Several weeks ago our Book Discussion at the Cermak’s (We are reading a collection of Henri Nouwen thoughts entitled “Spiritual Direction”) was profound and moving, as they always seem to be for our Apprentice group. We were confronting the reality of life as the Beloved of God, a meta-theme of Nouwen’s that runs throughout all of his work, which he especially embraces in the last decade or so of his life while working with the disabled at L’Abri in Toronto.
The passage below rocked my world, and reminded me of the end of my 3-Week Intensive Journey Inward Retreat on Fox Island in the Summer of 2007.
Aren’t you, like me, hoping that one person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of well-being that you desire? Don’t you often hope: ‘May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country, or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.’ But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment, you will go on running helter skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burnout. This is the way to spiritual death.” (Nouwen, p. 32)
Henri, you describe (as you often do!) the core of my soul’s struggle! This is exactly how I live most moments of my days. There truly is a sense deep within me that “Maybe this next person (Wife?), thing (Idea?), or event (Apprenticeship?) will finally make me ok with myself.” I am astounded at the degree to which I hope in the face of insurmountable odds in the ‘truth’ of this statement. I am not satisfied or filled with those things, and yet strive for them all the time, wondering why this search is ever-exhausting. What is crazy is how I consistently conclude after being disappointed in these things that ‘the next time’ will be different.
On the last night of my 21-day retreat in silence and solitude, I was waiting fairly late at night for my last load of laundry to finish drying, when I found myself suddenly praying with God about the deep disappointment I felt throughout the course of my Intensive Journey Inward. One of the issues that we have as so many of us at ISF go up to Seattle is a corresponding expectation that an intimate, personal experience with the Father will take place. We’ve heard enough stories of the journey God has taken people on to anticipate that an ‘experience is coming.’ I was extremely disappointed, almost to the point of despair, that God had been very interested in the content of my retreat experience (much helpful work, processing, integration had taken place regarding my life, childhood, relationships). But where was God in all of this? Where was the voice of my Father?
In this vein, I suddenly began speaking to God in the voice of Little Chris, what I remember sounding like as a 5 year-old. “Daddy, do you really love me? Am I even your son?” It startled me at my core, as I rarely found myself addressing God in such an intimate relational manner. What transpired over the next few minutes was even more astounding–Abba began talking back to me! In the most loving, gentle voice that a Father could speak in, we began a conversation of simple questions and answers. “Do you love me?” “Yes Chris, you are my son.” “Are you disappointed in me?” “No Chris, I love you as my Beloved.” On and on the questions and answers went, until suddenly the dryer buzzer sounded, and I ‘woke up.’
I spent the next several hours awake and alive, buzzing with the reality of what had just happened to me. Was I completely nuts, literally creating the experience I had just had because of how deeply I yearned for the voice of Abba in my life? Was I dreaming? Awake? In a vision? Did it even really matter? I wasn’t truly sure, but the texture of that experience was so real, it was beyond real.
I began the long journey home the next morning, slowly winding my way down through Washington and Oregon, stopping whenever I felt like it, mostly aiming to let all that had taken place settle into the farthest corners of my soul. That moment with Abba, so brilliant in its brevity, so tangible in its transforming aim, so hopeful in the taste of what is to come, had changed everything. Upon entering back into the normal ebb and flow of life, friends and family began to remark that I was different–that I carried myself a bit straighter, seemed ‘more myself’ than they had experienced in years, and that a grounded sense of strength was now emanating ‘normally’ from me.
Was it true? Was it real? Had God truly changed everything? As I entered into the year, my capacities to sit with the Spirit in silent, often wordless prayer seemed to grow. I found myself coming alive in fresh ways as I offered spiritual direction and counseling to students that I was working with. My faculties in listening, discernment, and wisdom were awakening. And I loved it so deeply!
Could the cliche be true? Could the love of Abba, poured deep within our souls, truly received (a miraculous reception, I imagine!), actually change everything? I’m not sure where you find yourself in the journey right now, but as I sit scribbling a few thoughts late one night, I am taken back to the couch in the living room of the small cabin at the end of the dirt road just off the last house of the final road at the edge of Fox Island in Gig Harbor, Washington. And I’m certain, with every fiber of my being, that God met me that evening, in my yearning, child-like, honest despair.
Abba spoke, and I responded. A son began to internalize love as the Beloved. Everything was colored differently in those brief moments. And all changed, one beautiful summer evening in 2007.
Dear friend, being the Beloved is the origin and the fulfillment of the life in the Spirit. I say this because, as soon as we catch a glimpse of this truth, we are put on a journey in search of the fullness of that truth and we will not rest until we can rest in that truth. From the moment we claim the truth of being the Beloved, we are faced with the call to become who we are. Becoming the Beloved is the great spiritual journey we have to make. Augustine’s words, ‘My soul is restless until it rests in you, O God’ capture well this journey. That I am always searching for God, always struggling to discover the fullness of Love, and always yearning for the complete truth, tells me that I have already been given a taste of God, of Love, and of Truth. I can only look for something that I have, to some degree, already found. (Nouwen, p. 33)