Friendship, listening, and empathy: A Prayer GuideTwo Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Quotations I love: Henri Nouwen on being beloved

Lynne Baab • Thursday September 1 2016

Quotations I love: Henri Nouwen on being beloved

In The Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen writes,

Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper.

When I was writing my book on communal spiritual practices, Joy Together, a student asked me what I was working on, and I briefly described the book to him. He replied, “There’s so much rhetoric about spiritual practices—the idea seems to be that if I get the practice right, then I’ll work my way to God.” He went on to say that theologians throughout the ages have affirmed that God meets us. He argued that it is not our responsibility to engineer a meeting with God; in fact, it is impossible for us to do so. He also said that spiritual practices are often a form of works-righteousness, an attempt to earn God’s approval.

In order to engage in spiritual practices or to teach them to groups, we must think clearly and theologically about the ways spiritual practices contribute to Christian life, and we must be very certain that we are not attempting to control God or trying to work our way to God. Henri Nouwen’s metaphor about the well in the desert is helpful in that regard.

When we experience that joy of being beloved, it’s like water in the desert. We taste it and touch it, and we want more. Spiritual practices – many ways of engaging with the Bible, many ways of praying, and many other practices like attending church, small groups, Sabbath keeping, fasting, journaling and hospitality – are ways that we act on our desire for more of God’s presence. We draw near to God because we are loved, not to prove ourselves worthy of love or to get God to do our bidding.

Nouwen continues,

The word ‘digging’ might not be the best word since it suggests hard and painful work that finally leads me to the place where I can quench my thirst. Perhaps all we need to do is remove the dry sand that covers the well. There may be quite a pile of dry sand in our lives, but the One who so desires to quench our thirst will help us to remove it.

Spiritual practices help us return to the well over and over. They help us remove the dry sand. And, as Nouwen points out, the “One who so desires to quench our thirst” helps us return to the well and remove the dry sand. We don’t engage in spiritual practices apart from the God who loves us, calls us to draw near and empowers us to do so. This perspective on spiritual practices is essential.

Questions for reflection:

1. Think of a time in your life when you felt beloved. Who was the one loving you? What were the factors that help you feel beloved? Draw the situation or write a few words to describe it. Sit with that belovedness for a few moments.

2. Think about the spiritual practices you engage in: going to church, attending a small group, forms of Bible study, forms of prayer, other spiritual practices. To what extent do you engage in those practicesbecause you are already beloved? Which ones help you feel beloved while you do them or afterwards? Ponder the reasons behind these patterns.

3. If you could bring a spirit of belovedness into your spiritual practices, what would it look like?

(This is the first post in a series on quotations I love. Next week: my ponderings on a quotation by Rick Warren about compassion for people whose lifestyle you disagree with. Illustration by Dave Baab. Part of this post is excerpted from Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Previous posts that discuss spiritual practices:

     Open Hands, Open Hearts    
     Spiritual Practices for the Easter Season         
     Do not ride in the car with Lynne                   
     When fear, ego and ambition drive the bus         
     Of clouds and attentiveness         
     Hearing God’s voice        
     The Lord’s Prayer and spiritual practices         
     The Lord’s Prayer and spiritual practices, part 2

I’ve also written numerous articles about spiritual practices which are available on the articles page of this website.

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