Quoting from Nouwen

Although I’m no longer personally religious, that does not keep me from admiring authors who write well on topics of religion and spirituality. One of my favourites is Reaching Out by Henri J M Nouwen, which I have mentioned before.

My copy belonged to my grandparents, though I never saw it when they were alive. After they had both died I was invited to look through boxes of books stored in the attic, and this was among the treasures I found. Here’s a photograph of the cover:

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An assortment of quotations follows.

“I wanted to write this book because it is my growing conviction that my life belongs to others just as much as it belongs to myself and that what is experienced as most unique often proves to be most solidly embedded in the common condition of being human.”

“Does not all creativity ask for a certain encounter with our loneliness, and does not the fear of this encounter severely limit our possible self expression?”

“There is much mental suffering in our world. But some of it is suffering for the wrong reason because it is born out of the false expectation that we are called to take each other’s loneliness away. […] No friend or lover, no husband or wife, no community or commune will be able to put to rest our deepest cravings for unity and wholeness. […] Friendship and love cannot develop in the form of an anxious clinging to each other. They ask for gentle fearless space in which we can move to and from each other.”

“But what then can we do with our essential loneliness which so often breaks into our consciousness as the experience of a desperate sense of loneliness? What does it mean to say that neither friendship nor love, neither marriage nor community, can take that loneliness away? Sometimes illusions are more livable than realities […] These are hard questions because they come forth out of our wounded hearts, but they have to be listened to even when they lead to a difficult road. This difficult road is the road of conversion, the conversion from loneliness into solitude. Instead of running away from our loneliness and trying to forget or deny it, we have to protect it and turn it into a fruitful solitude. To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude.”

“Not too long ago a priest told me that he cancelled his subscription to the New York Times because he felt that the endless stories about war, crime, power games and political manipulation only disturbed his mind and heart, and prevented him from meditation and prayer. That is a sad story because it suggests that only by denying the world can you live in it, that only by surrounding yourself by an artificial, self-induced quietude can you live a spiritual life. A real spiritual life does exactly the opposite: it makes us so alert and aware of the world around us, that all that is and happens becomes part of our contemplation and meditation and invites us to a free and fearless response. […] In our solitude, our history no longer can remain a random collection of disconnected incidents and accidents but has to become a constant call for the change of heart and mind.”

“In the solitude of the heart we can truly listen to the pains of the world because there we can recognise them not as strange and unfamiliar pains, but as pains that are indeed our own. There we can see that what is most universal is most personal and that indeed nothing human is strange to us. There we can feel that the cruel reality of history is indeed the reality of the human heart, our own included, and that to protest asks, first of all, for a confession of our own participation in the human condition. […] It would be paralysing to proclaim that we, as individuals, are responsible for all human suffering, but it is a liberating message to say that we are called to respond to it. Because out of an inner solidarity with our fellow humans the first attempts to alleviate these pains can come forth.”

“It belongs to the essence of a Christian spirituality to receive our fellow human beings into our world without imposing our religious viewpoint, ideology or way of doing things on them as a condition for love, friendship and care.”

“Receptivity without confrontation leads to a bland neutrality that serves nobody. Confrontation without receptivity leads to an oppressive aggression which hurts everybody.”

“Prayer is often considered a weakness, a support system which is used when we can no longer help ourselves. But this is only true when the God of our prayers is created in our own image and adapted to our own needs and concerns. When, however, prayer makes us reach out to God, not on our own but on his terms, then prayer pulls us away from self-preoccupations, encourages us to leave familiar ground, and challenges us to enter into a new world which cannot be contained within the narrow boundaries of our mind or heart. […] The movement from illusion to prayer is hard to make since it leads us from false certainties to true uncertainties, from an easy support system to a risky surrender, and from the many ‘safe’ gods to the God whose love has no limits.”

“In the community of faith we can listen to our feelings of loneliness, to our desires for an embrace or a kiss, to our sexual urges, to our cravings for sympathy, compassion or just a good word; also to our search for insight and to our hope for companionship and friendship. In the community of faith we can listen to all these longings and find the courage, not to avoid them or cover them up, but to confront them in order to discern God’s presence in their midst.”

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One Response to “Quoting from Nouwen”

  1. slynnconnors Says:

    since you stumbled across my blog and left a comment, i decided to visit yours.

    the truth of this rather long quotation ;) really struck something that i have been coming to grips with myself recently.

    “I wanted to write this book because it is my growing conviction that my life belongs to others just as much as it belongs to myself and that what is experienced as most unique often proves to be most solidly embedded in the common condition of being human.”

    “Does not all creativity ask for a certain encounter with our loneliness, and does not the fear of this encounter severely limit our possible self expression?”

    i am taking a grad script-writing class at a christian university which solidifies the truth of this statement. i’m not sure if the class knows what to do with my project . . . frankly, i’m not sure i know what to do with my project. in the script is a character that dares to say what we all think of God in trials, depression, despair that no ones dares to whisper outloud. in writing these things, it makes one extremely vulnerable– it isn’t just any rebellious character that says this things . . . it’s the part inside yourself (that you hide) that screams those things in pain. are they untrue? yes! but they deceptively feel as real as anything else you know . . . you are faced with a decision to believe your feelings or what you know to be true about God. and in His grace, you follow Him.

    we have to read the script outloud . . . >! but the past classperiod, as i read one of the most vulnerable of all places, i noticed one guy in my class kind of “space out.” at the end, he looked at me, and said he didn’t know how i captured his thoughts on paper. the class all nodded. it hit me right then– how selfish i have been to hide my suffering. first of all, i realize now, just like nouwen is saying, that my sufferings are really not just my own. they mirror sufferings of the common man. but secondly, when i hide my sufferings, i hide something far bigger– what God has done for me. has He chosen to stop every circumstance. no. has He chosen to end all the “evil” that occurs in my life. no. but He has brought me out of myself in my sufferings– which to me honest, far surpassed the outer trials i was going through. He indeed “pulls us away from self-preoccupations, encourages us to leave familiar ground, and challenges us to enter into a new world which cannot be contained within the narrow boundaries of our mind or heart.” He leads us away from ourselves and to Him. truly, our God is a “God whose love has no limits.”

    so, a rather lengthy “return” post. hope you didn’t mind . . . ;)


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