Henri Nouwen on Compassion

henry-nouwenHere is a quotation from Henri Nouwen that I shared in my message, “Compassion,” this past weekend:

God is a compassionate God. That is the good news brought to us in and through Jesus Christ. He is God-with-us, who finds nothing human alien and who lives in solidarity with us. He is a servant God who washes our feet and heals our wounds, and he is an obedient God who listens and responds to his divine Father with unlimited love. In fellowship with Jesus Christ, we are called to be compassionate as our Father is compassionate. In and through him, it becomes possible to be effective witnesses to God’s compassion and to be signs of hope in the midst of a despairing world.

From Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri J. M. Nouwen, Donald P. McNeill, and Douglas A. Morrison.

Christ Speaks in Stories

CT ct-prj-christian-wiman06.jpgThis from Christian Wiman in his moving book My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer.

Christ speaks in stories as a way of preparing his followers to stake their lives on a story, because existence is not a puzzle to be solved, but a narrative to be inherited and undergone and transformed person by person. He uses metaphors because something essential about the nature of reality – its mercurial solidity, its mathematical mystery and sacred plainness – is disclosed within them.

The Teacher Sits

Only someone who is silent is listening….Thus, the world reveals itself to the silent listener and only to him; the more silently he listens, the more purely is he able to perceive reality. – Josef Pieper

The Teacher sits
like a child
on the floor
in a room
of adults
standing above him.

He speaks of life
in terms so clear
they largely laugh
or coo in baby talk,
unheard by those standing
within misunderstanding.

This is the way
to wisdom’s womb:
humble oneself
like a little child;
lurk beyond detection
and crawl inside listening Love.

Learning the Dance of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is one of the most freeing and challenging practices we encounter in life. We all know we need it from others and should give it to others, yet learning the way of forgiveness can feel unnatural and confusing. This feeling may grow stronger when we read the strong words of the Apostle Paul:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)

forgiving-as-weve-been-forgivenAs I prepare for an upcoming trip to Rwanda (a country I haven’t visited since 2000), a friend recommended the book Forgiving as We’ve Been Forgiven by L. Gregory Jones and Célestin Musekura. As I began the book and Musekura shared his own journey through the pain of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and beyond, I was thrust back into the trauma-filled stories I had heard there when visiting in 1999 and 2000 as a staff member of World Relief. Musekura’s own journey into forgiveness and the work he has done with African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM) brought him to this powerful realization:

If forgiveness is the heart of the gospel, it is the center of the church’s mission as well.

Jones puts legs to this, using the metaphor of the dance of forgiveness. Comparing the work of forgiveness to learning how to dance, Jones offers six steps of forgiveness that I found incredibly helpful as we seek to grow in the grace of forgiveness. I wanted to share them here as we reflect on our own lives and the divided society around us:

Step 1: Truth Telling: We become willing to speak the truthfully and patiently  about the conflicts that have arisen. “We need not only honesty but also patience…[to] discern more clearly what is going on….We must, rather, take the time to talk to one another about the things that divide us” (46-47).

Step 2: Acknowledging Anger: We acknowledge both the existence of anger and bitterness, and a desire to overcome them. “Whether these emotions are our own or belong to others who are mad at us, it does no good to deny them….We learn to overcome bitterness as we begin to live differently through practices that transform hatred into love” (48-49).

Step 3: Concern for the Other: We summon up a concern for the well-being of the other as a child of God. “Seeing as children of God the ones on whom our bitterness focuses challenges our tendency to perceive them simply as enemies, rivals or threats. Now they are potential friends of God” (49-50).

Step 4: Recognizing, Remembering, RepentingWe recognize our own complicity in conflict, remember that we have been forgiven in the past and take the step of repentance. “People need to be held accountable for their actions…we also need to recognize and resist our temptation to blame others while exonerating ourselves….Repentance breaks the cycle of violence and creates space for God to do something new” (51).

Step 5: Commitment to ChangeWe make a commitment to struggle to change whatever caused and continues to perpetuate our conflicts. “Forgiveness out to usher in repentance and change. It ought to inspire prophetic protest wherever people’s lives are being diminished and destroyed. Forgiveness and justice are closely related” (53).

Step 6: Hope for the FutureWe confess our yearning for the possibility of reconciliation. “Continuing to maintain reconciliation as the goal – even if this is ‘hoping against hope’ for reconciliation in this life – is important because it reminds us that God promises to make all things new….Every concrete act – every prayer prayed, every apology offered, every meal shared across dividing lines – is a sign that our history and habits of sin have been definitively interrupted by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (55).

Reflecting on Jones’ dance steps of forgiveness, I couldn’t help but reflect on numerous situations I’ve experienced in my own life or in walking with others as a pastor. Some of these steps come naturally, while others take great selflessness and humility. Still, I see them as helpful guides into the pathways of forgiveness.

If, as Célestin Musekura writes, “forgiveness is the heart of the gospel” and “the center of the church’s mission,” then it may be time for some dance lessons! What do you think?

Four More Quotations on Prayer

CBR001323Last week, I shared four quotations on prayer from my message “Making Space for Prayer.” Here are four more quotations from my message, “Praying Like a Master,” which is the second  part of our series “The Art of Prayer” at Eastbrook Church.

“The Lord’s prayer is the essence of prayer. The essence and limit of all the disciples’ praying may be found in it.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 4 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001), 155.

“The major preoccupation of children who come into their Father’s presence in prayer is not that we may receive what we need but that He may receive what He deserves – which is honor to His name, the spread of His kingdom, the doing of His will.” – John R. W. Stott, Sermon: “Growth in the Prayer Life,” 20 August 1989.

“All of the strength that comes in prayer comes from the goodness of God, for he is the goodness of everything.” – Julian of Norwich in Devotional Classics, revised edition, edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 2005), 77.

“Christ hath put it [the power of prayer] into the hands of men, and the prayers of men have saved cities and kingdom from ruin; prayer hath raised dead men to life, hath stopped the violence of fire, shut the mouths of wild beasts, altered the course of nature, caused rain in Egypt and drought in the sea. Prayer rules over all gods; it arrests the sun in its course and stays the chariot wheels of the moon; it reconciles our suffering and weak faculties with the violence of torment and the violence of persecution; it pleases God and supplies all our need.” – Jeremy Taylor, The Rules and Exercises of Holy Living, quoted in Ronald Dunn, Don’t Just Stand There, Pray Something (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992), 113.