Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The words of Henri J.M. Nouwen

"How does healing take place? Many words such as care and compassion, understanding and forgiveness, fellowship and community have been used for the healing task of the Christian minister. I like to use the word hospitality, not only because it has such deep roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition, but also, and primarily, because it gives us more insight in the nature of response to the human condition of loneliness. Hospitality is the virtue which allows us to break through the narrowness of our own fears and to open our houses to the stranger, with the intuition that salvation comes to us in the form of a tired traveler. Hospitality makes anxious disciples into powerful witnesses, makes suspicious owners into generous givers, and makes closed-minded sectarians into interested recipients of new ideas and insights.

..Human withdrawal is a very painful and lonely process because it forces us to face our own condition in all its beauty as well as misery. When we are not afraid to enter our own center and to concentrate on the stirrings of our own soul, we come to know that being alive means being loved. this experience tells us we can only love because we are born out of love, that we can only give because our life is a gift and that we can only make others free because we are set free by him whose heart is greater than ours. When we have found the anchor places for our lives in our own center, we can be free to let others enter the space created for them and allow them to dance their own dance, sing their own song, and speak their own language without fear. Then our presence is no longer threatening and demanding but inviting and liberating.

The minister who has come to terms with his own loneliness and is at home in his own house is a host who offers hospitality to his guests. He gives them a friendly space where they may feel free to come and go, to be close and distant, to rest and to play, to talk and be silent, to eat and to fast. The paradox is indeed that hospitality asks for the creation of an empty space where the guest can find his own soul.

Why is this healing ministry? It is healing because it takes away the false illusion that wholeness can be given by one to another. It is healing because it does not take away the loneliness and pain of another, but invites him to recognize his loneliness on a level where it can be shared. Many people in this life suffer because they are anxiously searching for the man or woman, the event or encounter, which will take their loneliness away. But when they enter a house with real hospitality they soon see that their own wounds must be understood, not as a source of despair and bitterness, but as signs that they have to travel on in obedience to the calling sounds of their own wounds....

A minister is not a doctor whose primary task is to take away pain. Rather, he deepens the pain to a level where it can be shared."

..from The Wounded Healer

I'm not sure exactly what Nouwen is saying, but I keep coming back to this passage again and again. This part especially: When we have found the anchor places for our lives in our own center, we can be free to let others enter the space created for them and allow them to dance their own dance, sing their own song, and speak their own language without fear.

In another place Nouwen talks about our "center."

"A life without a lonely place, that is, a life without a quiet center easily becomes destructive. When we cling to the results of our actions as our only way of self-identification, then we become possessive and defensive and tend to look at our fellow human beings more as enemies to be kept at a distance than friends with whom we share the gift of life.

In solitude we can slowly unmask the illusion of our possessiveness and discover the center of our own self that we are not what we can conquer, but what we've been given.

In solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness."

from Out of Solitude

Any thoughts?

5 comments:

Susanne B. said...

I love that last line of his:
"In solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness."

He's speaking my truth here. I've always wanted to read more of his writing, but I haven't yet had the pleasure. One more writer to add to my ever-growing list....

Dancingirl365 said...

Okay, I'm going to have to read Nouwen. I've read excerpts but no books. On a purely first reaction kind of level I totally identify with what he's saying, even though when I try to tease it apart I'm not sure I understand everything. I love what he says about hospitality and it's connection with loneliness. I am going to have to reread this a few times and mull over it, though, before I say much more.

Glad you posted it (and glad you're still blogging)!

Ampersand said...

I'm going to have to agree with the comments here.

First, I love that same line that Susanne does. For me, in solitude, I come to the end of myself. And once there, I appreciate my worth for its own sake.

Second, Becky describes my reaction exactly with, "On a purely first reaction kind of level I totally identify with what he's saying, even though when I try to tease it apart I'm not sure I understand everything."

I feel like I get it on an intuitive level, but not interpretive.

It's always interesting to me when I find agreement with a Christian writer, and it pleases me when I do. I don't want to be anti-Christian. More often than not, the ones that resonate with me are Catholic. :)

I'm going to come back and read this a few more times.

carrie said...

Susanne- I'm reading just a collection of writings from Nouwen called The Dance of Life. This has made me very interested in reading some of his full works.

carrie said...

Dancingirl and Ampersand- I understand what you are saying exactly. I am drawn to the power of what Nouwen is saying here, but when I try to break it down, I'm not "sure" what he is saying. But I keep coming back to this passage, plus several others in the book, and feeling that there is such truth and insight here.

I really love the part about hospitality allowing for people to find their own space to who God made them to be. I think it's like "being at home in your own skin" or knowing yourself well enough not to be defensive when people don't agree with you.

I find I want to make what Nouwen is saying true for my life.