By NEMS Daily Journal
Every major world religion creates, through its teachings and practices, expectations for the progress and fulfillment of people who follow its defined paths.
Whether through contemplation, prayer or intentional actions, the archetype of an ideal is planted in mind and spirit with the hope and expectation that growing in understanding gives people reason to live with confidence, compassion and authentic community.
The late Catholic priest, writer and preacher, Henri Nouwen, talked about building toward community as finding “the spiritual life as the life of the beloved.”
Nouwen’s reference point was a paraphrase of a familiar biblical passage, the spiritual voice Jesus heard at his baptism, with people gradually learning to “to listen to a voice that says … ‘You are the beloved and on you my favor rests.’”
Nouwen brings that embracing self-acceptance from experience in full-time work with people who have developmental disabilities.
“Let me start by telling you that many of the people that I live with hear voices that tell them that they are no good, that they are a problem, that they are a burden, that they are a failure. They hear a voice that keeps saying, ‘If you want to be loved, you had better prove that you are worth loving. You must show it,’ ” Nouwen said in a 1991 lecture.
“But what I would like to say is that the spiritual life is a life in which you gradually learn to listen to a voice that says something else, that says, ‘You are the beloved and on you my favor rests.’”
Nouwen, in contrast to some, describes that inner voice as quiet and intimate.
“I want you to gradually hear that voice. We both have to hear that voice and to claim for ourselves that that voice speaks the truth, our truth. It tells us who we are. That is where the spiritual life starts – by claiming the voice that calls us the beloved,” he said.
Nouwen also casts life in sacramental terms.
“There are four words that I want to use, words that come from the gospels, words that are used in the story of the multiplication of bread, words that are used at the Last Supper, words that are used at Emmaus and words that are used constantly when the community of faith comes together. Those words are: He took, He blessed, He broke, and He gave.”
To be taken, to be blessed, to be broken and to be given is the summary of life because it is also the summary of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
The words frighten most people because they suggest a loss of personal control, a ceding of autonomy. That is precisely the point, and it is not unique to followers of Jesus but it is best known in the Western world because Christianity is the prevailing religion.
“We are broken. We are broken people. You and I know that we are broken. A lot of our brokenness has to do with relationships. If you ask me what it is that makes us suffer, it is always because someone couldn’t hold onto us or someone hurt us. I know each of us can point to a brokenness in our relationships with our husband, with our wife, with our father, our mother, with our children, with our friends, with our lovers. Wherever there is love, there is also pain. Wherever there are people who really care for us, there is also the pain of sometimes not being cared for enough. That is enormous,” Nouwen wrote.
Nouwen writes that if people understand they are taken, blessed and broken, to be given, the deepest human desire is fulfilled. “The mystery is that as we let go for others our lives start bearing fruit. That is a great mystery,” he said.
In the fresh memory of Easter, the possibility holds almost tangible attraction.