Monday, February 18, 2013

Nouwen on solitude, community, and ministry

A friend of mine recently suggested that I read an article by Henri Nouwen entitled, "Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry". I'm glad she did. In the article, Nouwen is arguing that there are three major disciplines for the faithful disciple of Christ. As the title suggests, he believes that solitude, community, and ministry are those three disciplines and that they only work by starting with solitude and working up progressively. He sees Luke 6:12-19 as a prime example for this idea. In this passage Jesus spends the whole night in prayer, then calls the disciples, and then cures people of unclean spirits and disease.

Solitude is foundational to the other three disciplines because it is only here that we can dwell on how God views us. He says:
Why is it so important that you are with God and God alone on the mountain top? It’s important because it’s the place in which you can listen to the voice of the One who calls you the beloved. To pray is to listen to the One who calls you “my beloved daughter,” “my beloved son,” “my beloved child.” To pray is to let that voice speak to the center of your being, to your guts, and let that voice resound in your whole being.
He goes on to say that if we are not hearing this voice then we cannot walk freely in this world. Without hearing this voice, success and failures will equally wreck us because our identity will be tied up in those things. We will constantly be seeking affirmation and praise from others if we are not listening to God's voice and claiming our belovedness.

Community then is something that flows from solitude. But it is not because we are lonely. He explains:
...community is not loneliness grabbing onto loneliness: “I’m so lonely, and you’re so lonely.” It’s solitude grabbing onto solitude: “I am the beloved; you are the beloved; together we can build a home.”
He also talks about how forgiveness and celebration are two key components of community. Forgiveness is acknowledging that other people cannot love you perfectly. Forgiveness is allowing another person not to be God. If you can forgive others and stop demanding from them something that only God can give, then you can learn to celebrate that person's gifts.

Ministry comes after you know you are beloved and continue to forgive and celebrate one another. Nouwen says that part of our ministry is to help others let go of resentment, to discover that in the middle of your tears, "that's where the dance starts and joy is first felt." He continues:
Jesus says, “Cry over your pains, and you will discover that I’m right there in your tears, and you will be grateful for my presence in your weakness.” Ministry means to help people become grateful for life even with pain. That gratitude can send you into the world precisely to the places where people are in pain. The minister, the disciple of Jesus, goes where there is pain not because he is a masochist or she is a sadist, but because God is hidden in the pain.
When talking about ministry, many of us talk of the desire to see fruit. Nouwen reminds us that, "the fruits of your life are born often in your pain and in your vulnerability and in your losses. The fruits of your life come only after the plow has carved through your land."

I resonated with this article because I often shortcut this process. I desire to help people grow in the understanding of God's love for them in Christ, but I often do it out of a place where I am not resting that love myself. Because of that, I can use people and demand that they give me the love that I need. From there, I find myself unwilling to enter people's pain because it seems too heavy and messy.

I want to be the type of man who like Mary, sits at Jesus' feet often, who then can forgive others quickly, celebrate who they are, and move towards bearing one another's burdens and pointing to the One who bore ours.

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