Friday, November 22, 2019

Book Review: Life Signs by Henri Nouwen

The concepts Henri Nouwen wrote of in the chapter “Intimacy and Love” spoke right into the journey of healing I am on personally.  I was particularly struck by his statement that “we are so possessed by fear that we do not trust our innermost self as an intimate place, anxiously wandering around hoping to find it where we are not.”  He includes the explanation that as a result, people become strangers to themselves and he quipped, “as if they have an address, but are never home,” and thus are never able to answer the call to love.

After a series of personal crises, I began protecting myself by abandoning my inner space of intimacy, which had been violated, and I moved “to the outdoors” of my life.  I could keep the outside manicured and well-groomed, outdoing my neighbors and getting the proper rewards.  Staying outdoors provided stability and predictability.  My life was lodged in the cognitive where I could use reason and effort to maintain some semblance of control and order.  

Meanwhile, the interior of the house filled with cobwebs, was darkened and visited rarely by myself or those in relationship with me.  Thus, I rarely was in communion with others.  I definitely was well-entrenched into a state of mistrust and fear of my innermost self and not just because I had been wounded there. In the collapse of my own defenses, I had participated in my own injury:  I was not to be trusted with myself.

Being outdoors worked as long as the external world answered to my demands, but I became increasingly aware of the danger if the external world failed me.  I knew I was going to have to re-visit the rich and vast rooms of my own “interior castle.”  It was through the call to unconditional love, having to first give it and later receive it, that I realized I was going to have to re-enter.  

Nouwen’s concept stood out as I realized a language describing my personal recovery, although I would like to challenge some of the language the author used.  “Jesus creates the space to freely move around without fear, transcending feelings, emotions and passions.”  I would rather think of Jesus moving “through” feelings, emotions and passions instead of going “beyond” them.  Going beyond seems to indicate other-worldliness, which would be a favorite pastime of mine:  trying to remove myself from the reality of pain and suffering and risk-taking.  I like to think Jesus can embrace the intimate (and painful) parts of humanity and work and heal in light of them, independent of them, yet present with them.

Oh, to help people find their inner space, the place where Jesus can find them and get a call to them.  There is much to be modeled, said and taught about the impact of the busyness of today, the hurriedness of the day and the restlessness of the night.  The Lord Jesus has created a protective space around those he loves, but we fill it with the activities of daily living and do not use it to join him in that space.  Instead, we fill it with our works, hoping they will represent us in our stead.  Jesus is not interested in being close to our deeds and actions, he is interested in us.

I have been teaching an adult Sunday School class on spiritual disciplines and often we stop and create safe harbor in our learning.  I encourage them to find themselves in God’s word and God’s word in themselves.  Whether we reflect on God’s word, on the presence of God in fresh-baked cookies or explore the deeper meaning of our testimony, they get a taste of that inner space.  I pray it makes them hungry to spend more time there.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019



belief →→→ →→→→ Faith→→→→→→→ trust

When belief turns into trust
and love is demonstrated through loyalty,
there Faith exists.


My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you will not despise. Psalm 51:17

broken - shabar - shattered, destroyed, broken down, crippled or wrecked

contrite - dakah - crushed, broken in pieces

As I look for Jesus, I must remember my place. I have a feeling I don't regard sin with the same disdain as the Old Testament writers.  I white-wash it, minimize it.  I don't even own it sometimes.

God, be merciful to me a sinner.  Luke 18:10-14

God is seeking out and looking for those with contrite spirits.  They are the ones who most desire him, who don't have the shield of pride and ego up to protect themselves. Pride and ego have been shattered, reduced to dust and they must be because pride and ego keep me from God, from entering his presence.

God, be merciful to me a sinner.  Luke 18:10-14

I must bow down and cry out for the forgiveness that God wants to lavish on me.  I cannot receive it when my hands are full with defensiveness, excuse-making, fury or even shame.  I must empty myself of  these things so I can receive rightness, protection, healing and hope that can only come from God.  The slate must be cleared.

God, be merciful to me a sinner.  Luke 18:10-14

I desire God's desire.  Whatever confession I need to make to give me opportunity to be in God's company, to receive the grace of forgiveness and subsequent "rightness," I will do it.  I want to be in the tightest spot next to him as possible.  Thank you, Lord, for making a way and showing me how!

God, be merciful to me a sinner.  Luke 18:10-14

Make it so!

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Struggle

I struggle.  I am besieged. I make mistakes.  I suffer with being human.

Every person comes into real and existential struggle.  Crisis emerges.  Trauma besieges us.  Being human - dealing with myself and others - is often taxing, in the least, devastating, in the worst.  

God wants to ease our struggle (as our champion) or for us embrace our struggle (necessary as Christ-following humans).   Yet, we often don't know what to do with our struggle because struggle is usually wrapped in shame.  

Shame can keep us from solution, from hope and from God.  In our struggle, when shame takes over, we pretend that the bad parts aren't that bad, or  maybe aren't even real.   Shame causes us to be paralyzed, because we can't see the possibility of hope.  Shame causes us to turn inward and fold out of a need to create a safe space for ourselves, helpless because no one is there to help us and we cannot ask for help because of shame.  

Some of our greatest cultural failures are exacerbated because of this.  When someone is physically assaulted, where does one access trauma recovery?  What is a real path out of poverty?  Who will mentor me out of it?  Where are those great resources for domestic workers, immigrants, women seeking greater pay equity, sex trafficking victims, abuse victims?

Our personal narratives must rise up, the voices must be heard so others can hear the story and be comforted in the fact that they are not alone.  When the struggle is voiced, we an remove shame from the struggle.  When we hear victory stories, we can see that nothing is permanent.  We may need to hear a different ending for victory where people find peace, community and their God in the struggle.

Yes, God offers a solution even when the situation does not improve.  "Go to the God of all comfort.." Paul tells the Corinthians.  Let Him be enough for you.  Let gaining awareness of His presence be the first step.   Give in to the one who knows the way out.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4