Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Place to Hit Bottom

Thank God for Henri! 
Most guests at our churches probably wonder: "are these folks for real- is this really a safe place for me?" That's one reason why guests prefer to be anonymous, at least for the first few visits.

Whenever I read the late Henri Nouwen, I'm confronted with a rare, raw honesty. The bare-nakedness is about himself, of course. For me, his best writing was always his depth and honesty about his journey, reminding us that to engage in life with God is not about a quick fix, but a holy longing and life-long pilgrimage. 

As he wrote, in the Introduction to The Inner Voice of Love, "light and darkness, hope and despair, love and fear are never very far from each other...and spiritual freedom often requires a fierce spiritual battle."  

Nouwen described a time of extreme anguish, during which he wondered whether "I would be able to hold onto my life. Everything came crashing energy to live and work, my sense of being loved, my hope for healing, my trust in God...everything. Here I was, a writer about the spiritual life, known as someone who loves God and gives hope to people, flat on the ground and in total darkness."  Wow!

His new ministry setting, the L'Arche community for special needs adults, seemed ideal. But shortly after arriving there was just the time his life was falling apart, as if  "I needed a safe place to hit bottom." Without psychoanalyzing Nouwen's experience, one of the core marks of Christian community is the safety it provides. The people present don't pretend they're something they're not. And that can lead us to a deeper experience of grace. 

Pastoral leaders can regularly set the default to grace and acceptance- in all types of settings- because if we are alive and honest, we, like Nouwen,  regularly have our own struggles with darkness. With God, there's always more than enough grace and love, the kind of mercy that the Apostle James says always "triumphs" or "rejoices" over judgement. James 2:13  That's exactly what gave saints like Nouwen , and what empowers all of us, with the courage to love and to be loved.

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