Reading: “Face the Enemy” to “Keep Choosing God” (pages 93 to 115)
Your vocation is to be a witness to God’s love in this world. (p. 93)
A desire for communion has been part of you since you were born. . . .
It comes from God and is part of your true vocation. (p.95)
Not being welcome is your greatest fear. . . .Everything Jesus is saying to you can be summarized in the words “Know that you are welcome.” (p. 101)
The question is whether you choose for God or for your own doubting self. . . . But you always have a choice to think, speak, and act in the name of God
and so move toward the Light, the Truth, and the Life. (p. 144)
As we enter the penultimate week of our Lenten discussion, I want to thank everyone that has participated by posting comments or following silently. This has been the largest and richest book discussion that we have had in several years. The active participation of the faithful community that gathers each Lent and Advent is the lifeblood of these Henri Nouwen Society book discussions. Without your ongoing engagement there would be no reason for these discussions to exist. I am deeply moved by the thoughtful and compassionate comments that are being shared. I also want to recognize in a special way the people that joined the online conversation this week by sharing their comments for the first time. We’re glad you’re here.
This week, the Fifth Week of Lent, we are reading and discussing the final twelve of the sixty-two imperatives. More about that in a minute. During Holy Week we will consider Henri’s conclusion and have an opportunity to look back across the entire book. Also during Holy Week we are rescheduling our planned Zoom virtual meeting to Tuesday, April 4th at 8:00 p.m. EDT (UTC-4). At that time our Lenten community can gather to share our impressions and insights on the Inner Voice of Love. The Zoom meeting will be available to anyone that indicates their interest in participating by submitting a comment indicating your interest or contacting me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. There will be a reminder and additional information about the Zoom discussion in the Holy Week blog post on Palm Sunday.
Most of Henri’s imperatives this week focus on his calling, concerns, and fears as he and his counselors prepared for his return to daily life to live and minister in the L’Arche Daybreak community and to continue his ministry to the wider world through his speaking and writing. In the first two excerpts above, we see Henri clearly stating his vocation in the simplest of terms and recognizing that his vocation must be lived in communion with God and with others, especially his L’Arche community from which he will be sent out to the wider world and to which he can return. The next two excerpts address the Henri’s foundational fears that underlie his self-doubts, uncertainty, and insecurity. How do we know that we are welcome? How do we choose for God? We do so by knowing in our heart that we are God’s beloved.
As you reflect on the imperatives this week, you are encouraged to consider them from the perspective of your return to daily life at the end of our Lenten journey next week. As Henri was looking ahead, he was defining guidelines for how he can choose to live his newly acknowledged life as God’s beloved. It seemed to me that Henri wrote these final imperatives to assist him in living out the preceding fifty imperatives. Did any of Henri’s final twelve imperatives or guidelines resonate with you? What concrete steps might you take to put one or more of these guidelines in place in your life? Please share your thoughts to extent you are comfortable. Of course, you are always invited and welcomed to share whatever touched your heart in the reading.
May the Lord strengthen you and give you peace as we continue our journey together. We look forward to another spirit-filled and fruitful week of sharing.
The two imperatives that spoke loud and clear to me this week were “Face the Enemy” and “Keep Choosing God.” Summing up the first Henri says: “The more you sense God’s call, the more you will discover you are in a cosmic battle between God and Satan.” But, what is important is to “cling to the…unambiguous love of Jesus ” (93). Summing up the second, Henri says: “You are facing a real spiritual battle (114),” but the root choice is to trust [God] at all times….This is the voice to listen to,” (113).
I experienced this pull in spades this week when I took a trip to first see my Spiritual Director followed by spending the the night with friends. It was a clear contrast in choices of either clinging to God’s call or caving into other voices..
Sister Mary has known me 8 years. As a Spiritual Director she always turns me toward God. Like Jesus who called Simon by a new name Peter, Sister Mary sees the Christ in me and calling me to my true self. The way she sees me raises me to a new standard. In her eyes I am not defined by my wounds or my past, but by God’s call to beloved.
Not so with my friends of 25 plus years. They walked with me through a divorce when I last lived in MA (I just moved back here last month after 15 years in Louisville). And when I see them they treat me with the same up-down dynamic that I need their help.
Instead of seeing the true self I’ve morphed into, they continue to see me through the limited lens 20 years ago when I went through a divorce. My neediness created a dynamic of dependence that they have kept and can’t seem to shake seeing me as I’ve grown professionally and vocationally into God’s Call. So when I visit, they downsize me into that dependent dynamic that can be patronizing, diminishing and even demeaning. I don’t believe they intend harm. I don’t think they know their power dynamic disallows us equal relationship respectful of adults. Here is where my self rejecting voices are triggered. Getting hooked hearing these voices plays into the Enemy’s hand and holds us hostage in helplessness believing we don’t have a choice. That’s the Lie.
It’ is precisely here in my helplessness with Sister Marty when she she looks me straight in the eye and says: “Turn to Jesus. Tell Him exactly what you just told me. Now what did he say?” Are you a helpless victim? No. You have a choice. And here’s the lynchpin Henri concludes: “God began new things in you that need to be brought to completion. Your future depends on how you decide to remember your past. Choose for the truth of what you know” (114). “Remember you are held safe…What is of God will last…Choose it and it will be yours” (115).
This is so powerful. Thanks for sharing! Clinging to the Love of Jesus, and Trusting! That is the nucleus of my journey. I so often find myself saying/praying: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” Mark 9:24
I too, find your sharing powerful, Beverly. It so describes the way we can be pulled back from our beloved ness that actually is from something in some of our friends that is stemming from their neediness to feel needed themselves or something. Anyway, not healthy. Great you have your Spiritual Director in your life and have grown to know you are beloved and have healing.
Thank for posting your thoughts which are so meaningful to me. I am reminded of the song, “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus”
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things (the thing) of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace
O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior
And life more abundant and free
Through death into life everlasting
He passed and we follow Him there
O’er us sin no more hath dominion
For more than conquerors we are
Oh, turn your eyes upon Jesus (oh, turn, oh turn)
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things (the things) of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace
His word shall not fail you, He promised
Believe Him and all will be well
Then go to a world that is dying
His perfect salvation to tell
Oh, turn your eyes upon Jesus (oh, turn, oh turn)
Look full in His wonderful face
Oh, and the things (the things) of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace
Oh, turn your, oh, turn your
Oh, turn your eyes upon Jesus (refrain repeated)
Hear Lauren Daigle sing this song:
This has been lovely and I am grateful. Henri’s invitations around “the pain”, “living your wounds through”, “letting God speak…” and “your unique call to love” all washed over me in such a profoundly healing way. I re-enter trying to love all this and again, am grateful for this group for being part of this journey for me…
Let God Speak Through You 99 Attentive and focused hearing Jesus through scripture seeing and hearing him guide me through the printed word fighting temptations of distractions .Together with the Holy Spirit I’ll get the understanding and knowledge I need.
Let Others Help You Die 107 At work the idea of another in the role of Leadership Humbles me and I step back in my team member job. In my Team member job I lead the leader in customer service and communication, I’m up for the collections with basket ready at Sunday mass with prayers for work which follows.
I look beyond where I am spiritually to other parishes as outreach and Spiritual direction ,it is how I found this Nouwen Society. Also through giving donations,with love ,I can feel it happen by being little me. I step back from many things in a big way triumphantly before others can hinder my attempts and get on past many un necessary struggles.
A new Lenten Leaf Joyful Palm Sunday Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday.
109 Give Your Agenda to God. Jesus too is there before I get to any destination along with St.Joseph with Life’s sunrise to sunset Agenda List.
PERMIT YOUR PAIN TO BECOME THE PAIN (P.103-104)
Henri urges me to take my focus away from the specifics of my pain. How easy it is to dwell on the them. He says,” You will deceive yourself into believing that if the people, circumstances and events were different, your pain would not exist.” Remids me of the three witches that can haunt me: That which I could have done, that which I shoud have done, that which I wold have done.
Henri suggests moving from my pain to the pain of the world. 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 experience reveals that my cross of chronic physical pain is far less a burden than the crosses others I know have to bear. Yet that knowledge doesn’t make my cross feel any less heavy. As Henri Nouwen says on P. 88, “The pain hardest to bear is your own.” I see the news reports of tragedy upon catasrophe: victims of shootings, environmental events, terminal illness. I respond to requests for prayer from those in need when I receive email or phone calls. In Henri’s imperative he encourages me to recognize and embrace my unique suffering and to trust that my way to holiness lies therein. My pain episodes give me teachable times to learn love. Embrace my cross?
Most often I’d prefer to put my cross down and beg for a lighter one!
More at my blog. I invite you to visit:
Regarding page 97, I have been feeling for a while that my “false pain” the pain resulting from the stories I tell myself in regard to certain events in my life is cluttering and masking my real pain. I have engaged in the “struggle” of distinguishing the real pain from the false pains, since I now recognize it’s a defensive mechanism that I use. I love how Henri Nouwen’s words supports my journey.
Yes, I think that is a very good insight, Lyne. We often live with certain painful chapters of our past for so long that we don’t notice that they are obscuring more recent and significant sources of emotional pain. We plunge into the past out of habit which confuses us about what we are struggling with now.
From page 113 – Keep Choosing God
“The root choice is to trust at all times that God is with you and will give you what you most need. Your self-rejecting emotions might say, “It isn’t going to work. I’m still suffering the same anguish I did six months ago. I will probably fall back into the old depressive patterns of acting and reacting. I haven’t really changed.” And on and on. It is hard not to listen to these voices. Still, you know that these are not God’s voice. God says to you, “I love you. I am with you, I want to see you come closer to me and experience the joy and peace of my presence. I want to give you a new. heart and a new spirit. I want you to speak with my mouth, see with my eyes, hear with my ears, touch with my hands. All that is mine is yours. Just trust me and let me be your God.”
(Apologies for the long quote, but the whole thing has kept resonating with me)
Trust is such a reoccurring theme for me – to trust that God loves me (all of me the good, bad, and the ugly), to trust God is drawing me and that change can happen, to trust it is God’s voice. Sometimes it is hard to silence my inner critic, my ego, my doubts. This paragraph was so comforting to me. I have long prayed to see with God’s eyes, to hear with God’s ears, and to speak with God’s mouth. I will add touch with God’s hands. And I have to trust that God is leading me in this and God voice is there. It needs to be my root choice. There is peace in that.
I, too, had the words of God you mentioned highlighted as it seems to sum up the entire book for me. It is the definition of ‘You are my Beloved!’ and a reminder to keep choosing God, to “claim the God within me.” (p. 99) In this way, with this belief and support, we are then able to bring the God of love to the world.
The call to be God’s eyes, ears, mouth, hands, etc is so humbling and yet so empowering. I often pray for the courage to live this call by listening to this song by Jessie Manibusan , Open My Eyes:
I am also reminded of this quote attributed to St. Teresa of Avila”
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
— St. Teresa of Ávila
Thank you Margy for reminding me of this beautiful song.
Thanks for your sharing that song. For me trust implies that change can happen because with God nothing is impossible! Here’s a song which affirms that. Strength for the Journey
Amen! TRUST is the journey for me as well! Truly a powerful paragraph! Thanks for sharing!
KNOW THAT YOU ARE WELCOME – P.101-102
Not being welcome was Henri’s greatest fear. He endured it in this life, in his death fear and in the life after this life. How does he fight and win against these forces of darkness?
His imperative to himself is the same for me: Choose life! How I see this choice is relying on the promises of God: I will not leave you alone. I am the branch, you are the vine. I am the Good Shepherd. I knit you together in your mother’s womb.(Psalm 139)
Feelings of unwelcome are related to feeling unworthy. If I don’t dare to come before the mercy throne of God because I deem myself unworthy, then I disbelieve what God has promised. Such feelings of being unlovable do not come from God; these lies do not tell the truth. Surely, like Henri, I need to guard against these dark thoughts that will self-destruct me. With reflection, as we are doing here in this discussion, and time for prayer, I am able to dispel demeaning thoughts and replace them with the Word of God.
Before I post my “spiritual insights’ which are 99,105, and 107 I was doing my morning scriptural reading in Living with Christ and came across a passage by Henri Nouwen I’d like to share from their prayer for each day 2023 Wednesday April 12
O lord, how hard it is to accept your way. I am trying to overcome the feelings of alienation and separation which continue to assail me.But I wonder now if my deep sense of homelessness does not bring me closer to you than my occasional feelings of belonging. Come Lord Jesus and be with me where I feel poorest. Amen.
I found some new accents in this final batch of Imperatives. Henri continues to open up about his fears: a fear of death, fear of dying alone, fear of not being welcome, of abandonment and rejection. I can resonate with these. He also brings in I think for the first time the idea of a cosmic battle between God and Satan and refers to the Prince of Darkness. This is not a line of thought I associate with Nouwen because he’s usually diagnosing himself in terms of his own fears and self-rejection, stressing the positives of accepting God’s love rather than an evil force operating in his life. I wonder if other people find this introduction of Satan as a contributing actor to be helpful.
These reflections have really helped me think about the sources of my own self-criticism and rejection. His advice seems to be, stop trying to figure out all the details, the who’s and when’s. I admire his honesty in opening up about his deepest insecurities. I wonder how his life would have unfolded if he hadn’t been taken suddenly at a relatively young age. He surely would have had some great wisdom about old age, something that many folks from this online community have written about.
Due to an unforeseen conflict, I need to reschedule our Zoom virtual meeting next week to Tuesday, April 4th at 8:00 p.m. EDT (UTC-4). I have updated the post above and will mention it again in the next post on Palm Sunday.
Thanks to those of you that have indicated an interest in participating, It looks like we will have a wonderful gathering.
I love God the most when I realize God’s love for me. I can then love myself and love my brothers and sisters. This isn’t always easy to do but God loves me even when I fail.
The imperative which is speaking to me is Face the Enemy. As you see more clearly that your vocation is to be a witness to God’s love in this world, and as you become more determined to live out that vocation, the attacks of the enemy will increase. Henri Nouwen mentions some things the enemy can be telling us, but he doesn’t mention that the enemy can be telling us “our ideas are no good”, even about stuff that really doesn’t impact on someone else in much of any way. I get so that I hate to tell anyone about my dreams, goals and plans because of getting advice that isn’t really me. “The farther the outward journey takes you, the deeper the inward journey must be.” Where I turn in these situations is to the few people who actually understand and my dedication to Eucharistic Adoration and listening to Jesus’ Voice. I know Jesus’ love will carry me through.
Just thought I’d clarify, there are times when people want to give me advice but it’s tied in on how something will benefit them or something or someone they’re interested in and not really free-flowing and liberating but turns inward again and becomes conditional and likely to achieve lesser dream or aspiration. It’s a real gift to be able to offer others acceptance and love and seems like we grow in understanding when someone offers it to us and then we want to pass it on.
Greetings! This is my second posting during this Lenten Discussion – my first posting was during the second week. First, a disclaimer. My reflections today are based on an imperative from last week. However, I tried three times on Saturday and my computer wouldn’t let me get to website. But I was so deeply moved by an imperative last week, with your absolution, I would like to still share this week.
I am referencing the imperative on P 70 where Henri reminds us our “true identity is as a child of God.” I read this imperative everyday last week, and again today. I had mentioned in my earlier post that I am a retired minister. So would anyone would be surprised if I first employed a couple of anecdotes? One thing that came to mind is my biological identity. 75 years ago on that desolate farm back in southeastern Illinois, my parents named me Harold Joseph Neeley. Now, on my CA Driver’s License, is my picture and my printed, still identical, name – Harold Joseph Neeley.
Another “what are the odds,” scenario that came to mind has to do with a recurring geographical commonality. My childhood farm was some five miles from a tiny town called Dundas. My parents took farm produce to the general store there once a week to “trade”. I rode the bus and went to grade school in Dundas, two grades in each room. We moved from there during my Third Grade year, and since then I’ve lived in states from coast to coast, but never forgot where I was born.
Six years ago we moved to North Hollywood. Eight blocks from our apartment is the Television Academy. Walking/driving there on Lankershim Blvd, there is the street sign at the intersection saying Academy Way, with an arrow pointing to the east. You can see the Academy from that corner. But when we first moved here, the street sign hanging directly underneath that sign was a sign for the connecting street pointing to the west. And, believe it or not, that sign read Dundas Drive! Say what? Almost 70 years after I was born back on that country farm, after living in five states across the country, having no television in our home until high school, now living next to the cultural center of the world, when it comes to television, I’m back to Dundas? The street has since been closed, now a plaza, and the sign is down, but I think about it every time we walk by that intersection – which is often because it’s near our new favorite place – a slightly more contemporary establishment than the old Dundas General Store – Amazon Fresh!
Thank you, Henri! Though your words indeed prompted real-life memories, the spiritual reminder is what made the deepest impact on me. My parents always took us to church, and early in my life I became aware I was a child of God. My name is still the same, and I just can’t get away from Dundas, but what really matters the most, what really guides me through each day, is the fact that I am always a child of God. Above all else, as you shared, that is my true identity. And, as you said in the imperative’s closing statement, there lies my real freedom.
In that part of Illinois, I’m wondering if you ever came across the white squirrels so well-known in nearby Olney…
As for being a child of God, I appreciate you mentioning this, because Henri says this is the truth that we must claim for ourselves. It has also been my reflection during Lent, because for some reason I find it difficult for my heart to claim that truth as paramount. I keep asking myself, “Is it really true?”
Oh my goodness. Yes! Though I was raised through early childhood on that farm, I was actually born in an Olney hospital. And that is the town we moved to from there. I graduated from ERHS, and also from Olney Community College. So, indeed, I know all about the “Home of the White Squirrels.” Of course, that is also the town of my early spiritual formation, And yes, in the context of the imperative, it’s where I first became aware of my identity as a child of God.
Reading Henry‘s words this morning, I am awed and struck again by the beauty, clarity and simplicity of how he writes, his words touch my heart. I especially resonate with the imperative, “know that you are welcome” and “say often, Lord have mercy”. In difficult times, I am still so easily engulfed by all these voices that tell me I am bad, that the three words “Lord have mercy” can be almost viewed like a mantra to say over and over again to keep oneself not only above ground. Maybe this is what Henry had in mind.
Imperative on P.98 “Say often, Lord, have mercy” resonates with me. Then Henri says how to say these words: “Say it not anxiously but with confidence that God is close!”
When my struggle is either physical or emotional, I do say that prayer. Not just once! How confident am I? I need to add the image of the Good Shepherd who will carry me along through the shadows, even death. I imagine Christ holding me close in love. That helps me to put one foot in front of the other. I have a card with that image visible above my bookshelf. A picture worth spending Visio time with!
Thanks, Elaine, for your meaningful message. It’s good to carry the cares of the world into prayer and if possible into action. Yet giving off vibes of being weighed down will not attract others. I’m remembering that someone noted how few depictions of the saints show a smiling face. Stern and seriously holy seems to prevail in most saintly art.
Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day are good models to follow. I will copy their words into my memory bank.
I like the idea of the final 12 as in 12 Apostles .This was an initial reaction when I opened the email to the imperative readings . I will follow up after I have time to open my book. With much love on this Sunday morning in Lent.
“Once you discover 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” (p.104).
Certainly my work with the St. Vincent DePaul Society has helped me to put my personal pain into perspective. Sometimes I am inspired by the courage of neighbors in need whose own faith, commitment to family, and self-pride keep them going. Sometimes I can commiserate with them as we share our own experiences with the loss of a loved one. Even when they take their exasperation out on me, I understand that they see me as a safe outlet who won’t abandon them.
Here is the rub. I also understand that volunteers must guard against becoming overwhelmed by the gravity of problems faced by those in need and the staggering number of people living in dire straits. How to guard against compassion fatigue? We might take our cues from the “Mother Teresa Effect,” which suggests that spirituality ameliorates such fatigue, and from Mother’s practice of having her sisters take a kind of sabbatical every few years. We might heed her advice to “never worry about the numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” We might take our cues from Dorothy Day, who said, “Just because I feel that everything is useless and going to pieces, it is really not that way at all. Everything is alright. It is in the hands of God. Let us abandon everything to Divine Providence.” Breathe, pray, take one step at a time.
Oh I love all you just said so much! I am just opening the book today to read the “final twelve.” I will keep the things you said in my heart as I read. I am pondering how to reengage in serving in this similar capacity after pulling away a bit after Covid shutdown; ok actually a lot:(
When I first began serving in this way, it was after reading and praying over similar ideas you have quoted while on a retreat. Thank you for sharing and blessings as you walk with people!