Tag Archives: Henri Nouwen

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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