...self care is never a selfish act- it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.

Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

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 down...my 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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Having been in ordained ministry in the UMC for 34 years, I've experienced the truth that although, clergy are frequently present for others, no one can offer what they don't have.That's why if you're a clergy person, you need someone who will listen to you. Not the random next closest person available, but rather someone like a spiritual director, a therapist, a peer who can be fully present to you. I hope the links and posts you find here will give you ideas, humor, hope and encouragement. Scott Endress

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