May I call you that? A part of me thinks I should be addressing you a tad more formally ("Father Nouwen"?), but I'm enjoying the familiarity. If we're going to be spending the rest of the year together, we need to start off with at least a small measure of intimacy. "Henri" it is.
I'll admit that I don't know a whole lot about you other than what I've read here and there; I know you were born Henri Jozef Machiel Nouen on January 24, 1932 (thanks, Wikipedia); you were a Dutch priest, an eminent psychologist integrating psychology and spirituality, a noted author and professor, and a beloved part of L'Arche Communities in both France and Canada; and you passed away on September 21, 1996 — my first year of college.
Some of my friends have declared you a heretic. That is, your life and writings reflect something not of God. Just what that is I haven't clued into yet. My other friends adore you. While I haven't checked personally, I'm fairly certain one of them has a shrine to you in her home.
I was challenged to pick one word for New Year's 2014. Your name — "Nouwen" — was the first thing that popped into my head. While I didn't want to presume that you would want a tag-a-long for a full year, I had a sudden desire to follow in the footsteps of someone who'd "been there". I can't pick up the phone to chat with you, and you're not around for me to put the kettle on and invite you over.
But you've left behind a rather extensive library of writings. I think your steps can be detected here and there in these pages, if I'm not mistaken.
"Whether we try to enter into a dislocated world, relate to a convulsive generation, or speak to a dying person, our service will not be perceived as authentic unless it comes from a heart wounded by the suffering about which we speak."
I just finished The Wounded Healer.
Now I'm wondering whether or not I actually like you.
You wrote the book in 1972. I wasn't born until 1978. The youthful generations you're speaking to in the book are at least 6 years older than me (if not more). What could you possibly speak into my life? What could you know of post-modern Canadian culture in 2014?
As it turns out a heck of a lot.
And I'm still wondering if I actually like you.
"And just as the God outside could be experienced not only as a loving father but also as a horrible demon, the God within can be not only the source of a new creative life but also the cause of chaotic confusion."
Did you hear me?
I'm no longer questioning your value for me or my time. From where I stand, in the dark snowy cold of northern Alberta, the world seems to be at its breaking point from searching. Some say we need to stop straining so hard and peace will find us; others are screaming from poles we've created, destroying the rest of us declared to be in the middle (somewhere); others have given up altogether. Forget about being the mystics or revolutionaries you describe, many have abandoned hope altogether — hope that there is a loving God, a hateful God, many gods, or any god at all.
But the Grand Canyon gulf of loneliness you also talk about is wider than ever. Even people who claim they aren't trying to put themselves above others still have a strange inverted smugness to them. I know because I've been there myself. I still visit from time to time.
"But the more I think about loneliness, the more I think that the wound of loneliness is like the Grand Canyon — a deep incision in the surface of our existence that has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding."
Technology has surpassed us, as you predicted it would. Do you have any idea how hard it is to have a room full of people, adults or youth, to stay off of their smartphones for even a few minutes?
I dare you.
Sometimes it seems like you've been dropped into a den of inattentive, but hungry, wolves. They could care less about you until you ask them to turn off their phones and suddenly you're dripping with ham juice. It's a cardinal sin to ask someone to stay off of their personal device. We have to be jacked in all the time — all not to feel lonely, to feel productive, to keep up, keep up, keep up — and we are wound tighter than fusion bomb.
Live bombs have to go off sometime.
Here's the spot where I confess to you that I'm tired: I'm tired of the Christian culture wars, of the fruitless debate between evolution and creation (yes, we're still stuck here), of pro-life and pro-choice, of gender roles, of the smug condescension of "sides", of self-righteousness that creeps into your life even when you're trying to be authentic, and…
… and of the loneliness.
You call it beautiful. You exhort leaders to embrace it. You completely re-define the identity of loneliness in our wounds, and draw us back into vibrant life NOT by eradicating it, but rather by accepting it and shouldering it together in community.
Newsflash, Henri: community is still as big a dream for some as going to the moon.
Maybe that's my own woundedness and weariness coming out. In fact it probably is.
"Compassion is born when we discover in the center of our own existence, not only that God is God and humans are human, but also that our neighbor really is our fellow human being."
Practically, I tend to focus on the issue of human trafficking, exploited people (youth and children especially), and the spirituality of freedom and liberation. I like you how mention Jesus and Liberation together so often. In fact, it sounded like pipes, bells and drums of Hope.
Walking in your footsteps won't be easy. Right now, many of them are covered in drifting snow and blotted out by blizzard-like conditions. I might miss a turn you took, or stumble… a lot. Bit I hope to find deep wisdom in those steps, yours AND mine. I hesitate to put words in your mouth, but I have a hunch that you would agree that Jesus' Liberation is not only for the inward mystic or outward revolutionary — it is a tangible, real, NOW-TIME reality for people in literal chains.
I say literal chains, but not all chains can be seen. You probably know that already. During your life, I'm sure you came across thousands of chains infecting our human wounds.
I don't know how to be energized again, or even enthusiastic about Christ. Some days I want to throw my Bible across the room and scream in frustration. It's not that I hate Scripture… I'm just plain ol' done with the fighting (including the fighting I still allow myself to be drawn into when I know I shouldn't be).
But also I'm done with the sneers, attacks and sarcasm from those who don't espouse Christianity either. They sit there and beak off about everyone being equal/love for all people/no one's better than anyone else, but then slam Christianity (justfied or unjustified) in the next breath. I don't see this ending anytime soon. We've really bunged things up, Faith, Hope, and Love notwithstanding (so glad they still do).
A big thing is karma: what goes around comes around.
Instead of actually delving into the depths of what karma really is, it's become just another way for people to point at others' misfortunes and giggle behind their backs. It's amazing how much satisfaction we take in other people's downfalls or struggles. As if we know WITHOUT A DOUBT that their woundedness is because they did "A, B, or C…"
That's ballsy… and isolating. And oppressive. The apologetic evangelical in me wants to argue back and pound the hypocrisy into the ground, but… yeah, I know.
On a positive note, you should really check out the current Pope… my stars!
Okay, I'm rambling now, and in my introductory letter no less.
I've decided I do like you. I might not always like you, and I have no idea if you'd like me at all or not. But here we are at the beginning of 2014.
Show me your steps — and I mean everywhere: where you made camp, where you visited, where you found springs of living water… and where you fell. I especially want to see where you stumbled not because I want to point and snicker, but because I have a feeling that my own hope might just be re-ignited simply by witnessing someone else, in love with Jesus, who's been there.
Ready? Here we go.
Until next time,