Dec 9 to Dec 15: Disciplined Living, Spiritual Life, Prayer, & Compassion

ReadingHere and Now, Chapter V to Chapter VIII (pages 85-153)

The purpose of spiritual reading, however, is not to master knowledge
or information, but to let God’s Spirit master us… 
it helps us to give meaning to our lives.
Here and Now, Disciplined Living, Five (p. 95) & Six (p. 96)

Wow!  It’s a great blessing to be a part of this wonderful, Spirit-filled,  and joyful virtual community sharing our Advent journey together. Last week was a truly amazing week of thoughtful, honest and thought-provoking sharing. A sincere thanks to each of you who shared.  And thanks to the many folks who are following along, but may be be less active in sharing comments.  Your presence strengthens our community. 

In our readings this week, Henri encourages us to continue our conversion and to claim and share God’s love by being disciplined, prayerful, and compassionate. We are presented with 31 meditations that encourage us to go deeper in our spiritual life and our relationships with the Lord and our community, especially those who suffer.

Henri highlights the discipline of spiritual reading and reading spiritually (quote above)– a discipline that is clearly evident among this community here and now.  In reflecting on Henri’s meditations last week, many of you recalled and shared insights from a variety of sources that broadened our perspective and enriched our understanding.  Thank you.  Henri then challenges us to look at how we are living our life today.  He reminds us that prayer is the way to know the Lord and that it is through compassion that we build up community.  There’s lots to ponder here and what we discover may be life-changing.

As always, you are invited to share the insights you have gained to the degree you are comfortable.  Several of you found the reflection process suggested last week to be helpful;  it is included again below. Finally, it seems to be a good time to say that your comment doesn’t have to be perfect, profound or polished.  You are not being evaluated based on your comment.  We will all gain by hearing from you as we continue what has quickly become a fruitful discussion among friends brought together by our shared interest in Henri Nouwen.

Once again, thanks for joining us this Advent as we prepare ourselves to receive the only gift of Christmas that matters–the Lord Himself.  We very much look forward to hearing from you in the week ahead!

May the Lord give you peace.

Here is a process that you might find helpful as you explore the readings.

  1. Concentrate on one chapter per day.
  2. Read all of the meditations in the selected chapter in the order presented to gain insight into Henri’s approach to this element of the spiritual life.
  3. Select a few (perhaps 2 or 3) of the meditations that stand out to you, and read them thoroughly, perhaps several times and reflect on what they are saying. Consider:
    1. The thought or concept that stands out to you
    2. How does it relate to your personal experience? Look at your experience with the benefit of Henri’s insight.  Does that help you to see things differently or to know yourself better?
    3. What is God speaking to your heart?  Henri turned to scripture daily and that is reflected in many of these meditations.  You might find it fruitful  to seek out  the Scriptural truths that Henri mentions or that God is speaking to your heart.
    4. How you will respond? Carefully (prayerfully) consider how your heart responds to the insights gained during your reflection. Are there small steps you can take to incorporate these insights and to apply this element to strengthen your spiritual life?
    5. Pray!
    6. You might also consider the questions in the Guide for Reflection (p. 203)
  4. Move on to another chapter.

60 Replies to “Dec 9 to Dec 15: Disciplined Living, Spiritual Life, Prayer, & Compassion”

  1. Speaking to the reflection questions: What stood out for me in last week’s readings was “A Fellowship of the Weak” (Suffering: Three) and “Beyond Individualism” (Suffering: Four). In reading the first, Henri invites us to “befriend our sorrow” by taking it out of individualism and sharing it with another person. Who we share with is key. Not everyone seems safe to tell our story of sufferings to. In the second reading referenced above, Henri speaks to our “self reliance” noting our reluctance to share because we want to be “in control…making our own decisions.” In other words, we don’t need anyone else.

    These two readings speak to my experience in spades. I am very private and like to keep things to myself. I don’t often feel safe sharing my heart with others. But I’m coming to realize that God has created me for community. And that my modus operandi of fixing, managing and controling my life keeps me separated from my true self, from relationship with others and intimacy with God.

    So to the step of “how will I respond,” I pray “Jesus, forgive me for my self-centered need to protect myself. And for the illusion that I have the power to lead my own life. In this season of light and grace pour Your love into my heart and open it like a flower. Lead me to those with whom I can share safely and sincerely. And may my stance in life be like a sanctuary for others to share their lives with me.” Amen.

    1. Beverly, How beautiful your thought and desire to take a new step. You may have heard the term, “soul friend” described in the book, “Anam Cara”
      Here is a bit from the text:
      “It could be a meeting on the street, or a party or a lecture, or just a simple, banal introduction, then suddenly there is a flash of recognition and the embers of kinship glow. There is an awakening between you, a sense of ancient knowing.”
      ― John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

    2. How do you know you’ve fund a soul friend? “You know you have found a soul friend when you find someone who is willing to walk by your side, listen to you talk about your life, especially your spiritual life, and whose support helps you move into a greater freedom in Christ,” says Anne Deneen in her online essay “Anam Cara: Soul Friend” (from Lutheran Link, February 2009, found at

  2. Moving forward, after receiving the gift of self-confrontation..”It is a gift hard to receive, but a gift that can teach us much and help us in our own search for wholeness and holiness.” Yesterday, then, I prayed Ps. 51, recognizing again, I cannot do for myself what only God can do….create a pure heart, God….put a steadfast spirit in me….I was able to accomplish some pending church paperwork that I realized was stressing me out, certainly God granting a steadfast spirit enabled me to accomplish with an ease and joy that surprised me! God’s compassionate heart: “The Holy Spirit of God is given to us so that we can become participants in God’s compassion and so reach out to all people at all times with God’s heart.” Experiencing God’s compassion, extending God’s compassion whether I know particular needs or not. I Peter 4:10 (NIV) “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administrating God’s grace in its various forms”….a grateful “participant”!

    1. I know what you mean, Marge, by the stress of paperwork. When I was working as Program Manager, my “INBOX” usually would be overflowing to the point of bulging. I had to put in “After” hours to catchup. How I ever made it through that job to me next was only by Grace. Henri said, ,,,to let God’s Spirit master us…it helps us to give meaning to our lives.” That’s another way of saying “Let go, let God”. So much wisdom in so few words.

  3. I found Henri’s section on “The Grateful Life” to be especially important. I have known people who live a grateful life despite living in circumstances that most would find painful and depressing. I have also found people who have a great deal by anyone’s standards but seem most ungrateful. Indeed, I find in myself periods of ingratitude despite a life in which I have much to be thankful.

    As Henri says: “True spiritual gratitude embraces all of our past, the good as well as the bad events, the joyful as well as the sorrowful moments. From the place where we stand, everything that took place brought us to this place, and we want to remember all of it as part of God’s guidance” (p. 108).

    More on Gratitude
    Those reading this might find monk and interfaith scholar Brother David Steindal-Rast’s TED talk regarding gratitude of interest:
    “The one thing all humans have in common is that each of us wants to be happy… And happiness, he suggests, is born from gratitude. An inspiring lesson in slowing down, looking where you’re going, and above all, being grateful.”

    Also, here is a link to a fascinating 2016 interview from On Being with David Steindal-Rast:

    I hope these links open for those interested.

    1. Barry, I am so glad you brought Brother David into the discussion. He has always seemed to me a kindred spirit with Henri. Your helpful insights also remind me of THE BOOK OF JOY by the Dalai Lama and Bishop Tutu. Both of these great spiritual leaders could have bemoaned the injustices and hardships of their lives, but rather they focused on joy and gratitude. They surely did, as Richard Rohr phrased it, eagerly eagerly in the divine dance, spirally ever closer to God and all of creation.

    2. Everything that took place brought me to here and now. I am grateful for God’s guidance. When needed there were lights giving me direction. Based on past experience, I hope for the continued companionship of the Good Shepherd. Images of lighthouses remind me of how Good provides direction, if only my eyes are open to the light.

    3. Thank you, Barry, for both links. They are perfect for this discussion. I’m sharing them with a couple of my friends.

    4. I’ve heard both these messages from Brother David. Stop, look around, see a blessing and be grateful. Such a simple message but not always easy to live out. I know a few people who keep a Gratitude journal. They note daily events and express gratitude
      Someone once said to think of five reasons to be grateful before going to sleep. It’s ok if there are more than five!

  4. I began racing BMX bikes when I turned 50, 12 years ago. Its a fast race about 45 seconds long, going over jumps, banked corners, etc. It’s also a contact sport with some bumping of tires and elbows while pedaling as fast as we can go. I really engaged in the sport rising to hold a #9 ranking. I only mention this thinking about the idea of training a racing focused on a goal. There are particular races where I jump out in first place and ride like the wind. There are other times, I’m caught in the pack of riders and it can be hazardous while keeping focused on the finish line. There are times when I’ve fallen over in the starting gate! The more I thought about it, the more this reflects my Spiritual life. There are easy days and there are harder days. Times when people just seem to intrusively grind on my personal happiness. In the race, I keep my balance and move forward through the distractions. Keeping the goal in mind is the key, enjoying the easy days and… recognizing the dangers and moving past them on the tough days. Its enjoying the here and now, focused with the matters at hand looking towards our heavenly communal goal!

    1. Your BMX rides are similar to road bike cycling. I’m not the pedlar I used to be but for sure I’ve got ten thousand miles on my pedalling legs. My husband and I were in a cycling club for rides. We’d have a leader and a drop at the back. Keeping balance is harder uphil but the coast down is great. On long level stretches endurance counts. Awareness of traffic signals that told us to stop or go at crossroads meant safe riding. So in my spiritual journey with the ups and downs, the stops and goes, the group support, the power of faith pushing me, the hope of getting closer to the One who is carrying me home, and loving me the way forward. Now did I remember to put my helmet on before starting out? Protection of Providence plus proper gear is wise. May we find the goodness of God wherever we go!

  5. A Story of Compassion
    I worked several years with a young girl named Sadey, whose life has been a challenge that would overwhelm most adults. Sadey’s father was in a car accident that left him a paraplegic. Two years later when she was three, she and her father were in another accident that killed him and sadly paralyzed her. Sadey’s mother is not in her life, however she lives with a loving grandfather and step-grandmother. Sadey is bright, somewhat shy, and unfortunately, lives much of life watching or participating in a limited way. We were working on a full-length performance of “Cinderella.” I wanted Sadey to have a special part in that production that would build her confidence and send a strong message to her classmates, the audience, and to Sadey, herself, proving she has no limitations.

    We know that God is always working –what happened next was not a coincidence, but the gift of a loving Father. I “happened” upon a video of a lady in a wheelchair doing a ballroom dance with her partner on Facebook –her name, Cheryl Angelelli. Cheryl broke her neck in a swimming accident at the age of 14 that left her paralyzed. She didn’t let that stop her, though. She finished college, built a career in media, and became a competitive swimmer in the Paralympics. She won bronze and silver medals at the Para-Olympics, is a seven-time world champion, and still holds 15 American records and two world records. When she retired from competitive swimming, she started wheelchair, ballroom dancing and works today, bringing the joy of dancing to others like herself..

    I discovered Cheryl had a Facebook page and sent her a message, telling her all about Sadey. I shared that I thought having Sadey dance with a partner during the play would be memorable for the audience and would be something Sadey never thought she would ever be able to do. Cheryl and I messaged back and forth several times, and then Cheryl sent a message, asking if she and Sergio could fly to Arkansas from Detroit at their own expense and work with Sadey and Jake (who would be Sadey’s dance partner). Cheryl and I decided to surprise Sadey. There is actually a movie about Cheryl’s life –I showed this film to my classes. Sadey was mesmerized by Cheryl’s story. Cheryl arranged to have the entire Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Memphis for an afternoon On a Saturday in September, Sadey and Jake thought they were going to Memphis to talk to someone about helping them learn a dance. Imagine their shock when Cheryl came out in her wheelchair. Yes, there were tears.

    Sadey couldn’t believe this world class athlete came all the way from Detroit just to work with her for the afternoon. Sadey’s shyness left her. She and Cheryl talked, sharing a common bond that none of us in that room fully understood.

    When I hear the word “compassion,” I immediately go to that afternoon and the look on Sadey’s face when she saw Cheryl Angelelli coming out of the office in her wheelchair. When I hear the word “compassion,” I see a busy, world class athlete set her own life aside to spend three hours with a child she did not know. When I hear the word “compassion,” I see Jake, Sadey’s classmate, put up his basketball and put on dance slippers. When I hear the word “compassion” I see the Father, looking down on this dear, young girl who had been through so much in her short life and engineering circumstances too complicated to be coincidental.

    Forgive me for this long entry. I ask each of you to look at the clip below of Sadey and Jake dancing and see the wonder of God’s love.


    More about Cheryl Angelelli:

    1. Patricia,

      This is a breathtaking story, beautifully told. Thank you so much for sharing. Truly, an early Christmas gift for us all.

      With thanks for your compassion in reaching out, to Cheryl and Sergio for their compassionate response, and to Sadey for persevering in her difficulties that allowed this blessed moment to happen. It is a magnificent example of the Holy Spirit breaking into our world through the lives of the less fortunate, but beloved among us.


    2. Patricia,

      Thank you for your wonderful, story and the links you provided. You seem to be a teacher interested in the lives of your students.


  6. “When you spend one hour a day adoring your Lord….” Mother Theresa spoke from above to Henri’s question from below and speaks to me now as well. An hour! Adoring! And yet that is precisely what I need to be doing if I truly desire to make my inner life a holy space.
    I am pondering what images are on the walls of my inner room. Is it in good order and well decorated? Does it welcome those who search for God? Are my own experiences with forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, blessing, reflected in the images that appear on the wallls of my inner room?
    I pray that my inadequate times of adoring and contemplating are indeed in the pictures on my inner walls that allow those who enter my life to have something to look at that tells them where they are and where they are invited to go.

    1. Inner room needs decorum and so does my outer room. This time of year we see abundant decorations in stores, on houses, etc, Though I might not want to put the effort forth, my outer décor gives evidence of my inner spirit, I strung up the lights on our porch, unboxed our Advent wreath, put Christmas decals in our windows and will display the Nativity scene. These things may seem small symbols but do carry a message of Good News.
      On the questions to God in prayer: how often? The Psalms affirm our need to cry out with pleas to God. The “Lord hears the cry of the poor.” Whatever my poverty/lack I would do well to beg before the throne of Mercy.
      I relate to Henri’s plea to Mother Teresa. He was in earnest, seeking a new way to deepen his relationship with God. How could he do that. Her answer was nothing new: spend more time with the One who loves you.

    2. Eva,
      Thanks very much for your reflections and applications relating to Henri’s section on Mother Theresa’s advice to him as well as your prayer related to the walls of your inner room. I was pondering about a response to those sections in Chapter VII, but you stated it better than I was about to do!

      I pray that my inner room is a place where people who are searching for God will feel welcome.

  7. In Chapter 7 – “Prayer,” Section One – “Mother Teresa’s Answer,” Nouwen writes, “I realize that I had raised a question from below and that she had given an answer from above.” And then…”her answer came from God’s place and not from the place of my complaints.”

    In “A Grief Observed” by CS Lewis, which was written after the death of his wife, Joy, he shares how he began to question God, as he struggled to accept her absence: “When I lay these questions before God, I get no answer. But rather, a special kind of ‘no answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’ . . . Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask—half our great theological and metaphysical problems—are like that.”

    My favorite book in the Bible is Job. Job is hurting, confused. He desires to speak to God –to ask questions. I love the long section, beginning in Chapter 38, where God asks Job questions that are both beautiful and powerful in reminding Job, and us, that God and his ways are beyond our comprehension. Job says: “I am nothing – how could I ever find the answers? I lay my hand upon my mouth in silence. I have said too much already.” …and then –“I know that you can do anything and that no one can stop you. You ask who it is who has so foolishly denied your providence. It is I. I was talking about things I knew nothing about and did not understand, things far too wonderful for me.”

    “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”

    1. I am reminded of the story of Jacob: “He had made some foolish choices, deceived his father, stolen his brother’s birthright and blessing. As a result, he found himself fleeing for his life, his brother intending to kill him. So he left his imploding family and headed for Haran. And when night fell, he took a stone for a pillow, went to sleep in the barren and lonely place he was in. Jacob had a lot to worry about. But while he slept, God gave him a vision and spoke to him in a dream, there in the middle of the wilderness, in the middle of nowhere. Jacob woke the next morning and remembered the night’s vision and the voice of God speaking, and he realized something. He realized something so remarkable that he took his stone pillow and made it an altar and said ‘Surely God is in this place and I did not know it’.”
      Surely God is in this place and I did not know it.

    2. The CD was lost in a move, so I looked and looked online for something that fit the description of that CD. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it. So sorry.

  8. Several years ago, at a time of great personal challenge, my incessant worrying was leading me to lose sleep, weight, and my perspective on a joy-filled life, so I turned to a close confidante, who happened to be a nun and spiritual counselor, to basically talk some sense into me. At the end of our session she sent me off with the instruction to get my hands on a specific CD that I could play on my daily commute. The message of the CD was simple: a tenor voice chanting over and over in various chords this one sentence: “Surely God is in this place, holy ground.”

    Traffic gridlock? Tense work meetings? Tough decisions pending for the family? All of this was “holy ground”? It took some time (and many repetitions of the chant) to embrace the full implications of these words, but my friend was right. As Henri said, “A prayer, prayed from the heart, heals.”

    1. How true that music plus lyrics can be healing and affirming. I am not a mystic who enjoys ethereal visions during prayer. I do believe that visualization helps in prayer. To picture the Good Shepherd who carries me to a safe place connects me to the Love of God. Ignatian spirituality encourages us to put ourselves into the Gospel story as we reflect and pray. In another book, Henri says, “Without these visions our deepest aspirations, which give us the energy to overcome great obstacles and painful setbacks, will be dulled and our lives will become flat, boring, and finally destructive. Our visions enable us to live the full life.” May my prayer bring God’s love overflowing into my life and the lives of those I encounter.

  9. We have been reading and commenting about distractions. When our wells are full and overflowing we are preocuppied with offering our lives to the world around us. Another expression for the world is the spirit of this age. We find ourselves not as consumers of the spirit of this age but as conduits of abundance from on high to nourish the parched age with its insatiable appetites.

    As our wells dry up due to our preoccupation with the spirit of this age scaracity takes root. Henri Nouwen addresses this in chapter seven titled “Spiritual Life”, section three titled “From Fatalism to Faith”. On page 105 we read:

    “Fatalism is the attitude that makes us live as passive victims of exterior circumstances beyond our control. The opposite of fatalism is faith. Faith is the deep trust that God’s Love is stronger than all the anonymous powers of the world and can transform us from victims of darkness into servants of light.”

    And on page 106:

    “It is important to identify the many ways in which we think, speak, or act with fatalism and, step by step, to convert them into moments of faith. This movement from fatalism to faith is the movement that will remove the cold darkness from our hearts and transform us into people whose trust in the power of love can, indeed, make mountains move.”

    The spirit of this age surrounds us. The distractions are every which way we look. God wants us to thrive in the midst of the distractions from a place of abundance instead of scarcity. He does not want us to become gripped with fear and alarm with how this age unfolds and even laps at our doorsteps. Instead he encourages us to come close to him in communion allowing our cups to overflow negating our consumption reaching out beyond us into the confusion of this world.

    As our lives progress in age we should not be concerned with appearances that don’t meet our expectations. We should not become overwhelmed with an unkind world that is not responsive to our compassion offered to it. We need to look at our lives as seed which dies, which is buried in the ground to yield its fruit at a time we may not be able to observe. Our overriding concern is not to be served but to serve with the offering of our lives for others. We do have an excellent model for us in Jesus who has done this on our behalf.

  10. In Chapter Six, “The Spiritual Life,” and Section Six: “The Blessing from the Poor,” Nouwen shares that, “Ministry is, first of all, God’s blessing from those to whom we minister.” He concludes this section saying, “The poor are waiting to bless us.”

    Our town has a “Little Free Pantry” ( ) adjacent to the town library. Several months ago, I stopped at the library to return a few books. Knowing I’m a teacher, the librarian shared with me that the day before, a young boy came into the library, asking her if anyone could get things out of the pantry. She told him that the pantry was for everyone. He then told her that he and his mother shared a toothbrush, and that he saw a toothbrush in the pantry. She again assured him that he was welcome to get the toothbrush. I left the library and went to my car to get the groceries I had for the pantry. Opening the pantry door to stock my items, I immediately noticed an opened package that had contained two toothbrushes –only one was gone. This child took only what he needed.

    The founder of the “Little Free Pantry” is someone I know well –my oldest daughter. She has been involved in addressing food insecurity on a grassroots level for several years –today “Little Free Pantries” are in many parts of the United States and even in several foreign countries. When speaking, she always shares this: “Whether you’re stocking or taking from the pantry, you’re forced to confront your feelings of ‘What does it mean to be in need?’ I’ve learned that the act of giving can be almost as profound a need as the need for food.”

    The boy took only the one toothbrush, leaving the second to bless another… That blessing also came to me, and now you.

    1. We never truly know how the poor must humble themselves to ask for what they need. When we are able to supply a need before they ask, they are spared having to ask. Thanks for sharing about the boy who needed the toothbrush.

    2. Thank you, Patricia….your question, “What does it mean to be in need?”, has become my “question from below” , and I await an “answer from above.” This is a carryover from last week’s reading…asking questions, living the questions….allowing my questions to point me toward what needs to be healed. So as I move from the mind to the heart: “prayer, prayed from the heart heals”
      Some needs are so obvious, other needs, not so much. My own needs sometimes remain a mystery…maybe, the young boy in need of a toothbrush, realized that one toothbrush was enough……when is enough, enough?….perhaps, like Nouwen later writes, (p. 130), I need to be open to receive “The Gift of Self-Confrontation” (glad that confrontation is not condemnation✝️)…as you say, Patricia, forced to confront my own feelings, however obscure…..ponderingly…..

  11. I completely understand Henri’s point about the potential distraction, worldly focus, and even distress that can result from reading the newspaper or watching cable news. How prescient Henri was! Though he passed away before the era of frenzied texting, tweeting, reality television, and incessant “breaking news” on a myriad of cable news shows, he seems to foresee the escalation of our modern level of distractedness. It is no wonder that some families are now wisely mandating “tech-free vacations,” whether that might mean a no-tech hour each day or a whole day of each week or an occasional trip to the wilderness.

    Though I definitely subscribe to a policy of all things newsy in moderation, I do think that it behooves us to attend to the news with a discerning eye. When I hear stories of human tragedy or injustice, I pray for those who are suffering, for the good work of first responders and human rights advocates, and for those with the power to change governmental policies for the betterment of society. I follow the work of St. Vincent de Paul Society’s advocacy organization Voice of the Poor and encourage family, friends, and young adult groups to contact members of Congress to advocate for legislative change. Then there is the responsibility of being an informed and discerning voter. In his 1967 book THE MEDIUM IS THE MASSAGE (MESSAGE), Marshall McLuhan anticipated the power of a deluge of new media to overwhelm and deceive us, but I often tell students today to heed McLuhan’s words: “There is no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening” (words sometimes ascribed to British philosopher Alfred Whitehead). So I guess my philosophy is to approach the news with a contemplative mind and a prayerful soul.

    1. Technology has given us a window on the world. Why newspapers are folding is due to the easy access to news via computer. That said I know I need to filter the feeds I get so I’m not bombarded with information, some of which is fake or greatly slanted.
      There’s a UN Climate Conference going on in Poland now. You can access the Global Catholic Climate Movement tomorrow via Webinar to join in and even ask questions. You need to register but its free. Check the schedules for your time zone.

    2. Elaine,
      Thanks for the profound insights regarding the complicated issue of distraction. I have been a “news hound” since I was a kid (hence my undergraduate major in Political Science) and this was long before the Twitter age. The current era, however, with “the frenzied texting…and incessant ‘breaking news,'” as you note, could inundate me and lead to even greater distraction. Your comments, it seems to me, help us strike an important balance between totally turning off the news of the day (and thereby not doing anything to respond to human suffering and the needs of the world) and becoming overwhelmed. Approaching the news with “a contemplative mind and a prayerful soul” seems an apt philosophy to follow.
      Thanks very much!

  12. When I looked up the meaning of “Discipline” I was surprised by the punitive and militaristic connotations.
    1)the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.”a lack of proper parental and school discipline”
    synonyms: control · regulation · direction · order · authority · rule · strictness · a firm hand · routine · regimen · training · teaching · instruction · drill · drilling · exercise · use of punishment
    2) the controlled behavior resulting from discipline.”he was able to maintain discipline among his men”
    Yet Christ’s followers are disciples. They are under his instruction. What are we to learn from Christ? He summed up the answer to the young man who asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Jesus replied with “Love God…love your neighbor.”

    Henri encourages a disciplined life of filling the mind with the Word, absorbing the Love of God in prayer and being loving with compassion to others. I’d like to change his phrase from “disciplined life” to “life of love”. Not assuming any authority to edit his text, just thinking between the lines.

    1. Liz,
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. While I can’t speak for Henri, I think he would agree that a disciple lives a “life of love.” And, as Henri writes in Making All Things New (p 65-69), “A spiritual life requires human effort. .. A spiritual life without discipline is impossible. Discipline is the other side of discipleship… Through the practice of a spiritual discipline we become attentive to that still small voice and willing to respond when we hear it… A spiritual discipline sets us free to pray, or to say it better, allows the Spirit of God to pray in us. I will now present two disciplines through which we can ‘set our hearts on the kingdom.’ They can be considered as disciplines of prayer. They are the discipline of solitude and the discipline of community.”

      To grossly oversimplify Henri’s description of these disciplines in that book, we seek God in solitude and we share God in community. In fact, we are practicing these disciplines during this discussion. We read and reflect (or “read spiritually”) Henri’s meditations and then we share our insights with each other, building up the community (the Kingdom) of God. It is in practicing these disciplines that we are living the life of love.

    2. Liz, thanks for supplying the definitions as we know them. I was just getting ready to look them up. Truthfully, the word discipline felt like a two edge sword to me. It feels like something I have to force, implied because its not in my normal nature, pushing myself through it because I know the end is better off. What I felt after reading, better word… experiencing, this chapter is a labor of love. No fear!!! This book for me is the perfect example. It’s been a joy and passion to grow from this. The Holy Spirit and I feel back in love! It’s put a pep in my step, renewing my love affair with God! This is unforced, no pushing necessary! As a matter of fact, I’ve had more trouble slowing myself down to really savor and live each of these revelations of our relationships with God and this world. This is a one edge sword and it’s all good separating good from evil! I’ve had so much fun witnessing the glimpses of God through the glimpses of good I experience every day.

      1. Roger,
        Your Advent joy overflows between the lines of your post. To experience the God-ness/Goodness is a grace. May the Holy Spirit urge you on and bring more pep to your step!
        In another Advent discussion we look at nature’s seeds, as in a rose, where growth takes place slowly to reveal the rose beauty,
        With the beautiful flower are the thorns, symbolic of life’s joys and hardships. Not sure if you see any roses now in bloom where you live but the saying comes to mind, “Take time to stop and smell the roses.”

  13. Chris has already mentioned Henri’s comments about “eternal life” as something that is not in the “afterlife.” Indeed, as with Henri, I have come to see that Jesus was talking about life in the “here and now” or as Henri puts it (also quoted by Chris): “eternal life is life right now, where I am, because eternal life is life in and with God, and God is where I am here and now” (p. 91). Good title for the book!

    Jesus says in Mark 1:15: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near…”

    That eternal life is here and now, in the present moment, is an inspiring message. But one that we (certainly including me) can easily forget as we are distracted by the events, pleasures, pains, and worries of each day. One of the ways to overcome the distractions and live in the “here and now” is through spiritual reading, as Henri notes in Chapter Five, Sections Four and Five. Serious spiritual reading has helped me try to keep my mind from becoming “the garbage can of the world,” as Henri puts it (p. 93). Certainly, Henri Nouwen’s books, which were introduced to me many years ago by a history professor at a Baptist affiliated university, have helped greatly in my efforts to “let God and not the world be the Lord of my mind.”

    Side note: The Baptist history professor I mentioned is not alone among Protestants who have found great comfort and support from the Catholic Henri Nouwen. As has been mentioned many times, I am sure, Henri had a unique appeal and was an exceptional ecumenical force in the 20th century. And his message continues to be a force long after his death, thanks in part to the Henri Nouwen Society! No, I get no commission for praising this organization.

    1. Barry,

      Another word for “near” in the Kingdom of God is near is “at hand”. I was listening to a pastor sharing about this several years ago which has stuck to me. He was attempting to show us the intimate relationship God desired for us to experience. He presented at hand as two pictures, one a baseball glove and the other our hand. He said that both functioned similarily. Both could catch and hold a ball. Both had fingers that were flexible. One was inorganic and dead while the other was organic and alive. One was lifeless and the other pulsating with blood. One was satisfied with form, policy and rules and the other was spontaneous, adventuresome, and forever searching. Both are functional. One dead the other alive. He told us that this text that the Kingdom is near, that the Kingdom is at hand is a invitation for us to be found dwelling in a vibrant communion with God and not purely content in structure we so easily build with our own hands to represent what God is like.

  14. In Chapter five titled “Disciplined Living”, Section Three is about Eternal Life. I like how Henri Nouwen shows us that we can participate in eternal life now and not just wait as he says until “a life after all my birthdays have run out” (page 91). It is so easy to be focused on our life after we die and what may lead up until Jesus’s coming. Henri says that these thoughts are a distraction. Instead he says:

    “When my clear goal is the eternal life, that life must be reachable right now, where I am, because eternal life is life in and with God, and God is where I am here and now.”

    We focus on the before and after of death as a line in the sand as how life is to be with and without living in eternal life. This line is not real according to Henri Nouwen, it does not exist. Death has no power over us once we have tasted of the goodness of our Lord. We live in eternal life now and we will continue to live in eternal life after we die. The Apostle Paul thought about this very matter when in Philippians 1:21-24 he says:

    “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet, what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”

    Paul was not afraid of death. He realized it was better after death since he would see more of Jesus. However, he was already seeing Jesus to want to remain to help others see Jesus. Such a communion with God that Paul had that we also can have. Can you see Paul finally being set free in death to see more of God? I think for him it was not like crossing a huge divide but just one more step in his life. I think Henri Nouwen in this section is saying the same.

  15. Thank you –
    This is refocusing me and helping through some fog.

    I’m new to to this online discussion of a Faith book. Hello! I’m s wife and mum.

    I am heartened with the reminder that the Will of God is in the next 24 hours.

    Lovely sharing , very supportive to be part of a group gathering to think and read the same meditations.

  16. In Chapter 5, “Disciplined Living,” section Two, titled, “A Clear Goal,” Nouwen shares that “our lives become fragmented into many tasks and obligations that drain us and leave us a feeling of exhaustion and uselessness.” He then goes on to say, “we gradually come to realize that the many things we have to do, to say, or to think no longer distract us, but, are, instead, all leading us closer to our goal.”

    This section reminded me of an experience my daughter shared with me that she said she would never forget –and neither will I, especially as I age. She was attending a weekly Bible study for women at her church. Almost all of those there were mothers of young children. The study centered on keeping your heart focused on God in a busy world. At the end of the session, the one older lady that always attended asked to do the closing prayer. Her prayer went something like this: “Dear Father, be with these young women as they seek to do your will and serve you as wives, mothers, and volunteers in our community. Help them handle the many demands of their lives and see your face in all they do. I ask for your blessing upon each of them. And dear Father, help me to be relevant at this stage of my life. AMEN.”

    My daughter said there were several of them with tears in their eyes. They truly saw this incredible, older lady for the first time –they saw their own lives clearer, as well. This elderly, Christian woman’s clear goal was to stay closely connected to a grander plan, to have purpose, to make a difference. The prayer, “Dear Father, help me to be relevant,” reminds us that this side of heaven, there will always be things we can do that strengthen us and lead us closer to our clear goal –things that touch others, like her prayer and presence touched that group of young women at Bible study… like it touched me.

    Dear Father, at all stages of my life I ask that you help me to be relevant.

    1. Patrica,
      Thanks for the touching sharing and prayer.

      And Jesus shows us the way to remain relevant. It is to follow in His steps and to “do the will of the Father.” Father Walter Ciszek, SJ wrote that we don’t have to search far and wide to determine the will of the Father–God’s will for us is found in the circumstances, places, people and problems that God will place in our path in the next 24 hours. Our challenge is to choose to respond with love–to want the good of the other–to all the people and situations we encounter.
      Peace and all good.

      1. Ray, what a coincidence (or maybe it isn’t?!) that you mention Father Walter J. Ciszek, SJ. I recently read his outstanding memoir, “He Leadeth Me,” a book that continues to mean so much to me because Ciszek helped me understand my faith in ways I hadn’t considered before. What a story he has to tell about his missionary work in Russia and about how his faith grew and helped him survive the inhuman conditions he faced for 15 years in the Siberian Gulag after being accused of being a Vatican spy. You indicate so well one of the central things he learned. I would recommend this book to everyone.

        1. Thanks for the feedback. I wholeheartedly agree that He Leadeth Me is an excellent and inspirational book. And it can tie in well with Henri’s spirituality and living Here and Now. Ciszek’s view of following God’s will in the next 24 hours aligns well with Henri encouraging us to live in the present.

      2. The changing of the prayer from a focus on me, to all that is around me feels right and relieves me of more prideful banging on the mime’s door (previous sharing). I find the following change comforting and truer to the heart of the Father: “at all stages of my life I ask that you enable me to see that all is relevant and worthy of love.”

        I’ve placed Father Walter Ciszek’s book in my Amazon cart –I believe in Santa even if she…I mean he has to hit the 1-Click ordering.

  17. All your comments are adding so much richness to my understanding and thinking and I am grateful. I admit I may have read quite lightly through the section on spiritual reading until I read your reflections. A second round was required. It was only then I noticed Henri separates spiritual reading from reading spirituality, such a serious distinction.
    Reading Dostoevsky or Marilynne Robinson’s trilogy or about Julian of Norwich lead me to allow myself to be read by God but reading the newspaper not so much. Am I willing to become more aware, as I read, of the reality of a world that needs God’s words and saving actions and make it a goal to pray about this?

  18. From Roger Snyder
    Greetings, My name is Roger. Henri Nouwen has been an inspiration for me during the last 5 – 10 years. His insights leading to God’s revelation have been significant in my experience. I’ve never joined a study like this. I hope to find a way for further inspiration with the ability of group and individual observations. I realize I’m starting this a little late but hope to catch up! On we go…

    1. Roger, several of last week’s readings encouraged us to live in the present. You are not a little late –welcome!

      1. Thank you… I’ve just experienced the first chapter and already it’s the medicine that God knew I needed for my soul… in the here and now!!!

  19. What spiritual reading does is to let the Spirit master us. When I read Scripture or wisdom texts by spiritual writers, I may be only adding to my knowledge base. Yet when I absorb the wisdom, digest the truth, “it will give meaning to my life. Some texts are meant to be read, reread and reflected upon. Some bits of spiritual wisdom may be worth writing into my Journal. Some others will be ones I want to share, posting in blogs that I am joined with or sending emails out with these gems from what I have absorbed.
    Questions? Henri says”We have to keep asking ourselves: ‘What does it all mean? What is God trying to tell us? How are we called to live in the midst of all this?’ Without such questions our lives become numb and flat.”
    Now that’s a gem worth sharing!

  20. Hello ,
    I’m just joining today as I saw the group discussion opportunity on the website.

    Thank you for sharing these helpful thoughts.

  21. I too have given much thought to the idea of “reverse mission.” As a home-visit volunteer with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, I have often been moved by the resilience, fortitude, and spirituality of our neighbors in need. A few years ago our pastor suggested that parishioners participate in a reverse mission whereby we would first spend at least a day providing some kind of direct service to the poor, the lonely, or the deprived and then an evening in which we returned to church to share our experiences and new insights about seeing the image of Jesus in the faces of the poor. At first I was amazed at how many participants, most of whom were older adults, had never before performed direct service and therefore had never really seen “the poor” as unique individuals deserving of not only our love but also our admiration.

    I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. Too often, church homilies addressing Jesus’ many lessons about loving our neighbor as ourselves are too abstract or analytical, and in some people’s minds the message is reduced to financial donations or a box of canned goods dropped off at the food bank or sorted at a warehouse. While these works of charity are indeed essential and appreciated, the actual physical perception of the poor may be reduced to the image of a man holding a sign on a street corner or a story in the news (and often negative or political).

    That is why I consider spiritual reading to include “secular” works, both fiction and nonfiction, in which the Word of God is made flesh through 300-page stories of one individual, one family, one small town–real people—fleshed out with descriptions of their specific struggles, hopes, and dreams. How could one not be moved to pray and to act after reading of the plight of a refugee, a child growing up in an inner city tenement, or a doctor in Central America? The characters in Jesus’ stories live on today. As God, Jesus had special insight into their hearts. As man, Jesus was moved to touch them, speak with them, and act directly on their behalf. As humans, we need extra help in seeing into people’s hearts. Such fully fleshed out modern stories can help to show us the way.

    1. I am an avid reader and have belonged to a Book Club of four reading friends that have met monthly since May 2000! I love your statement, “…I consider spiritual reading to include ‘secular’ works, both fiction and nonfiction, in which the World of God is made flesh…” So true.

  22. “Reverse mission” (p. 67, Conversion) continues to get my attention as I read Nouwen’s thoughts on the discipline of prayer….helps us to bring God back again and again into the center of our lives…then reading, “The purpose of spiritual reading, however, is not to master knowledge or information, but to let God’s Spirit master us.” And asking/willing to live the questions, “trusting that gradually the answer will be revealed to us”..trustingly…..

    1. Marge,
      Thank you for your noticing of Nouwen’s “reverse mission.” It drew me to read this section. These words touched my heart: “the poor have a mission to the rich, the blacks have a mission to the whites, the handicapped…to the normal,” etc.

      What a profound noticing that those that the world makes victims are the very ones that God makes “reverse mission.” They challenge me to see that those I stigmatize (see as less), can be bearers of soul conversion. This challenges me to let go of judgement, claim God’s love and see myself and them as God’s Beloved.


      1. This section on “reverse mission” really resonated with me! When Henri states that after deciding to move and live with the handicapped at L’Arche, that he learned that his real task would be to let those whom he wanted to help offer him -and through him many others- their unique spiritual gifts! I am getting ready to leave on a mission trip to Haiti on December 31st to work with handicapped “orphans.” This gives me a new perspective on my mission – praying for God to open my heart to some “reverse mission.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *