I finished Brian Mclaren’s book and have started a book compiled by Michael Christensen and Rebecca Laird taken from the works of Henri Nouwen called: Spiritual Direction, Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith. Nouwen was a Catholic priest and Spiritual Director who used friendship as a means of helping people grow in their faith. This quote exemplifies his perspective:
“After everything has been said and done, what we have to offer is our authentic selves in relationship to others. What matters most, what transforms, is the influence of a humble, vulnerable witness to the truth.”
I have begun a new discipline this year: journaling. I call it a discipline, although I don’t do it every day, nor press my legalism button. I strive to allow it to stay fresh so I seek it like a calm day near a clear pool. Yet it is still a discipline. I learned a few years ago that I study best in long bursts several days apart. I read and then respond in the journal, and let it dry on the page for awhile. As the ink seeps into the page, so the thoughts penetrate the crevices of my mind and heart.
I have always been interested in how God interacts with the human personality. Spiritual formation is a strong interest. So Nouwen is another person whose thoughts often interest me. The newest concept I have been chewing on lately has been “living our questions.” When life takes a turn we don’t expect and don’t really want, we begin to formulate questions. However, sometimes, the questions take time to form. Nouwen explains:
“Sometimes we feel so much fear and anxiety, and identify so closely with our suffering, that our pain masks the questions. Once pain or confusion is framed or articulated by a question, it must be lived rather than answered. The first task of seeking guidance then is to touch your own struggles, doubts, and insecurities—in short, to affirm your life as a quest. Your life, my life, is given graciously by God. Our lives are not problems to be solved but journeys to be taken with Jesus as our friend and finest guide.”
Nouwen then brings Job into the conversation. Job lost everything… his economic worth, his children and a stable family, and his health. Yet after being informed of his loss, Job continued to trust the goodness and sovereignty of God. However, after living with it for a little while…
Sitting in the ashes of his life scraping the sores on his body with broken pottery…
Listening to the discouraging assessment of his wife…
Having his friends sit in silence a healthy distance from him…
Some questions began to brew. Someone who has lived in a crisis knows that adrenaline controls during the fire of the emergency. It is when we sit in the ashes, that the “Dark Why?” is asked. Now there is nothing wrong with asking “Why.” In fact, I believe it is an inevitable response of the human psyche. However, Nouwen notices:
“…Job’s questions are ‘answered’ by his friends, but not by God. As he lives his own questions in the face of suffering, all Job can say is, ‘The Lord gives and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Isn’t it interesting that God seems to be silent, even when our questions trail towards the slippery slope of disillusionment. Actually, Job questions why he was ever born at all. When everything had been taken away from him, it must have seemed a logical question. Yet, God didn’t answer. I wrote in my journal:
“ God has the decency and wisdom to leave unanswered questions we ask in despair, because ‘living out our questions’ as Nouwen calls the process, leaves us with much more than answers. We gain a deeper, richer life. We also catch a clearer glimpse of our God-given value. So the “Black Why?” answers itself.”
Nouwen actually cautions against accepting answers to our questions:
“Thus, to receive spiritual help in time of need requires, first of all, not to deny but to affirm the search. Painful questions must be raised, faced, and then lived. This means that we must constantly avoid the temptation of offering or accepting simple answers, to be easy defenders of God, the Church, the tradition, or whatever we feel called to defend…. Be careful when life’s questions swirl around you in times of pain. Beware of easy answers or guarantees. Seek the companionship of others who will befriend you and listen as you live the questions of your life.
Any spiritual guide who anxiously avoids the painful search and nervously fills the gap created by unanswerable questions should be viewed with caution….. The best guides are willing to be silent yet present, and are comfortable with unknowing. God’s Spirit is ultimately the sole source of spiritual guidance, comfort and knowing.”
I have been graced by God to have spent a great deal of time alone in the past year. While I have had friends that have talked and listened to me through the year, I also have had to speak directly to God. I’ve had many questions. However, none of them really matter anymore. They no longer require an answer. I am beginning a new stretch of my journey and the questions of the past leg no longer matter.
I am at peace. Life will bring more events from which questions will arise, but I hope to take what I have learned from this path to the next path.