Reading: The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom
“Accept Your Identity as a Child of God” to “Claim the Victory” (pages 70 to 92)
Your true identity is as a child of God. . . You belong to God and it is
as a child of God that you are sent into the world. (p.70)
The more you come to know yourself—spirit, mind, and body—as truly
loved, the freer you will be to proclaim the good news.
This is the freedom of the children of God. (p.75)
The more you can feel safe as a child of God, the freer you will be to claim
your mission in the world as responsible human being. (p. 78-9)
Thank you, once again, to everyone that is sharing our Lenten journey—both those posting comments and those following along in silence. Before we get to this weeks’ spiritual imperatives, I’d like to address two comments from our discussion last week.
First, one participant asked if the drop off from the number of comments posted during the Welcome and Introduction and the First Week of Lent to the number of comments posted in later weeks was typical and why that drop off may occur. Based on my experience, I can say with certainty that this pattern is typical. Why does it occur? We really don’t know. In some cases, it may be that people introduce themselves with the best of intentions of participating and like other Lenten promises (including mine!), people sometimes don’t follow through. In other cases, as was noted in another comment last week, there are people that choose to follow the discussion but are not comfortable posting comments—and that’s perfectly fine too. Everyone is welcome. As a long-term participant and now moderator, let me offer a third possibility. During every discussion, including this one, we are blessed by people who post insightful, beautifully written, and deeply moving comments based on their personal experience. Our discussion is greatly enhanced by such comments and I know they lead all of us to reflect more deeply on Henri’s writing. Keep those comments coming! As moderator, I know that I am humbled when reading those comments, so much so that I sometimes question the value of my own posts each Sunday and my comments during the week. I would guess that there may be other participants that ask themselves whether their thoughts and comments are worth sharing (perhaps in comparison to the comments of others). Since you are still with us as we enter our fourth week and have been pondering Henri’s imperatives, I think you know how Henri would respond to that concern. He would encourage each and every person to share what you feel called to share from your heart—and to never feel obliged to share if you are not comfortable. Everyone gathered here is a member of a loving community, seeking to gain wisdom from the words of Henri Nouwen—any and all contributions to our discussion will be gratefully and respectfully received.
Second, and more briefly, there was interest expressed in having an optional Zoom virtual gathering to complement the traditional online book discussion. We are planning to schedule a virtual gathering during Holy Week on either Monday, April 3rd or Tuesday, April 4th at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time. If you would be interested in participating, please submit a comment, including your preferred day. Further information about the Zoom discussion will be provided in future posts. Based on the interest and group feedback, we may consider adding a Zoom virtual gathering component during future discussions.
Now, let’s turn to the reading for this week. Although these spiritual imperatives were all written during the seven months from December 1987 to June 1988, they were not necessarily written in the order shown in our book. In other collections of brief pieces written over time, Henri would group similar ideas and themes together. Last week Henri emphasized the importance of community. This week Henri implores himself, and us, to accept our identify as a child of God that is truly loved. It is that sure knowledge that allows us to be a friend, trust our friends, and avoid self-rejection as we take up our cross and claim the victory won by Jesus—knowing that we are encompassed by the love of God. The quotes at the top of this post show how Henri’s painful growth during his time of extreme anguish moved him toward his central spiritual insight that we are the beloved.
Several years later (in 1992), Henri’s sermon to the congregation at the Crystal Cathedral included this exhortation: “Dear friends, if there is anything, anything I want you to hear this morning, it’s that what is said of Jesus is said of you. You have to hear that you are the beloved daughter and son of God. And to hear it not here (points to head) but right here (points to heart), and to hear it so your whole life can be turned around.”
As always, you are encouraged to share whatever touched your heart in the readings. You might choose to reflect on whether you accept your identify as a child of God and experience yourself as the beloved daughter or son of God. If so, why? If not, why not? And in either case, how does the concept that we are a child of God—the beloved daughter or son of God—affect your life? Of course, you are also invited to continue to use the process we have suggested in previous weeks to ponder and comment on one or more imperatives.
We look forward to hearing from many of you, those that have been commenting regularly and others that feel called and are willing to share your insights with our Lenten community. We are blessed by your participation.
I’m confident we will have another fruitful and spirit-filled week.
Remembering that I am a child of God and most especially that I am beloved of God, has changed my life. Despite the Bible’s teaching that I am “baptized into Christ” and knew I was the “temple of the Holy Spirit,” I never lived into the truth of my belovedness. Henri bridged that gap for me when he connected God calling Jesus “beloved” at His baptism with my belovedness baptized into Christ. It steeped in my head and seeped into my heart. The use of Ignatius Examen helped this process.
In Ignatius’ “Exercises,” we are invited to “stand before where you are to meditate” and see how God sees you. That gazing at God seeing God gaze at me was the beginning of knowing I was beloved. I’ve come to call this claiming my baptismal identity. This identity is the true self that deserves dignity and respect not self rejection. Only in God can I find that acceptance beyond rejection and claim myself for myself.
I think that’s why the reading “Control Your Own Drawbridge” spoke so strongly in this weeks readings. When we see our belovedness as a gift from God the only reasonable response is to steward it. To honor it. Not with hubris but humility as a gift. So too, I must protect into Henri’s keen insight “Never allow yourself to become public property, where anyone can walk in and out at will…you might think that you are being generous…but you will soon find out you are losing your soul” (84-85).
“Your insecurity, your self-doubt, and your great need for affirmation make you lose trust in your inner voice and run away from yourself. But you know that God speaks to you through your inner voice and that you will find joy and peace only if you follow it. Yes, your spirit is willing to follow, but your flesh is weak.” (p. 89)
These words were the most powerful for me this week. I do know that God speaks to me through my inner voice and am getting better at trusting that voice and listening to it above the voices of others, including my inner critic. That inner critic often speaks louder than my authentic inner voice, the deeper wisdom that God speaks to me. So do other voices from my past and society as a whole.
Recently, I cursed out my phone’s map app when it kept directing me to take a route I knew was not the best one. That experience reminded me that we all need to periodically ask ourselves whose voice is determining the course we are on. I wrote about it yesterday
in my “Changing Lives” newsletter:
Wendi – thank you for your post. When you wrote about trusting your inner voice above the voices of others, including your inner critic, it spoke to me. Recently I have realized that God has been speaking to me through a few very trusted others in my life – breathing new life into me and breaking through layers. I know this seems to contradict what you wrote – but it really doesn’t because somehow I wasn’t tuned into the voice of my true self – my inner voice as a beloved child of God. I was locked into patterns of thinking and listening that weren’t life giving. My voice told me to give until I was exhausted and then give some more. Others told me I needed to send boundaries and to rest. I think/believe that the voice I was hearing from inside was my misinterpretation of what God wanted, not what God actually wanted. It took becoming physically exhausted and on the brink of a depressive episode to allow me to trust in the words of others, even when I didn’t believe it at first. The three people closest to me were all saying the same thing and I see it as God getting through to me in a new way and me needing to hear with new ears. I think something they were saying resonated deep inside with my true self/identity. Just truly resting in the belief that God wants me to do what is mine to do and NOT what is everyone else’s to do has been a source of peace and freedom for me.
I am going to read what you wrote about your phone’s map App. For me what usually happens is I believe I know best and then find that I am humbled and was wrong!
How can I appreciate the beauty in the world if I have known nothing but loveliness? It seems to me that I must know darkness or I cannot appreciate the light. I can endure the suffering knowing that God is with me.
On a rainy, gloomy day, we yearn for sunshine. That’s the weather today. Yet tomorrow promises to be mild temperatures and plenty of sun. Psalm 23
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
This week I have gone back to one of the imperatives from the 2nd week, “keep returning to the road to freedom”. It struck me that as well as resonating with these imperatives of Henri I am also called to start living them as Henri had to too. Henri’s words bring awareness, “sometimes little things …make you loose ground…a seemingly cold remark…someone’s innocent forgetfulness which feels like a rejection.” Yes these things can cut deep but when I recognise this I can pause and I can reclaim my beloved ness. I can pull over onto the hard shoulder instead of getting mired in the swamp. It takes courage to live these, to get back onto the road and even to make little steps into the new country. And to follow Jesus. I am conscious on this Lenten journey that we are heading towards the cross. I wear a lot of grey at the moment reminding me of my mortality. I live and work among the broken and at times their pain is overwhelming when it touches mine and I cannot bear it. But again Henri calls us to face our pain “own your pain” imperative from this week. “Live patiently with the not yet” has spoken deeply to me about allowing my “not fully received self to come home” but that this can only happen when I am “more childlike – hospitable, gentle and caring”.
So I follow my Lord and head to the cross not fully knowing what I’ll find there but hoping that I can put to death and leave some of the deep wounds that stop me fully living and loving in freedom. I also wear orange, the colour of resurrection on a Taizé cross, a reminder too of new life, eternal hope and my own resurrected life which I hope to taste a bit more of in this life. Thank you Jesus for the life of Henri Nouwen for all that he dared to share. Bless you all this day, thanks for all you’ve dared to share.
On p.74 Henri says: “The disciples of Jesus had a real sense of his loving presence as they went out to preach.” It is when we have spent quiet time each day with Jesus that we, too, know his loving presence not only in our own life but recognize it in others. This is an easy task for me with the people I love or know well, but it is equally important for me to look for his presence in the stranger, the person on line at the food pantry, the lady in the store yesterday who had two weeks worth of groceries on the “8 or less” express line who also had a very hard time finding her credit card! It is affirming when I can easily see his presence in those close to me; it is a greater gift to me when I finally notice him in the people who I might look at as the lepers on my journey. Then I can be a little more like the person Jesus wants me to become.
I appreciate this thought. I find myself all too often having less than charitable thoughts towards those who don’t play by the rules. Rules, by the way, that usually I have made in my own mind.
Amen! P. 75 “They had come to live a deep connectedness with him and drew from that the strength to speak out with simplicity and directness, unafraid of being misunderstood or rejected.”
Those who rub me the wrong way might lead such oppressed lives which I am not aware of. Their behavior gives me pause to pray that God’s love will enfold them. Yet I am able to use the “drawbridge” which Henri speaks of on P. 84.
“You must decide for yourself to whom and when you give access to your interior life.” Too many people in my house may make me feel used. So, too, I quickly become tired, agitated, angry and resentful.
72,Own your own pain Stand up to your own sufferings and pain Stand Erect in your in your Sorrow I found positive learning from the Nouwen Society emails in words and pictures helpful moving through Lent up,above and beyond the norm…together with all of YOU through this society I’ve been able to revisit,let go share and receive much needed daily assistance and LOVE!
79, Know Yourself As Truly LOVED I express myself at work as expresssion therapy speaking openly as a humbled worker.. I’ve been told in words you belong and appreciated … I’m aware of my feelings and love through out the hours no matter what… maybe I am to them but not truly not as much as others are to them learning on my own and owning what I learn .My own inner voice and recently the Inner voice of LOVE that comes through in daily Nouwen society emails read before work. I’ll stick by these ,Scripture and Jesus through morning, noon and night shifts
95,Continue Seeking Communion, Communion with Henri Nouwen Society and continuing with this Lenten Book as another type of spiritual Director /inner direction
“like a patient child’ reading and rereading scripture…I’m not there yet. In communion with the silence of others for others at my Port Chester NY Holy Rosary Chapel in Adoration.. I Adore Solidarity Project for the Holy Angels Monastery 1X a week. Being my own unique self before Jesus.
I just wanted to note my interest in a possible Zoom, preference being Tuesday 4th April
All good wishes
And a p.s. I am really loving reading all the posts and following ‘silently’ alongside. There is much I would like to say, and comment on…although something is holding this back for me just now. So, I would just like to thank you. Quietly yet sincerely.
The imperative that captures for me the essence of the whole book is the one about avoiding self-rejection. “You must avoid not only blaming others but also blaming yourself,” Henri writes.
“You are inclined to blame yourself for difficulties you experience in relationships. But self-blame is not a form of humility. It is a form of self-rejection in which you ignore or deny your own goodness and beauty….Acknowledge your limitations, but claim your unique gifts and thereby live as an equal among equals.”
That’s the key message in a nutshell. His point about not confusing self-blame or self-criticism with genuine humility–so important but often hard to keep straight.
Yes, I am definitely my own worst critic and can judge others harshly too. There are people I know I need to forgive, and I am one of them!
Oh yes! How true! P. 87 Henri says,”Acknowledge your limitaitions, but claim your unique gifts and thereby live as an equal among equals.”
Once I start making comparisons about how other do what I do, like simply walking, I’m going down the path of self-rejection. I have need to humbly accepting of my years which now put more limits on mobility. Being in the here and now without resentment but grateful for what graces are near at hand.
Friends – I am grateful to this group and one of the people whose words disappeared for a few weeks as I wrestled with some places in my heart touched by deeper truths… so instead of blather on I went inside, something Henri speaks about on page 89… God sometimes “beckons you to a greater hiddenness, do not be afraid of that invitation”. Much of the book dances between accepting I am loved, befriending your wounds and launching in service from that place instead of some misguided “do good so I can heal, do good so I can be seen”. I love this, it is such a challenge to stay in a rhythm of love and dance because my feet get tangled and I fall quite often. But the band plays on, God’s infinite love and breath in a cosmic symphony where I have a part. I increasingly find my song inside strangely in tune with something greater, and that my contribution to this symphony has a place that is so welcomed. As such, I am grateful for this group, grateful for Henri inviting me to deeper more honest places and grateful when the world gets a bit smaller and the tune becomes clear. And I have to be quiet, and disappear for a week or so, to get back in tune because I love the dance, have a role, and know when I am out of tune because I have decided I am not loved (which is my bs playing, not my deeper loved self)… I would be interested in a zoom group and both suggested times work for me
Thank you, Ned, for the music metaphor. I share your dance rhythms, hoping for grace to join the Divine Dance which taps a continuous beat within. Yes, the words of Henri do have deep impact making time in retreat worthwhile. Like you, I have a tape, maybe a DVD with a dozen tracks that play in my mind, trying to divert my attention from the truth of God’s unconditional love. What helps me are hearing the Word in daily Scripture Readings(Creight ononline Ministries) inspiring hymns and instrumentals, support from prayer partners and quiet time throughout the day when the orchestra takes a break. I think we each have a part in God’s symphony.
I started reading “The Inner Voice” and found it quite disturbing. Dom Nouwen’s description of his spiritual crisis on page xiv is distrubingly similar to my own. I am an only child and I feel that I have been abandoned by everyone, including God. I do not feel like a beloved child of God but rather refuse that has been thrown on a large garbage pile. I read the meditations and can’t find anything consoling about them. Rather, they reflect how I am feeling in the presence. I am overwhelmed by God silence in the face of so much suffering.
Our faith teaches us that God loves us and is all powerful and yet there is suffering. If God is all powerful, is he unwilling to alleviate our suffering or does he love us and is yet powerless to stop suffering? This is a paradox which has no rational nor logical answer to.
When my parents died, I saw no vaporous soul rise from their bodies to go to heaven. Rather, I saw in my deceased parents an lifeless body in which all of their intellectual faculties had been snuffed out and I felt as if I was forced to see that in the face of death what we do is useless and meaningless.
This book is disturbing to me however, one thing this book does get right; I want to run away so badly to a place where I am in complete solitude and not have a soul in sight for hundred’s of miles. I feel loneliest when I am in a room with a lot of people but when I am in a place of great solitude, I no longer feel alone or better yet am reminded of how lonely my life is.
It would be nice to connect with some people who feel the same that I do because quite honestly I have no one to talk to.
Thank you for reaching out with your painful and difficult sharing. As Henri said, these imperatives were written when he was in deep spiritual and emotional distress and were not originally intended for publication. For that reason they are raw and brutally honest in places, and they may be hard to read and disturbing for someone like you that has lived through similar experiences.
Henri realized he needed help to cope with his distress—and it’s important to remember that he actively sought out the help he needed. He did not travel this difficult road alone. While some people may feel alone, they do not need to be alone. And while we all may feel unloved at times, God is always with us, even when we may not feel his presence. And God is most often present in the people he places in our path. I would strongly encourage you or anyone feeling distressed to seek out resources in your area to work with you at this challenging time.
You are welcome and valued in this Lenten community. In addition to seeking resources in your area, please feel to reach our to me via the comments.
Be certain of prayer support for you. I beg our merciful God to lighten your burden and heal your heart. I have had that urge to “run away” from it all. Never was a plan that worked for me. I would take my baggage with me. I did benefit from gentle Spiritual Direction from a humble Jesuit priest. He was put in my path not by accident! How many times I was blessed by such guidance and yes, times when I ran away into my shadow, ignoring advice. Yet I know God never gives up, so neither shal I. I pray you will find that true.
Felipe, I would guess that at the time Nouwen was enduring the experiences that led to this book, he wrote or at least thought things very much like what you are expressing. What we read in the published book is prose by a master communicator that has been revised over time from a place of hard-earned healing and carefully edited to bring out its beauty and clarity. And a person who had received much acclaim and validation for his entire life. But Nouwen repeatedly implies that he struggled with doubts as dark as yours. People are different, but I somehow feel reassured to know that other people of greater talent and worthiness than me share similar struggles with self-acceptance. Nouwen is one of those people. I’m sure everyone reading your post wishes you comfort and peace of mind as you endure.
Felipe, I am moved by your post. And I feel helpless. I would like to gift you in two ways: a hopeful story and a prayer. About 20 years ago, I read a story about an author who was struggling greatly. I don’t know why her story affected me so much, but it did. I decided then that I would offer a prayer for her each day. This will sound silly, but I told God that each day, I wanted her remembered in my daily prayers whether I mentioned her by name or not. Ten years later, I chanced on an internet interview with this same author promoting a new book in which she discussed the positive changes in her life struggles. It’s presumptuous of me to assume anything but I will offer daily prayers for you. I feel quite certain that many in our online group will do the same. “The last line in this week’s final chapter: “Don’t forget: victory has been won, the powers of darkness no longer rule, love is stronger than death,”
Felipe thank you for reaching out. I read your post . I paused and prayed . My prayer was that you would receive the Grace to find the place and people that would be instruments that would restore hope. Pain that is so immense and intense overwhelms .When you find your Angels on Earth that will care for you they will guide you one step at a time out of darkness to the beautiful light.I know you have loved immensely and intensely to have such pain and I know you are courageous by posting what you did. Love and courage win.By the Grace of God you will be restored.God Bless.
I am sorry you are in so much emotional pain but glad you were brave enough to share it here. I am also struggling, but starting to find some light and emerge from the darkness. It has taken a long time and help from lots of people including a therapist and a psychiatrist who put me on a medication that actually helped (after I had spent a year trying lots of other medications a different mental health professional prescribed that didn’t work).
I don’t know if this article I wrote about my ongoing struggle to love myself will be beneficial to you, but I offer it with the hope that it might at least remind you that you’re not alone. https://betterhumans.pub/self-love-is-a-never-ending-journey-4617847e9d26?sk=7a3f18945a3d1722a9bde1275fe22bdf
The imperative that speaks to me in this week’s reading is “Keep Trusting God’s Call”. It starts out, “As you come to realize that God is beckoning you to a greater hiddenness, do not be afraid of that invitation.” I haven’t read a lot from other people writing on spirituality or of the life’s writings of the saints and everything, but do sort of recognize that people can have a struggle between witnessing to a greater call from God on their lives and a more circumscribed story of their experiences and events they have gone through. Sometimes what people are interested in about a person, that other people believe is explaining things about that person is actually more in the societal voice, the cultural interests, things that actually distract or even detract from witnessing ultimately to God’s call on a person’s life. “But you know that God speaks to you through your inner voice and that you will find joy and peace only if you follow it…..You have friends who know that your inner voice speaks the truth and who can affirm what it says……don’t let yourself be misled…Trust the few who know your inner journey and want you to be faithful to it. They will help you stay faithful to God’s call.” My gut instinct tells me this is solid advice and, when I face self-doubt, insecurity and great need for affirmation, take heart from Henri Nouwen that it is ok to rely on a few very close friends to help me allow this inner voice and call from God become more clear and sure within me and not sabatauge myself to other people’s agendas for their needs and stuff. Henri Nouwen’s faith journey and call from God are truly a universal gift to humanity, in my opinion anyway. A saintly person he was and is.
I really liked this spiritual imperative. Actually, I’m quite grateful for it. As an introvert, I’ve had to teach myself to be a bit of an extravert–and that’s not a bad thing. But now as a widow of ten years and at 80, I guess I’m glad to have permission to that “greater hiddenness.” Now I don’t feel guilty or driven to “be out and about” so much — actually I believe I’m hearing the Holy Spirit tell me to be alone more — to write and pray and hear what God is saying to me. I do try to balance it with time with a few people — family and a small number of friends. And, as I’ve said in an earlier post — I see “Dear Joyce” as the salutation to many of these imperatives!
The imperatives in this section that focus on friendship resonate with me.
“Jesus friednship wth his disciples did not end with his death….Rather it grew…Sending of the Holy Spirit made their connection everlasting….Every true friendship has no end.”
How great is the truth of the Communion of Saints. Friendship love exists among all the living and dead who havw loved God.
P.82-83 “Trusting your friends depends on your belief in your own goodness.” This concept makes me wonder about how I judge who is my friend and those I choose not to befriend. That leads me to the Imperative about the drawbridge.P.84 I must decide who I allow access to my interior life. How do I draw the line, set boundaries on those who may not be able to share my joy and peace. In today’s lingo: toxic relationships.
How to keep a distance?
As a single woman who lives alone I sometimes wrestle with my desire for a deep friendship with others. The section on “Trust Your Friends” spoke to me this week. Henri said “When you really believe that you are loved by God, you can allow your friends the freedom to respond to your love in their way. . . They may be slower, more hesitant, or more cautious than you . . . Trust that those who love you want to show you their love in a real way, even when their choice of time, place, and form are different from yours.” This helped me in my current friendships with 2 different individuals. I find myself wanting “more” – more depth of conversation, more time together, more communication, etc. and Henri’s words have helped me accept that their way of being a friend is different than mine – yet both are cherished friendships. My security and solace must come from God alone, and I need to trust Him in how he uses people in my life and how He uses me in the lives of others – in His way, and in His time.
Thanks, Gina, you have expressed just what I needed to hear!
From “Accept Your Identity as a Child of God” – “Since that deep place in you where your identity as a child of God is rooted has been unknown to you for a long time, those who were able to touch you there had a sudden and often overwhelming power over you. They became part of your identity. You could no longer live without them. But they could not fulfill that divine role, so they left you, and you felt abandoned. But it was precisely that experience of abandonment that called you back to your true identity as a child of God.”
This also relates to Ray’s first prompt about do I accept my identity as a child of God? I think that part of me was “unknown to me for a long time” as I was raised that love was earned and I had to keep achieving to earn it from my parents. Having experiences of being loved – just loved – not for anything that I do, but for who I truly am is something I have been able to begin embracing only recently. I have experienced this in my heart in a few ways, but saw it break open when a particular person saw me in this way and seemed to love me in my inmost self. Henri is helping me see that no one ultimately can fulfill this role and perhaps God used this person to move me on my journey and point me to God. It is helpful to think of the abandonment as God calling me back to embracing my identity as a child of God, because I can’t help but return to the hurt from time to time about the relationship ending.
I was blessed. My mom was that person that loved me unconditionally. She loved all her children that way. She died a little over a year ago. My grief has been immense- what you say resonates deeply. Reading what Henri said; what you quoted , resonates as well- that the death of someone like that , no matter how… takes away that physical representation of Jesus. It is then that we must “ learn not to live without them but ti live with the love they left behind,” a quote from something a friend gave me- being stripped of that assurance in a physical way gives you choices- to turn more to God or away. Great love and great suffering help us see reality more clearly, if we allow it as you said. Thank you for sharing. Also reading and knowing so many people who had to earn their parents’ love , or felt they had to, increases my gratitude all the more; but also reflect on how I raised my children and curious how they feel. I will have to ask them!
Thank you, Gina.
I love the quote from your friend about being stripped of the assurance physically brings you to a choice to move towards or away from God. I continually pray to cooperate with God’s movement and therefore move towards.
I am sorry for the loss of your mother. May your memories continue to envelop you in her unconditional love. I believe what Henri mentioned about friendship and love continuing even after one person dies. I am sure your mom is still with you, loving you, and pointing you towards God.
Thank you, Gina. I am sorry about the loss of your mom. I hope and pray that she continues to be present to you and that you live in the love she left behind. I still feel my husband with me, pulling for me and supporting me, loving me.
I love the quote from your friend about having the choice to turn away or towards God when stripped of our loved ones’ presence physically. I am grateful that God remains by my side, even in those moments when I turn away. God hasn’t run from my pain and anguish – God is present there, too.
I’ve also struggled with this my whole life, Joanne. My parents were loving in their way but somehow I got an impression partly from them but certainly others that I was only worthy when I worked to achieve love, to please others and cover up the less lovable sides of myself: the shadow self. Over decades this idea became baked in so that it has taken a lot of coaching from Nouwen and Rohr and most importantly a few loved ones especially my wife that has helped me really grasp this sense of being unconditionally loved. And it is something that I need to continually reinforce through prayer.
Thank you, David,
My parents were loving in their own way as well, but early on I learned to gain their acceptance, attention, and favor by achieving. I almost died when being born, and the doctor actually told my mom that I would be stillborn or intellectually disabled. My parents drilled into me that I “owed” God and better figure out what He wanted, what His purpose was to have me live. That feeling as taken me nearly 60 years to get past. I always assumed that God wanted me to do some big, hard, unpleasant service – that it would be a big “payback” for allowing me to live. Knowing in my heart that God just loved me into being and that nothing I can do will make me earn that love, it is freely given, has been immensely freeing.
I found the following has given me an opportunity to find meaning in my personal experiences of pain (page 104). “Every time you can shift your attention away from the external situation that caused your pain and focus on the pain of humanity in which you participate, your suffering becomes easier to bear. It becomes a “light burden” and an “easy yoke” (Matthew 11:30). Once you discover that you are called to live in solidarity with the hungry, the homeless, the prisoners, the refugees, the sick, and the dying, your very personal pain begins to be converted into the pain and you find new strength to live it. Herein lies the hope of all Christians.”
I have chronic depression. I am also blessed with the gift of faith and know that I am loved as a child by God. I recently retired from a 46 year career as a nurse and thank God for enabling me to manage my depression (with help of prayer, counselors and medication) and I was able to convert my personal pain to be with others as a care giver (nurse) and find God’s love. My journey continues as I discover next steps in my life.
This is my first post and am grateful for being able to share. I am interested in the Zoom meeting also.
Thank you for sharing a bit of your story, Pat. I find encouragement in your words that you are certain in your grasp of the truth that you are loved as a child by God, and that you continue to discover next steps in your life. We’re all on a pilgrimage in this life…as we journey towards what I like to think of as a final ending into the very heart of God, totally immersed and held in His love.
From p. 80, Be a Real Friend
“Those you have loved deeply and have died live on in you, not just as memories but as real presences.”
When my father died, I had many feelings and after a few months time (maybe longer!), I eventually came to a visceral truth – Dad’s flame burned on in me. He was part of me at a cellular level. I continued to run the race of life, and will hand this down to others when I pass on.
Has anyone else a story to tell of this amazing statement?
It reminded me of the passage from Love Deeply, p. 59
“When your love is truly giving and receiving, those whom you love will not
leave your heart even when they depart from you. They will become part of
your self and thus gradually build a community within you.”
I have had this experience you describe with my own Dad. After caring for him as he suffered from ALS and dementia, I was bereft when he died. I felt I had lost my purpose. Caring for him had been one of only a few things in my life (my marriage and being a parent being the others) where I knew without any doubt that I was doing exactly what God wanted me to be doing.
With time though, I began to feel Dad near me, in my actions, in my words, in others whose lives he had touched. Dad was a wonderful model of God’s love throughout my life and now I know he continues in that role. It is both humbling and reaffirming.
I am appreciative of Henri’s perspective that our loved ones, family and friends, stay near as real presences. Even after they have passed on. They become a part of the communion of saints, our cheerleaders, loving us in and through our love from God. Lately I feel a closeness to my dad when I’m driving on the highway and a large flatbed truck comes beside me. As a Chicago truck driver his whole life, it’s one he drove well. Sometimes brings me to sweet tears. Our relationship wasn’t perfect but he gave me so much that I take with me. This helps me as I continue on my journey of belonging.
A couple of Henri’s ideas caught my imagination this week. One is his observation that each of us contains a lamb and a lion: “Your lion is your adult, aggressive self. It is your initiative-taking and decision-making self. But there is also your fearful vulnerable lamb, the part of you that needs affection, support, affirmation, and nurturing….The art of spiritual living is to fully claim both your lion and your lamb.”
I think that analogy captures nicely the divide we can often feel between our public self and our private self. It reminds me slightly of an idea developed by Richard Rohr and others, of the separation between our public self and our shadow self, and the need to recognize and honor our shadow side–the part of us we deliberately hide from the world–hard as that may be.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I too relate to the idea of lion and lamb as Richard Rohr has written. It’s tempting to hide my weaknesses and not allow my lion to roar. How others would run away! In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is where I can lay my lion down and bleat like a lamb, asking God’s forgiveness and ongoing grace.
Thanks to those of you that are replying with your preferred day for a Zoom gathering during Holy Week. Please keep them coming. I am receiving them, but am not publicly posting them so avoid cluttering up the discussion of this weeks’ reading.
Thanks for clarifying…I was trying to work out if I’d been sent to Purgatory 😉
I prefer Mon, April 3 @ 8 pm EST ( I am in Hawaii, aloha).
Ray, thank you for responding to the community’s suggestion/ request that we meet by Zoom. I look forward to seeing everyone!
Reading the comments I recalled the writing of Frederick Buechner where he suggest we are called not to avoid pain, but to become good stewards of the pain we have known — even as beloved children of God. To become more compassionately and tenderly present to the pain of those around us.
Amen! Simple, yet profound!
Each of us, is a beloved child of God’s. I have trouble seeing that in those who are “unlovable”. How best do I love the unlovely? Am I called to do that or do I leave that to God?
Richard, This is an important and fundamental question. Here’s my thought (as non-expert, non-theologian, and Catholic layman). Although we are all God’s beloved, we have free will and we sometimes choose badly and sin (i.e., fail to love God or neighbor). And some people, for whatever reason–e.g., bad life situations, bad choices, mental illness–act in horrific ways that are “unlovable.” Thomas Aquinas said that to love is will the good of the other as other. God loves us–he wants what is good for us. We are called to do the same for others. That doesn’t mean that we need to “like” them and we certainly are not called to accept unloving behavior on their part.
So to love the unlovely is to want what is good for them–even if they do not appear to want that for themselves. We can pray for their conversion–for them to choose to turn toward God. But is is not for us to judge them. That is for God. At least that’s my take. (And I’m certainly not saying that it is easy.)
You have explained clearly how to “love ‘ the unlovable.
We are to leave judgement to God. No one is worthless. Thank you for helping me with this question.
I agree with your thoughts, Ray. Our role to to love the person as a beloved child of God, not their actions. As you say, this can be challenging at times. Especially when we have no understanding of the motives or circumstances behind the actions.
This is where I have struggled over the years as an active Catholic. I feel that church teachings can be implemented in a very judgmental way. This can be so unwelcoming and I believe leads to the decrease in active participation in the American church. It alienates so many. But if we are all sinners & all beloved by God, aren’t we called to acceptance and inclusion?
Personally I am so grateful that judgement is left to God alone. My role is that of LOVE. For this I am thankful!
I am indeed a beloved child of God. The more this becomes embedded in my heart, the freer I become to share God’s love with others.
A number of years ago someone touched me and seemed to know me so deeply that I became consumed with this person’s friendship and thought I could not live without it. Of course, the friendship ended because of my deep need for this person and I did come to realize that only God can fill that empty hollow place. I still struggle at times and He gently reminds me that He knows that area of my heart that was uncovered and He is the Only One who can fill it. The realization of my deep need and that the other was not Divine and could not stay to fill it was heartbreaking. Through the prayers of a few friends, my hubby and counseling I could finally get to the other side of the chasm and came to see that only God could fill it with His unconditional love as my Father. Pages 70 and 71 hit home.
Thank you for your beautiful and vulnerable sharing. It is good to know that God has been present to you and fills that hunger. I have struggled and am struggling with a similar situation, or so it seems. I wonder if there is ever an other side of the chasm, but do trust that my hunger to be seen like that continues to point me to God. It is God, I believe, calling me deeper and deeper into relationship and into claiming my identity and being as beloved child.
The imperatives Ray noted at page top above focus on “Identity as a Child of God.”
I am reminded of the opening words of the presentation I heard on Ash Wednesday.
Remember who you are.
Remember whose you are.
Remember why you are living.
Knowing God’s love for me, and believing who God is for me, affirm my purpose for living.
Hi Ray and Friends, I apologize for missing a post last week. My niece had an emergency C section and the baby went into the NICU for awhile, and then my water heater went out, among other things. Last week was definitely a chaotic time. So I am thankful I get to be bathed in the comfort and beauty of Henri’s words. It is so beautiful to read this section you noted above: “The more you come to know yourself—spirit, mind, and body—as truly loved, the freer you will be to proclaim the good news. This is the freedom of the children of God.” This is such a great reminder for me, as the term “Beloved” is one I treasure now, and am just now starting to recognize in my life as a child of God. I never felt very “beloved” before, and as I have grown in my relationship with Jesus and understanding of His character and His glory, I now see how each of us is “Beloved” individuals created in His image. What an amazing truth! Isaiah 43:1 – But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name (BELOVED); you are mine.” He has called each of us to Him – by name – we are His beloved. Rest easy today in this truth!
I missed this past week’s comments on community. Have spent time with a person I was angry with and am thankful to God that healing occurred between us. Today I wanted to share a sentence on p. 60:
“Yes, as you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear.”
Reading the section, (from this week’s portion) “Take Up Your Cross”, I feel motivated to share some thoughts.*
So, quoting from:
The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom by Henri Nouwen
(final paragraph) Page 88:
“There is great pain and suffering in the world. But the pain hardest to bear is your own. Once you have taken up the cross, you will be able to see clearly the crosses that others have to bear, and you will be able to reveal to them their own ways to joy, peace, and freedom.”
* My personal journey is quite different from the one that Henri Nouwen shares in this book. I think that one of the greatest differences between our perspectives is captured in the sentiment contained in the above paragraph. Different from what is shared here, for me, the most difficult pain to bear is suffering of my most dear ones (in my case: my parents, husband, children, and grandchildren.) My inner-insight being that the cross suffered by Christ is the suffering of those most dear to Him, namely, us.
In addition, as I ponder Our Blessed Mother witnessing her son bearing the cross (as depicted in the Stations of the Cross), I see a suffering mother bearing the pain of her child which she knows that she is powerless to take away or even lessen. How many times we individuals can relate to that experience of suffering with a loved one whose suffering we are powerless to take away or make less? Yet, we stand ready to simply be there for them, and, in my experience, this being there offers a profound close encounter with Grace that I feel grateful for.
I’m with you on this one, Laurie. My own pain feels less important than the pain I sometimes see in my children and grandchildren, especially when I am powerless to remove it. Like you, I try to be present them in my own humble and sometimes awkward ways… and it isn’t always apparent that it makes much difference. I just hope that it does.
Thank you for sharing this, Ed.
I hope that there are many others in this world who also look at things this way.
I think you raise an important point here, Laurie. Henri was many things but he was not a parent, a role which inevitably opens us to the suffering of loved ones that can seem more severe than our own pain. But the way he writes about compassion felt by the father of the prodigal son leads me to think it was part of his imagination as well.
Thank you, Ray, for all your considered insights and wisdom about our diversity of comfort feelings about sharing on this blogg. I feel like Henri Nouwen, every time I read another of his books and also have opportunity of sharing here, am somehow at the same time growing more and more into a comfort level of being who I am, it’s not fast, it’s not predictable or programmed by my own rational headwork, but it is encompassed by a larger reality of God that Henri Nouwen I feel like has experienced and became a sort of guide for. I am not the same today as a few years ago. Also reminds me of being kind of like an onion, with layers of pretend false masks being taken off, that seemed useful for security, status, defense of ego, and so forth and so on and lead to some upset crying before I can be useful to God and neighbor. I appreciate Henri Nouwen’s sharing his faith journey and you and the others who continue making reflection on his writing available to all of us. Since the zoom will be at 8:00 eastern time, Monday or Tuesday, both days work for me.
Thanks for that onion metaphor. I know how hard it is to peel away at my impatience when things do not happen as I had hoped for.
I love Henri’s works and have found them touching my heart often. I do want to share that this image of being a beloved daughter has always been a difficult one for me as I was not a ‘beloved’ daughter of my parents. I’ve always had difficulty with this way of describing God’s relationship to me as the words daughter and beloved are so foreign to me. I know God loves me, but my experience with my earthly parents interferes with this being a comfortable, consoling thought.
I will pray for you that these words will be imprinted on your heart in a way that is unexplainable except through the amazing Grace and love of the Trinity and mother Mary. The door of your heart has been opened to your true identity…may you grow more and more comfortable with that truth each time you hear it,or read it… He is speaking directly to you and has been trying to break through
for long time.
Blessings as you continue this journey of discovery…
I understand you, as I feel exactly the same. While I love God and am so grateful to God for so many, many things, for life, for this beautiful, sad, awesome world, I do not feel so deeply and fully loved by God as others have described.I know I must be, but I do not feel or perceive it.
My parents too were not loving . I was not a beloved daughter of my parents.
Yet, does this mean That I cannot experience God’s deep abiding love of me ?.
Ray, Henri’s words from your introductory comments for this week really jumped out at me: “Dear friends, if there is anything, anything I want you to hear this morning, it’s that what is said of Jesus is said of you. You have to hear that you are the beloved daughter and son of God. And to hear it not here (points to head) but right here (points to heart), and to hear it so your whole life can be turned around.”
To really feel this deep in my heart ♥️ has been the most significant transformation in my journey as a Christian seeker. Henri Nouwen’s book “The Return of the Prodigal Son” was a major portal into this awareness and understanding. I can’t express how much that book helped launch me into a different way of seeing, feeling, believing, and being. I don’t have it mastered, and I’m still very much a work in progress and process at 74 years of age. I was raised Catholic in an era of punishment, fear, rules, etc. Love and mercy were not at the forefront of the teachings during those years.
Thank you for your sharing. As a spiritual director I encounter people or she who have dealt with this judgement al, fearful, God. Also being told how we have to EARN his love and our worthiness. What a blessing when we realize that we can not earn worthiness, that we were created as the son/daughter of God
I thank God daily for gracing me with this understanding which brings me such peace and freedom.
Thanks, Kathy! Your feedback is encouraging and appreciated!
These comments are all so beautiful and insightful! Today’s gospel is about the healing of the blind man… reading these insights “opened my eyes” to a deeper understanding of the good news of the gospel! Just writing to encourage all of you.. you don’t know how God will use you to bring others to Him in a deeper way. If you hear His voice calling you to share, please do! I can only speak for myself (but feel it from this community) that you will find no judgement, only grateful hearts.
Blessings on your Sunday and the week ahead!
Thanks, Gina, for your insight into today’s Gospel. I wrote my thoughts here poetically.That’s so true that we don’t know how God will use us.
Seize the moment
“to do the works of the Holy one,”
Jesus commands me.
My eyes covered in clay
Will need to be washed away.
Will I accept the cleansing
Or seek an easy out?
“Go, wash in the pool of Siloam,”
he told the man.
Where do I find the pool near here?
I dive deep into the light of the Word,
in silent Lectio.
I join community worship,
praying Psalms 51 and 23.
I have the happy feet
of the messenger who brings the
I love how you were inspired to express in this way- poetry has a way of helping me visualize and relate to others. Thank you for speaking the good news with this poem. What a gift! So grateful you listened and responded in a way you felt led. God is SO good!
I am still here and would like to participate in a zoom meeting either day is good for me.
I can not tell you how much this book has helped me through difficult times opening randomly and the words leap off the page and jump into my heart ❤️ to settle deeply and reassuringly! I cant wait to meet him in Paradise and know he is near me on my journey. Thank you
I am enjoying to read the comments here and I like to share a little reflection of my own experience on the comments that we are, the beloved, the children of God. For this appreciation of this new identity, we need to follow the general rule of the Bible Revelation that we believe and then we see. Most likely in our daily life and the faith life that we are so used to see and then believe. But that is the world pattern. When we truly believe we are the children of God, the beloved one of God, we start to really experience in our life, the love from God that would not be appreciated and seen otherwise. So when I read the Bible when we’re hearing the voice of God saying to the baptizing Jesus, This is my beloved son. Echo that in your heart and then you in the life you can find, You are surrounded by the love of God everywhere. That’s amazing! So faith leads us into seeing. That’s one of the spiritual principles that I experienced in this circumstances.
I would love to join the online discussion. Thanks
On p. 91, as Henri describes God’s unconditional love for us, he assures the reader (and
himself) that “Jesus has called you from the moment you were knitted together in your
mother’s womb.” Here he cites a phrase from one of my favorite Psalms, quoted here in a
larger context: “You have searched me, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down: you are familiar with all my ways. If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me. Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
As a mother, I was, of course, cognizant of every movement and moment of development of my unborn child, then later watched every wobbly first step, reveled in every new milestone, quelled fears after a nightmare, and consoled during later disappointments that every life inevitably brings. If mothers are reputed to have eyes in the back of their heads, how much more completely and perfectly must God look out for His children?
I also love that Psalm, Elaine! As a mother of four, I am often overwhelmed by the love I have for my children, especially when they are struggling and I feel helpless. How reassuring to know God loves me this much! Now I just have to feel it deeply . . . in my heart, not only my head, as Henri reminded the congregation in his homily.
This song, You Are Near, by Dan Schutte brings music to the psalm you shared.
Amen! Thanks for sharing! Indeed, we are fearfully and wonderfully made – guided and protected!
Oh yes, Psalm 139 speaks strongly to me. Another song affirms God’s great love and hold on each one. He will Hold me Fast
God loves me no matter what I do. God stands ready to meet me when I decide to make my way home. I am the prodigal son and God is my father and he joyously welcomes me home.