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Sources of Grace for Scary Times

This is a break from my series, because so many of us are struggling right now with fear and depression:

So, I am being redundant – again. (That’s a lot of redundancy.)

My two hands-down favorite authors of a spirituality rooted in Jesus, but not religion, are Henri Nouwen and Anne Lamott.

Henri Nouwen writes incredibly healing and understandable theology saturated with the love of God. He chose to spend the latter years of his life living in a community for the mentally handicapped. For an introduction and short overview of his writing, I recommend,” A Spirituality of Living.” Also another short book: Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, which changed some of my deeply rooted prejudices.  He was a Catholic priest, but wasn’t limited by it. 🙂

For our nitty-gritty stuggle to live a grace filled life, I don’t think there’s a better author than Anne Lamott. Anne’s spiritual journey has been through alcoholism, abortion, single motherhood, great losses, and a terrible bitterness toward her mother on to the freedom of self- honesty, the grace of humor, and an always growing acceptance of others. She finds this amazing grace from a personal relationship with a risen Jesus, who is still calling us, healing us, walking with us, forgiving us, and suffering for and with us. I think she belongs to a small Presbyterian church with a woman minister. Or it might be non-denominational or both. She’s definitely eclectic in her spirituality. She has written novels, but I much prefer her autobiographical books. She is the most personally honest writer I’ve ever read. Here are several of her books: Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Grace (Eventually). She also has a marvelous face-book page that will share to your own page her day to day struggles with discouragement over our current political situation.

I realize that we are all very different and these authors might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I am by personality focused on relationship, but not everyone is. These authors’ writings are what help sustain me in my journey by always reminding me of my greatest (though not, only) source of grace, the Love of God expressed in Jesus.

The Wounded Prodigal Within Us

From Henri Nouwen’s  A Spirituality of Living

“We all have wounds…….It is a feeling of loneliness that lurks behind our successes, a feeling of uselessness that hides under all the praise we receive…….that makes us grab onto people and expect from them an affection and love they cannot give. If we want other people to give us something that only God can give, we become a heavy burden.”

Nouwen goes on to say: “I love Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son. The father holds his child, touches his child, and says, ‘You are my beloved. I’m not going to ask you any questions. Wherever you have gone, whatever you have done, and whatever people say about you, you’re my beloved. You can come home to me whose name is Compassion, whose name is Love.’

Nouwen says, “ If we keep that in mind, we can deal with an enormous amount of success as well as an enormous amount of failure without losing our identity, because our identity is that we are the beloved. Long before our father and mother, our brothers and sisters, our teachers, our church or anyone else touched us in a loving or wounding way —— long before we were rejected by some person or praised by someone else-that voice was there. ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love.’

That love was there before we were born and will be there after we die. A life of fifty, sixty, seventy, or a hundred years is just a little moment in which we have been given time to say, ‘Yes, I love you too.’ ”

Henri Nouwen was a priest theologian/author who toward his later years went to live and minister in a settlement for the mentally challenged.
This quote is from a tiny gem of a book put together from insights from his other books, called A Spirituality of Living.

“Find God Within and Love Her Fiercely.” (Unknown.)

We are in the process of moving with all the sorting and prioritizing that goes with downsizing.
So when I ran out of stamina for bending and lifting to pack things, I started going through 30 + years of journals. I have already found quite a few quotes I liked and that I have seen confirmed in the intervening years.

“Ministry is often a confrontive service, taking away the false supposition that there should be no pain or suffering.”
“Hospitality gives space for the other to find their own soul. It takes away the illusion that wholeness can be given to another.”
“Don’t identify with your feelings, they are not the whole of you. Simply pastor them gently.” (All three from Henri Nouwen, I think.)

“Important consequences are often side-effects: A bee gets honey, so nature gets pollinated.” Buckminster-Fuller

“Perfectionism and the stress it causes make small achievements feel larger.”
“Admit that no one, including you, can please everyone.” My paraphrase of some others’ ideas.

“Use suffering to end suffering. Welcome it, because it alerts us to our own inner needs or illusions and frees us by helping us to face and accept reality.” Sadhana

Reading my journals from the eighties, I can see some ways I have changed. Back then I was struggling unsuccessfully to even love, never-the-less, like myself. Now, I realize that I still don’t like me very much, but because I have come to know with all my heart that I am loved by God, I do actually love myself. And that has freed me to love others that I don’t like very much. I’m thinking this may be enough. Perfection is best left to God”

One of my most cherished beliefs has been that we are capable of growth, of spiritual evolution. So as I read my journals, at first I found myself thinking….yes, I love more deeply now, in spite of the reality that loving people more and loving more people brings more heartbreak along with the joy. And then I decided that I was also more honest, since I am not as addicted to pleasing everyone. And remembering how little stress it used to take to paralyze me, I felt pretty sure I’ve grown stronger. And I definitely stick with people and and goals through the disillusionment stage better than I used to. (Please realize I am not saying I do any of these well; just better than I used to manage.)

But then I realized that I’m still the same wus I always was. The difference is that now I admit it and I waste less and less time trying to solve everything with my own limited strength, wisdom, and ability to love the unloveable.

I know more and more what Paul meant about praying unceasingly. He meant it literally. And in weak moments when I have trouble praying with much faith, I gather prayer support from all the praying friends and family I can rally.

Though it’s been a long and sometimes difficult journey, as I look back across the decades, I get glimpses of a somewhat meandering path, but one that seems custom designed to get me to my final destination.

Amateurs at Being Human

In the first stage of spirituality, many of us run from God.

In the second stage of spirituality we seek God,  but often in unlikely places.

In the third stage of spirituality, we discover God.

In the fourth we discover, develop and use our gifts mostly or at least partly for the glory of God. (No one has absolutely pure motives.)

In the fifth stage we gradually move into empowering others, at least partly for their sake and the glory of God.

And in the sixth stage, we are called to let go and become open to the Spirit working through others.

Jesus tells his disciples in John 16:7, ” Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” Jesus accepts His dying, so others may live and grow.”

And in Philippians Paul says it this way,  “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

The paradox is that if we don’t recognize and value our gifts, we cannot die to them. But even those of us, who are late bloomers, will find it very difficult to let go, once we discover our gifts.

But,  just as Jesus had to die to His power to heal, teach, feed, and spread the Good News, we too are called to follow Him through the cross of dying to self,  dying to that which we value most about ourselves, so that “we no longer live, but Christ lives in us.”

Some of the concrete challenges different ones of us may face:

As a physical action oriented person, finding purpose in life from a wheel chair or a hospital bed.

If  our gifts are intellectual, accepting  the exhaustion and drudgery of being a full time caregiver.

If we are a change agent by personality, sitting helplessly day after day at the foot of the cross of a loved one dying by inches with Alzheimer’s.

In his later years the intellectually gifted spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, chose to live in a community of the mentally handicapped, learning to hear and experience the love of God through them.

The humility, that comes from being emptied of our very selves, frees us to hear God through the simple, the uneducated, the young, the old, the failures, the handicapped, the foreigner, the stranger, the ill, the poor.

Until we recognize that we are all amateurs at becoming fully human, we will miss the voice of God all around us.

Curable Ignorance

Ignorance is curable, stupidity isn’t.

Stupidity is thinking we personally know the whole truth, nothing but the truth, thus making us equal to God.

I remember reading a book by Henri Nouwen almost  half of a century ago. It was Reaching Out. Nouwen writes about  the Three Movements of the Spiritual Life: Journey Inward, Journey Outword, and Journey Together. The first part resonated joyfully for me, the second part I felt tentative about, but open to it’s possible truth, the third part threatened some of my most cherished beliefs and I rejected it immediately. Over the years I reread the book. The second time, I could joyously affirm the truths of both part one and part two. The third part still made me uneasy and didn’t find a home in my picture of reality. But since I had grown in my understanding of the other parts, I put it into my “possible” file.   Eventually, I reread it and found that I had stretched my view of the world enough to encompass those truths.

Stupidity is when we don’t admit that the truths that make up our view of the world will always need stretching.