somehow knew. These days I find myself in the midst of many who do not believe and who are honestly seeking God. Perhaps then it is the Christ in me that longs to seek out the Christ who wants to be in them.
It’s a funny way of talking about Christ. Nouwen doesn’t mean we all have a different Christ. Rather, he is underscoring more so that it is the same Christ who dwells in every Christian heart. So when Christians meet and come to a deep relationship that is rooted in heart-purifying solitude and an internal bond like no other, all the ground between them will be holy ground. It is as if they are always connected by God. This insight led Nouwen to truly understand what “community” is all about. This is especially significant coming from a man whose doctrines hold such a concept as dearer than most. In some denominations most everything is sacrificed so that community may never be broken.
I’m in a denomination that should understand community better than we do. Often, however, our focus has been on areas of holiness and purity to the point where community suffers and can easily be broken. It’s such a painful experience when it happens and, as with most debates, the answer is typically somewhere in the middle. I’d venture to say that true community cannot happen without a purity wrought deep within the heart of believer. A purity wrought by heart-solitude. Perhaps then, we can see enough holy ground on this earth to truly change the world.