No Limits Attached

In a previous post, I wrote about the talk by Pastor Lynn Downing our Fanning the Flame team listened to together.  In that talk, Pastor Downing stated that true repentance means allowing God to change us in accordance with His will –NO LIMITS ATTACHED.  That reminded me of a quote by Henri Nouwen, who was a Catholic priest, professor and author of many book on spirituality.  Here’s Henri’s confession about that:

“I love Jesus, but want to hold on to my own friends even when they do not lead me closer to Jesus.  I love Jesus, but want to hold onto my own independence even when it brings me no real freedom.  I love Jesus, but do not want to lose the respect of my professional colleagues even when their respect does not make me grow spiritually.  I love Jesus, but do not want to give up my writing, travel, and speaking plans even when they are often more to my glory than God’s.”

I suspect we all have a list like this;  I know I do.  I love Jesus, but don’t want to give so much of my income to the needy that I can’t buy what I want, go out to dinner or take vacations. I love Jesus, but I don’t want to give up all or even part of my secular reading and tv shows in order to spend more time in prayer and study.  I love Jesus, but I still like to impress others with my accomplishments — and so on.  My point?  I’m still pretty far from that “no limits attached” ideal of repentance.  I guess this is what Luther meant in his first thesis — living a life of repentance is a life-long project.

In later life, Henri Nouwen did grow closer to NO LIMITS ATTACHED.  He went to work at a facility for the disabled, became a chaplain and caregiver, and always took one of the residents with him on speaking engagements.  He repented of his pride and neediness and He did allow God to change him. With God’s help you and I can do the same.

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Henri Nouwen on the Blessing of Poverty

“How can we embrace poverty as a way to God when everyone around us wants to become rich? Poverty has many forms. We have to ask ourselves: ‘What is my poverty?’ Is it lack of money, lack of emotional stability, lack of a loving partner, lack of security, lack of safety, lack of self-confidence? Each human being has a place of poverty. That’s the place where God wants to dwell! ‘How blessed are the poor,’ Jesus says (Matthew 5:3). This means that our blessing is hidden in our poverty.

We are so inclined to cover up our poverty and ignore it that we often miss the opportunity to discover God, who dwells in it. Let’s dare to see our poverty as the land where our treasure is hidden.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith

Henri Nouwen on Traveling

“Traveling–seeing new sights, hearing new music, and meeting new people is exciting and exhilarating.  But when we have no home to return where someone will ask us, ‘how was your trip?’ we might be less eager to go.  Traveling is joyful when we travel with the eyes and ears of those who love us, who want to see our slides and hear our stories.

This is what life is about.  It is being sent on a trip by a loving God, who is waiting at home for our return and is eager to watch the slides we took and hear about the friends we made.  When we travel with the eyes and ears of the God who sent us, we will see wonderful sights, hear wonderful sounds and be happy to return home.”

Who is My Spiritual Director?

“The church itself is a spiritual director. It tries to connect your story with God’s story. Just to be a true part of this community means you are being directed, you are being guided, you are being asked to make connection. The Bible is a spiritual director. People must read Scripture as a word for themselves personally, and ask where God speaks to them. Finally, individual Christians are also spiritual directors. A spiritual director is a Christian man or woman who practices the disciplines of the church and of the Bible and to whom you are willing to be accountable for your life in God.” 

Henri Nouwen

Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen with Michael J. Christensen & Rebecca J. Laird–Book Review

Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest, author and teacher.  Offering spiritual direction was a regular part of his life.  In this posthumous book, two of his students use notes from his course in spiritual direction as well as some of his unpublished writing to outline Nouwen’s thoughts on the spiritual life.  At the end of each chapter, you will find questions and exercises for journaling and reflection.

Spiritual Direction by [Nouwen, Henri J. M.]

Spiritual direction is full of questions:

  • Where do I begin?
  • Where have I been and where am I going?
  • What is prayer?
  • Who is God for me?

According to Nouwen, we must develop “ears to hear” God.  This is difficult because it requires leaving empty spaces in our lives so that God can come in.  That can be frightening and unsettling to most of us who are accustomed to filling every moment up with something “useful.”  Nouwen goes on to say:

“But even stronger than our fear of the empty space is our fear of actually hearing the voice of God!  We know that our God is a jealous God who knows there is no other cure for our restlessness and deafness but finding our home in God.  We know that God’s mercy is a severe mercy that does not coddle or spoil but cuts to the heart of where truth resides.  And although we are unsatisfied and unfulfilled, we are not so sure that we want to go in the direction God might call us to go…”

This book is a wonderful introduction to the idea of spiritual direction, and the exercises, suggestions and questions it offers are a good starting point for anyone interested in going deeper.

PS. You can purchase a Kindle edition from Amazon for only 1.99!

Life of the Beloved — Book Review

In this little book, Henri Nouwen, who was a Catholic priest, educator and writer takes on the task of trying to explain spiritual life to his secular, Jewish friend.  For Henri, that life begins with understanding that we are created, loved and chosen by God.  We must experience His love and feel gratitude for how He has blessed us;  then we pass that love and blessing along by serving others. Society constantly encourages us to compete, to excel and to compare ourselves to a worldly version of “success.”  Often this means we see ourselves as failures, or we force ourselves into a mold that looks good to our culture, but doesn’t fulfill our deepest, God-given desires and abilities.  According to Nouwen:

“Spiritually you do not belong to the world.  And this is precisely why you are sent into the world.  Your family and your friends, your colleagues and your competitors, and all the people you meet on your journey through life are all searching for more than survival.  Your presence among them as the one who is sent will allow them to catch a glimpse of the real life.”

Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World by [Nouwen, Henri J. M.]

In the epilogue we learn that according to Henri’s friend, the book is a failure.  He tells him, “you do not realize how far we are from where you are.”  However a number of Christian friends assure him to “trust what is there (in the book) will bear fruit.”  It becomes the basis for a course on “The Life of the Beloved” at the Servant Leadership School of the Church of the Savior in Washington D.C. Nouwen muses about how ironic it is that he tried so hard to write something for secular folks and the ones helped by it were searching Christians.  The point, I think is this:

“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him in the heavenly places that in the coming age he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith;  and this is not of your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:5-10

He made us, He loved us, He chose us, and He will use us in ways we would never expect.

An Image of the Trinity

Image result for rublev's trinity imagesThis icon of the Holy Trinity was painted by the monk Andrei Rublev.  It depicts the three visitors to Abraham, each angel symbolizing one of the persons of the trinity.  When you look closely, you will notice that each figure wears different garments, but has the same face.  Many comment on the feeling of invitation and inclusion experienced as you spend time gazing at this beautiful image.  I have a number of icons, and this is definitely my favorite.  It gives me a sense of peace and light.

Here’s a quote about this icon from Henri Nouwen’s book, Behold the Beauty of the Lord.

“During a hard period of my life in which verbal prayer had become nearly impossible and during which mental and emotional fatigue had made me the easy victim of feelings of despair and fear, a loving and quiet presence to this icon became the beginning of my healing.  As I sat for long hours in front of Rublev’s Trinity, I noticed how gradually my gaze became a prayer.  This silent prayer made my inner restlessness melt away and lifted me up into the circle of love, a circle that could nt be broken by the powers of the world.  Even as I moved away from the icon and became involved in the many tasks of everyday life, I felt as if I did not have to leave the holy place I had found and could dwell there whatever I did or wherever I went.”

Is there a Christian painting or work of art that has affected you deeply?  If so, please comment and tell us about it.