April 11, 2010

Way of the Heart

During the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost I’ll be sharing some thoughts about Henri Nouwen’s book, Way of the Heart. The Way of the Heart was written in 1981 as a guide for Christians to minister and live more deeply into the Heart of God. Nouwen explains, “This book found its beginning in a seminar at Yale Divinity School on the spirituality of the desert…We represented very different religious traditions…Together we tried to discover what the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the fourth century have to say to the men and women…in the twentieth century.”
Nouwen was born in 1932 in the Netherlands. Although he was a Catholic priest, his writings are well known across denominational lines. He lived and taught much of his life in the United States before moving to the L’Arche community in Toronto, Canada. Living within this community of mentally handicapped people influenced him greatly. Most of his 40 books deal with the unconditional nature of God’s love and forgiveness for us. Nouwen died in 1996.

One of my favorite songs from the Disney movie Bambi is “Love is a Song”. It sings of the heart of God as understood by Nouwen, even though it is about the love of mother and fawn.

Love is a song that never ends
Life may be swift and fleeting
Hope may die yet love's beautiful music
Comes each day like the dawn

Love is a song that never ends
One simple theme repeating
Like the voice of a heavenly choir
Love's sweet music flows on.

In order to draw near to God, we are called to live as witnesses to Love and Light. Like John the Baptist we must “testify to the light, so that all might believe through [us. We are] not the light, but testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone…” (John 1:7-9, paraphrased)

In The Way of the Heart, Nouwen addresses the question: How to witness to the Light amid the noises and demands, the fears and stressors of 20th century life? A question that is even more imperative now, for the noises and ‘darkness’ appear greater than ever. He asks, “What is required of a man or a woman who is called to enter fully into the turmoil and agony of the times and speak a word of hope?”

By looking at the Desert Fathers and Mothers (4th century ascetics who left the world to become more in the world) as his inspiration, Nouwen suggests that Solitude, Silence, and Prayer are the avenue to living as the Heart of God. What can these early monastics teach us about love, joy, peace, faith? Is it possible to find grounding for our own frenetic days where solitude, silence, and prayer are hard to find? Nouwen says, “The words flee, be silent and pray summarize the spirituality of the desert. They indicate the three ways of preventing the world from shaping us in its image and thus the three ways to life in the Spirit.”

In the next six weeks, I invite you to join me in discovering a deeper relationship with God and with yourself. In my April newsletter I quoted Nouwen’s encouragement, “…now you are being asked to let go of all these self-made props and trust that God is enough for you. You must stop being a pleaser and reclaim your identity as a free self.”

By centering our hearts in God, perhaps we (you and I, together, dear reader) can discover who we are as a real, authentic, forgiven, and beloved child of God—a ‘free self’. Enter into the Way of the Heart and let the Spirit of God act to free you.

During this week, I offer this hymn as a meditation aid.

At your feet, O Christ, we lay
your own gift of this new day;
Doubt of what it holds in store
Makes us crave your aid the more;
Even in a time of loss,
Mark, it Savior, with your Cross.

Yes, we would your Word embrace,
Live each moment on your grace,
All ourselves to you consign,
Fold up all our wills in thine,
Think, and speak, and do, and be
Simply that which pleases thee.

Hear us, Christ, O, hear our prayer;
Hear, and bless our deepest care.
May your love to us impart,
Loyal singleness of heart;
So shall this and all our days,
Christ and God, show forth your praise
(William Bright, 19th Century)

How can I offer back to God/Christ each moment and allow Christ to ‘mark it with your cross’?
How can we ‘fold up all our wills in thine’?
How might this submission to God’s will ‘show forth your praise’?

Next week we will look at how Solitude can lead us deeper into Love. See you then.

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