Tag Archives: Henri Nouwen

Its world book day! Rejoice! Celebrate! Books are the greatest!

A few months ago one of my faves tagged me in a book challenge – post one book a day every day for a week. I was SUPER KEEN because I love books and I love sharing what I'm reading. Obvs, I only managed one day because life. But now, here for your delight and edification (and beacause we all may end up at home more than we thought): THESE BOOKS CHANGED MY LIFE AND YOU SIMPLY MUST READ THEM.

First up, is Love Does by Bob Goff. Joy. Whimsy. Jesus. This book changed everything. I LOVE Bob. I don’t leave the country without this book.

I want to go barefoot because it's holy ground; I want to be running because time is short and none of us has as much runway as we think we do; and I want it to be a fight because that's where we can make a difference. That's what love does.”

I even ditched food so they’d be enough space in my bag for it to be carried up a mountain – and food is my very favourite thing. SUCH IS MY DEVOTION. I give this book to EVERYONE – birthday presents, wedding presents, new job presents, thank-you-for-being-a-good-friend presents, how-to-be-a-better-friend presents, sorry-I’m-leaving-the-country-but-let-this-book-distract-you-from-your-sorrow presents… any excuse really.

Next up, is the book that is saving my life right now: An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. I LOVE Barbara. This book helped me to see the sacred in the unlikeliest of places.

Reverence for creation comes fairly easily for most people. Reverence for other people presents more of a challenge, especially if those people's lives happen to impinge upon your own... I have an easier time loving humankind than I do particluar human beings... Particular human beings rarey do things the way I think they should do them and when they prevent me from doing what I think I should be doing then I can run short on reverence for them."

Third is At Home in The World by Tsh Oxenreider. Tsh and her husband sold all their things and took their 3 kids travelling around the world a year. This book changed everything. Tsh let me know I wasn’t the only one who wants both adventure and routine at the same time.

Wanderlust and my longing for home are birthed from the same place: a desire to find the ultimate spot this side of heaven. When I stir soup at my stove I drift to a distant island. When I'm on the road with my backpack, my heart wanders back to my couch and my favourite cup of coffee.

My equal pull between both are fuelled by my hardwired desire for heaven on earth. And I know I'll never find it. "Earth's crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees it takes off his shoes, the rest just sit around and pluck blackberries" unless the flickering bushes compel me to remove my shoes, traveling the world will never satisfy. Neither will the liturgy of normal life back home."

Fourth is The Way of The Heart by Henri Nouwen. This book changed everything. I’ve pretty much highlighted and underlined the entire thing. I LOVE Henri. This book helped me to see how silence is more than just being quiet, solitude more than just being alone and prayer more than just words.

Solitude shows us the way to let our behaviour be shaped not by the compulsion of the world but by our new mind, the mind of Christ. Silence prevents us from being suffocated by our wordy world and teaches us to speak the Word of God. Finally, unceasing prayer gives solitude and silence their real meaning. In unceasing prayer we descend with the mind in to the heart. Thus, we enter through our heart into the heart of God, who embraces all of history with his eternally creative and recreative love.”

Fifth is The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claibourne. This book changed everything. I LOVE Shane. I recently heard him speak and was reminded of how he has such a loving way of challenging what you think it could mean to follow Jesus. Another way is possible.

Our world is desperately in need of imagination, for we have spent so much creativity devising ways of destroying our enemies that some folks don’t think its even possible (much less practical) to love them. We have placed such idolatrous faith in our ability to protect ourselves that we call it more courageous to die killing than to die loving. The faith we have in the market and in the imagination we employ to acquire wealth has so far surpassed our ingenuity to share we cannot help but wonder if the contemporary gospel means good news to the poor whose bellies scream out to God.”

Last is Inspired by Rachel Held Evans. For when the river is no longer a river, the mountain no longer the mountain and all the old answers you had about the Bible and faith and God just don’t make sense any more. This is a recent addition to my must-reads. Disclaimer: may help/hinder/spark a crisis of faith.

God save me from the day when stories of violence, rape and ethnic cleansing inspire anything other than revulsion. i don't want to become a person who is unbothered by these texts... There are parts of the Bible than inspire, parts than perplex and parts that leave you with an open wound. I'm still wrestling, and like Jacob, I will wrestle until I am blessed. God hasn't let go of me yet.

The gospel means that every small story is part of a sweeping story, every ordinary life part of an extraordinary movement. God is busy making all things new, and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus has opened that work to everyone who wants in on it. The church is not a group of people who believe all the same things, the church is a group of people caught up in the sam story, with Jesus at the centre."img_20200316_0720434926429091325460047996.jpg

Got any recommendations for me?

Are you ready? Are the Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Is Jack Frost nipping at your nose? Are yuletide carols being sung by a choir?

Confession: I am not feeling the Christmas vibes this year. Not at all.

I’ve tried. But mostly all I can think about is the 7 different types of vegetables that need preparing and then the turkey the size of a small child that needs roasting (sidenote - since when so we need to eat 7 TYPES OF VEG ALL IN ONE MEAL?!)

And so, please, be gone from my presence with your Christmas jumpers. No, I will not watch Love Actually. Stop talking about how many mince pies you’ve eaten. And for the love of mulled wine, stop singing Mariah and Bublé and the Fairytale of New York.

I am done. I do not care. Resting Grinch face has been activated. Take your Christmas filled joy far far away from me.

As the poet once said: Bah! Humbug!

And yet, I still stopped to listen to the brass band playing Christmas carols at Waterloo Station.

And I still bought a Poinsettia - because I am my mother's daughter afterall and is it even Christmas without one?! #plant-lady-is-the-new-cat-lady

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Because despite the fact it seems like most of the world is on fire and it's people crying out for liberation, there is hope enough for a weary world to rejoice.

Because actually, being a Grinch in the face of all the hype grounds me in reality that Christmas is a celebration of life-giving radiance breaking through the darkness in the unlikeliest of ways. Christmas is a celebration of pain and suffering and cries for liberation not going ignored. Christmas is a celebration of hope.

Celebration is not just a way to make people feel good for a while; it is the way in which faith in the God of life is lived out, through both laughter and tears. Thus celebration goes beyond ritual, custom, and tradition. It is the unceasing affirmation that underneath all the ups and downs of life there flows a solid current of joy." Henri Nouwen

Because Immanuel. God is with us.

God is with us in joy and sorrow and everything in-between. Some days that’s the very thing getting me through the day. Other days I'm not even sure what it means. And so, when all the world is an altar, and joy and sorrow are intermingled, we break bread, pour wine, feast and celebrate.

And then even my weary Grinch heart finds a glimpse of hope, and reasons to rejoice enough to shed a few tears in the middle of Waterloo Station when the brass band play O Holy Night – it gets me every time.

Immanuel. God is with us.

I hope you have a Christmas of joy and peace and laughter. And if your heart is weary, I hope you can somehow see your way through to find reasons to rejoice.

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I am constantly reflecting and all the joys and sorrows of last year, trying to drag out another lesson to make all the blood, sweat and tears seem worth it. About this time last year I was holed up in an old convent in Cornwall, wondering why on earth I’d thought a silent retreat was a good idea. It was one of the toughest weeks of my life - right up there after the death of Grandparents but slightly before that one week when I was 15 and convinced that all my hair was falling out and I'd be completely bald by 17 (THE TEARS).

But, je ne regrette rien. Especially after I read this and realised why it had been much harder than I'd expected:

In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding; no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me—naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken—nothing. It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something.” Henri Nouwen

In that week of solitude I was stripped of scaffolding - no friends to talk to, no social media to update, no work to attend, no music to sing and dance along to and no books to transport me to far away lands. I didn’t have to check in with my people and see how their week was going, I didn't even have to decide what to cook. All that was left was the truth of who I was without all those things to validate my worthiness of life/time/attention/love or distract me from the lack of it.

Naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived and broken.

And yet, I've realised that that place of nothingness can be the birthplace of freedom. Because in that place, God holds a banner over us for all the world to see proclaiming that we are loved and we are valued - despite all things we would rather hide and all the things we are too ashamed to even acknowledge.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, we can do to earn God's love or make God love us more - not pray our way there, not read our Bible more, not attend church more, not go to The Gambia and not even give away our very last Rolo. You are worthy, simply for being you.

Without realising, I'd let a notion of earning worthiness creep in and set conditions around something that has always been extravagantly wild and free. Who I am without my scaffolding is enough. Who you are without your scaffolding is enough. Nothing from your past can change that, nothing in your future can steal that; not our fears for today or our worries about tomorrow. Whether we are high above the sky, in the deepest ocean or on a silent retreat, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus.

Being rooted and grounded in God's unwavering love for us in our place of nothingness can give us the power and confidence to live free from fear - of the judgement of others, of tomorrow, of the valley of the shadow of death, of loneliness, of looking like a fool and yes, free of even the fear of Brexit. Life in all its fullness transforming nothingness into a place of JOY - you know the place - beautiful sunrises over the mountains, a fridge full of lemon tart (made with fairtrade lemons and no palm oil, obvs and dancing for joy along to your favourite 90s pop and 00s indie rock songs.

I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your heart as you trust in him. May you be rooted and grounded in the soil of God's marvellous love. And I pray that you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high and how deep God's love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great we will never fully understand it.

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By and large, what human beings want is resurrection without death, answers without doubt, light without darkness, the conclusion without the process." Richard Rohr

I have a confession. I did not want to go to China. If anyone had given me a good reason to stay home I would have willingly taken it. And if anyone has suggested I come home early I would have joyfully packed my bags and skipped to the airport singing songs of thanksgiving and freedom.

Don't get me wrong, I wanted to go in theory. I just didn't want to go in actual I’ll-have-to-live-this real life. It was nothing but the grace of God along with the prayers and enthusiasm of my people that got me packing my bags and on the way to the airport.  I knew  it would be a challenge and I wasn’t sure I would be able to handle it. But I also knew there was a high chance of seeing some things and learning some lessons that could very much change my life. I very much wanted the conclusion without the process of having to live through the difficult things.

Day one – “Alright, here I am. What am here to learn?” I was pretty confident that if I could figure it out as soon as possible then the rest of the trip would be much much easier.

By and large, what human beings want is resurrection without death, answers without doubt, light without darkness, the conclusion without the process.

We want the miracle of something coming back to life but without it having to actually die first. We want to know the result for certain but without ever wondering if its right. We want to fully appreciate goodness but without ever experiencing the pain. We want the end result but without having to work for it.

And right now I could add – we want the joy of risk but without the leap of faith, we want knowing that we can handle the routine of the 9-5 and slot back in to normal life (whatever that means) without having to actually do it. No, just me on that one?!

And why do we want these things? Because dealing with death, doubt, darkness and the process can all be so desperately difficult. We only have one wild life and who wants it to be filled with difficult things?

But the truth is, we never have to face any of those things alone. God is with us every step of the way in dealing with all these things and more. God prepares a feast for us right in the very presence of death, darkness, doubt - we are invited to sit at the table, in the presence of God and celebrate, even with our enemies banging on the door, baying for our blood and reminding us of our ever increasingly urgent to do lists.

O Lord, let me enter into your presence, and there taste the eternal, timeless everlasting love with which you invite me to let go of my timebound anxieties, fears, preoccupations and worries.” Henri Nouwen

Is this not what it is to abide? To enter into the presence of God and let it remove all of our timebound anxieties, fears, preoccupations and worries? To keep our eyes on Jesus and abide with God through the tension of dealing with death, doubt, darkness and process.

So if, like me, you've found yourself battling through, hang tight - the table is set and the bunting is up. There's a feast prepared in your honour and God is waiting in anticipation for you to take your place at the table.

Come, have a seat, everything is ready for you.  Abide well.

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