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Archive for September, 2017

Although his book, ‘Life of the Beloved,’ is rooted in the story of the baptism of Jesus, Nouwen is clear that he is not attempting to convince nor convert Fred and his friends (think: non-Christians).  Nouwen writes: ‘You are my Beloved’ revealed the most intimate truth about all human beings, whether they belong to any particular tradition or not. 

Nouwen continues: Fred, all I want to say to you is ‘You are the Beloved,’ and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold.  My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being.  ‘You are the Beloved.’

I know from my own personal experience that it is not easy (an understatement to be sure) to take these words, embrace them, integrate them, believe them and live as if they are true.  The challenge, I have also learned, is that taking in these words is not a denominational challenge – the challenge is universal.  Nouwen confirms this when he writes:

It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: ‘You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody – unless you can demonstrate the opposite.

How far have we come since Nouwen first wrote these words in 1992?  Have we come far?  Have we actually regressed?  Do we hear these words more often today than we did 27 years ago?  Social media runs amok with these words.  Most news stories lead with these words.  ‘Good’ Christians shout these words to other Christians and to non-Christians.  On the other hand, how often do we hear one person say to another (via words or actions): ‘You are the Beloved.’

How many believe that only their ‘in-group’ is composed of ‘the Beloved’?

There are glimmers of hope and light.  All of the folks who are helping the folks devastated by ‘Harvey’ are acting as if the ‘other’ is truly ‘Beloved.’  Those who have been devastated by ‘Irma’ are already acting in loving ways for the ‘other.’  Those who are preparing to be devastated by ‘Irma’ are also showing care and compassion for the ‘other.’  All of those who are marching in support of DACA are demonstrating that the ‘other’ is the ‘Beloved.’

It is not all light of course.  Some who had the capacity to help those who were devastated by ‘Harvey’ turned their backs and sent a clear message: ‘You are NOT Beloved!’  Some preparing for ‘Irma’ are literally fighting over limited resources.  Some are taking advantage of others (think: some of the airlines with their fare increases and some of the ‘construction’ folks who are already bilking those in Texas).  Some who oppose DACA are sending a clear message: ‘You are NOT Beloved.’

These ‘rejections’ of the light are serious.  Nouwen, however, invites us to consider that the greatest ‘rejection’ does not come from the other.  The greatest rejection is ‘self-rejection’ [Think: ‘self-violence’].  Nouwen writes:

Both self-rejection and arrogance pull us out of the common reality of existence and make a gentle community of people extremely difficult, if not impossible to attain.

I know all too well that beneath my own arrogance there lies in waiting a great deal of self-doubt.  Paradoxically (or is it ironically) there is a great reservoir of hubris residing in my self-rejection.

I conclude today with these words from Nouwen: …Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the ‘Beloved’ expresses the core truth of our existence. 

 

 

 

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Henri Nouwen

In the late 1970s Henri Nouwen was teaching at Yale when he became friends with Fred.  Their friendship deepened and lasted until Nouwen’s death some 20 years later.  Fred read and savored Nouwen’s writings, yet as a self-declared secular Jew he was unable to assimilate much of Nouwen’s Christian-rooted thinking.  One day, as they were walking along, Fred said, ‘Why don’t you write something about the spiritual life for me and my friends? You have something to say, but you keep saying it to people who least need to hear it . . . What about us young, ambitious, secular men and women wondering what life is all about after all?  Can you speak to us with the same conviction as you speak to those who share your tradition, your language and your vision?’

Fred pressed Nouwen more: ‘Speak to us about the deepest yearnings of our hearts, about our many wishes, about hope . . . about trust . . . about love.  Speak to us about a vision larger than our changing perspectives and about a voice deeper than the clamorings of our mass media.  Yes, speak to us about something or someone greater than ourselves.  Speak to us about. . . God.’

Nouwen responded that he was not ‘Qualified’ to speak to what his friend was requesting.  ‘Who am I to speak about such things? . . . I don’t have the experience, the knowledge or the language you are asking for. You and your friends live in a world so different from my own.’

Fred would not be dismissed so easily: ‘You can do it . . . You have to do it . . . Visit me more often; talk to my friends; look attentively at what you see, and listen carefully to what you hear.  You will discover a cry welling up from the depths of the human heart that has remained unheard because there was no one to listen.’

Nouwen was whelmed-over: ‘What could I possibly say to a world of rushing taxicabs, glass-covered office towers, and show business going on day and night?’

As they were walking the streets of New York, Fred would not be put off: ‘Speak from that place in your heart where you are most yourself.  Speak directly and simply, lovingly, gently and without any apologies.  Tell us what you see and want us to see; tell us what you hear and want us to hear . . . Trust your own heart.  The words will come.  There is nothing to fear.  Those who need you most will help you most.  You can be sure that I will.’

 Eventually, from deep within Nouwen a book emerged: ‘Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World’.

Nouwen writes in his Prologue: ‘I have chosen to speak directly – as I would in a personal letter.  By keeping Fred and his friends at the center of my attention, I can best express what is in my heart.  I am not able to deal with all the burning issues of our time and society, but I am able to write a dear friend whom I came to know and love as a fellow-traveler searching for life, light and truth.  I hope that through my being so personal and direct many may want to ‘listen in’ and even join in this spiritual search.’ 

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For more than 50 years I have been deeply influenced by a number of authors, Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen are two.  This morning I invite us to consider two concepts that we seldom put together: ‘Technology’ and ‘Love.’

In his powerful book, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton writes [This book was published in 1966 and yet speaks to us today]:

 Technology can elevate and improve man’s life only on one condition: that it remains subservient to his real interests; that it respects his true being…  [W]hen technology merely takes over all being for its own purposes, merely exploits and uses up all things in the pursuit of its own ends, and makes everything, including man himself, subservient to its own processes, then it degrades man, despoils the world, ravages life, and leads to ruin.

In his powerful book, The Road to Daybreak, Henri Nouwen writes [This book was published in 1988 and yet speaks to us today – how far have we truly come since 1988?]:

Technology is so far ahead of human relations!  There is such a need for new ways for people to be together, to solve conflicts, to work for peace.  On the level of human relations, we are still in the Stone Age, thinking that power games and fear tactics will settle our problems.  Suicide attacks and military reprisals are such primitive ways to respond to threatening situations.  With the technology now at hand, these primitive responses may cause the end of all human life.

 More than ever it is necessary for people, who can fly to each other from faraway distances within a few hours, to speak to each other about living together in peace.  Now it seems that the smaller the physical distance, the larger the moral and spiritual distance.  Why do we human beings learn so much, so soon, about technology, and so little, so late about loving one another?  

Thinking about ‘love’ in the context of ‘technology’ might sound a bit odd, if not out of place.  Ministers, Rabbis and Imams might connect these two topics which, for some, might move the topic from the ‘practical’ and ‘realistic’ to the ‘abstract-theological’ realm.

On the other hand, both Merton and Nouwen are ‘correct,’ I think, in locating technology within the realm of the human heart and human relations.  Why?  Technology does not exist in a vacuum.  Sometimes, it seems to me, that we forget that technology is the creation of ‘human-organic’ minds and hands.  Technology is not ‘all light.’  The ‘Darkness’ relishes technology.

Considering and thinking deeply about ‘love’ in the context of ‘Technology’ is not merely a nice mental exercise.  It is necessary for our survival.

In 1967 I was introduced to the writings of the psychologist Carol Rogers (he was also a favorite author of both Merton and Nouwen).  Rogers expands our consideration from ‘theology’ to ‘psychology’ – from the spiritual to the humanistic.  In 1961 Carl Rogers’ seminal work was published – ‘On Becoming a Person’ [another book that is as relevant today as it was in 1961].  Rogers writes:

Man’s awesome scientific advances into the infinitude of space as well as the infinitude of sub-atomic particles seems most likely to lead to the total destruction of our world unless we can make great advances in understanding and dealing with interpersonal and inter-group tensions. . .  I feel very humble about the modest knowledge which has been gained in this field.  I hope for the day when we will invest at least the price of one or two large rockets in the search for more adequate understanding of human relationships. 

Is there a clue or two here as to where things have gone wrong (continue to go wrong?) in a world in which there is so much inability to love the other(s) – especially ‘the stranger’?  Is there a clue or two here as to why we humans are increasing the amount of enmity and the number of killings that continue to deepen and multiply?

What does our consideration of ‘Technology’ and ‘Love’ say about the focus that our teaching might take?  What might happen if we integrate the teaching about ‘Technology’ and ‘Love’ so that we end up with a course: ‘Technology-and-Love’?   Ah, now, gentle reader, here is a ‘consideration’ that I like.

 

 

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The world we see clearly has already been distorted by our fear. –R. W. Smith

Why is fear running amok amongst us?  Why does it take a disaster in order to have people look behind their fear and see ‘courage’ waiting to be called forth?  What needs are being met by our being so fear-full?

I have been holding these and other ‘fear’ questions for more than 60 years.  I have discerned a number of responses.  Let us focus on just one this morning.  I observed early on in my life that the people I feared held immense power over me.  I do not think I am alone with this type of fear.  Consider, gentle reader, that there is a close connection between ‘power’ and ‘fear.’

Consider that ‘fear’ is one of the most effective weapons in the hands of those who have power over us – especially if they desire to direct us, or control us.  As long as we are fear-full we can be coerced to act, speak and think of ourselves as ‘slaves to their power.’  The polite word often used today is ‘leverage.’

It seems as if the agenda of the ‘world’ – of ‘our world’ – is an agenda of fear and power.  We recently elected the president of our country as a response to both fear and power.  Today, perhaps more than ever before, our world is cloaked in questions of fear.  All of our ‘news’ outlets and much of our social media is ‘fear-focused’.  We can all fill in the blanks to these questions: What will happen to me if. . .?  What will happen to our group if. . .?  What will I do when. . .? What will we do when. . .?  The list is almost endless – which is an indicator of how fear-full we have become.

Consider that the questions we muse powerfully determine the paths we choose.  Our innumerable questions rooted in fear impact, guide, and direct our responses (our thoughts and actions).

What adds to our fear-fullness is that underneath our questions is a conclusion: Our greatest fears will come true!  The more we integrate the fear-full questions into our very beings the more likely our fears will become true (think: Pygmalion Effect).  I find it perplexing that for People of the Book (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) we are told, over and over and over again, Be Not Afraid!  Yet…

Given our fear-fullness it is not difficult for me to understand why a message of love (think: ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ for example or ‘Treat others as you want to be treated’) has slight chance of being heard, much less of being embraced.

Fear-full questions do not lead to love-filled responses.  Fear-full questions not only beget fear-full responses they rest on and are nurtured by additional fear-filled questions.  Fear does not give birth to love.  Courage gives birth to love (again, I refer us to the love-full responses, to the courage-full acts, currently taking place in response to ‘Harvey’).

The nature of the questions we frame is the tap root that feeds and nurtures our responses.  The questions the responders to ‘Harvey’ are asking are rooted in one major tap-root question: How can I be of help?

On a broader scale: Which questions guide my life?  Which questions do I integrate into my very being – so they become part of my nature?  Which questions actually deserve my undivided attention?  Which questions help me wake up and help me remain awake?  Which questions disturb me and hence signal that I am awake and aware and intentional and purpose-full? 

The questions we muse WILL, and DO, determine the responses and paths we choose!

What will it take for me, for us, to trust in these words: Be Not Afraid!

 

 

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