Excerpts from Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart

The Way of the Heart - NouwenDuring my sabbatical, I re-read a book for the fifth time. That’s not a very common occurrence for me, but Henri Nouwen’s book The Way of the Heart is that sort of book for me. As I was looking through my sabbatical journals, I found excerpts from this book over a long stretch. So, as much for me as for anyone else, I am pulling them all together here in one place. Maybe one or two will particularly impact you. If so, I’d love to hear from you about that. If not, well, there are certain books that speak to us in ways that no one else understands. Since I first read this during college, The Way of the Heart has helped an active achiever like me step into the silence and stillness with God.

Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter — the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self (26).

Ministry can be fruitful only if it grows out of a direct and intimate encounter with our Lord (31).

The goal of our life is not people. It is God. Only in him shall we find the rest we seek. It is therefore to solitude that we must return, not alone, but with all those whom we embrace through our ministry (40).

As ministers our greatest temptation is toward too many words. They weaken our faith and make us lukewarm. But silence is a sacred discipline, a grace of the Holy Spirit (56).

In order to be a ministry in the Name of Jesus, our ministry must also point beyond our words to the unspeakable mystery of God (59).

The question that must guide all organizing activity in a parish is not how to keep people busy, but how to keep them from being so busy that they can no longer hear the voice of God who speaks in silence (65).

Hesychia, the rest which flows from unceasing prayer, needs to be sought at all costs, even when the flesh is itchy, the world is alluring, and the demons noisy (70).

‘To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all-seeing, within you.’ – Theophan the Recluse (76).

They [the Desert Fathers and Mothers] pull us away from our intellectualizing practices, in which God becomes one of the many problems we have to address. They show us that real prayer penetrates to the marrow of our soul and leaves nothing untouched (78).

 

Bonhoeffer on Praying the Psalms

dietrich-bonhoefferIt’s no secret that one of my favorite theologians is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of Discipleship and Life Together. I encountered his writing very early in my faith and while in high school picked up a slim book by him, The Prayerbook of the Bible, I found while browsing a Christian bookstore. That book transformed my reading and praying of the Psalms. As we make our way through the Psalms of Ascent, I wanted to share a few of Bonhoeffer’s introductory remarks on the psalms and prayer.

Praying certainly does not mean simply pouring out one’s heart. It means, rather, finding the way to and speaking with God, whether the heart is full or empty. No one can do that on one’s own. For that one needs Jesus Christ….

If we want to pray with assurance and joy, then the word of Holy Scripture must be the firm foundation of our prayer. Here we know that Jesus Christ, the Word of God, teaches us to pray. The words that come from God will be the steps on which we find our way to God.

Now there is in the Holy Scriptures one book that differs from all other books of the Bible in that it contains only prayers. That book is the Psalms. At first it is something very astonishing that there is a prayerbook in the Bible. The Holy Scriptures are, to be sure, God’s Word to us. But prayers are human words….

In Jesus’ mouth the human word becomes God’s Word. When we pray along with the prayer of Christ, God’s Word becomes again a human word. Thus all prayers of the Bible are such prayer, which we pray together with Jesus Christ, prayers in which Christ includes us, and through which Christ brings us before the face of God. Otherwise there are no true prayers, for only in and with Jesus Christ can we truly pray.

If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible, and especially the Psalms, we must not, therefore, first ask what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ. We must ask how we can understand the Psalms as God’s Word, and only then can we pray them with Jesus Christ….

The Psalms have been given to us precisely so that we can learn to pray them in the name of Jesus Christ….

Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure is lost to the Christian church. With its recovery will come unexpected power.

[Quotations from “Introduction” of The Prayerbook of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 5, pages 155-162.]

From Captivity to Freedom

YazidiFamily-FireworksJuly3rd_web-2.jpgTwo friends from Eastbrook Church recently published a wonderful article, “From Captivity to Freedom,” in The Living Church on the Yazidi community in Lincoln, Nebraska. I guarantee that you will be moved by the powerful words and photos by Asher Imtiaz and the poem by Mari Reitsma Chevako. This is a great follow-up to some of my recent posts about displaced people and their plight. Here is an excerpt but please read the article in its entirety.

As a photojournalist and a Pakistani living in the United States, I was searching for an experience in the heart of the country that was authentically American and different from my experiences in previous travels. I chose a trip to Nebraska for the Independence Day weekend. What I found was something I hadn’t expected.

The city of Lincoln is home to 2,000 Yazidis from northern Iraq, many of whom have fled the Islamic State. ISIS invaded Yazidi villages in northern Iraq in August 2014. The people scattered, some to nearby cities, and some to Mt. Sinjar, which some people consider the resting place of Noah’s ark. Because the Yazidis’ faith combines threads of Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam, many Muslims consider them idolaters and polytheists. ISIS has claimed the right to enslave them in an effort to force their conversion.

By many accounts, ISIS rounded up the Yazidis and moved them to other locations in Iraq, where families were separated and dealt with according to their sex and age. Adult men were shot and killed, adult women were enlisted as servants, young men were taken as fighters, and young women were forced into a system of sexual slavery in which they were bought, sold, and raped over time by multiple men. The fighters eventually turned to married women as well. Thousands of Yazidis remain missing and thousands of Yazidi women are still in captivity. The United Nations has urged its member nations to recognize the genocide against the Yazidi people and to bring ISIS militants to justice.

have followed news of the Yazidi people since 2014, but I had not met any Yazidis. Once I learned they were living in Lincoln, I began searching for them. The first man I met works at Target. I asked if I could meet with him at the end of his shift. He told me he had to attend a wedding, so I asked him if I could join him. He graciously said yes… [read more]

The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther

Martin LutherAs a follow-up to my message from this past weekend commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, “Faith and Grace,” I wanted to post Martin Luther‘s actual Ninety-Five Theses here.  Too often we do not read original sources of theological or historical works, relying instead on interpreter’s reflections on those source works. So, why not take the ten minutes necessary to read Luther’s own words. You can also place these in historical context by reading a basic timeline of the Reformation.

Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.


  1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
  2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
  3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.
  4. The penalty of sin remains as long as the hatred of self (that is, true inner repentance), namely till our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
  5. The pope neither desires nor is able to remit any penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that of the canons.
  6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring and showing that it has been remitted by God; or, to be sure, by remitting guilt in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in these cases were disregarded, the guilt would certainly remain unforgiven.
  7. God remits guilt to no one unless at the same time he humbles him in all things and makes him submissive to the vicar, the priest.
  8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to the canons themselves, nothing should be imposed on the dying.
  9. Therefore the Holy Spirit through the pope is kind to us insofar as the pope in his decrees always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.
  10. Those priests act ignorantly and wickedly who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penalties for purgatory.
  11. Those tares of changing the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory were evidently sown while the bishops slept (Mt 13:25).
  12. In former times canonical penalties were imposed, not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.
  13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties, are already dead as far as the canon laws are concerned, and have a right to be released from them.
  14. Imperfect piety or love on the part of the dying person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater the fear.
  15. This fear or horror is sufficient in itself, to say nothing of other things, to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.
  16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ the same as despair, fear, and assurance of salvation.
  17. It seems as though for the souls in purgatory fear should necessarily decrease and love increase.
  18. Furthermore, it does not seem proved, either by reason or by Scripture, that souls in purgatory are outside the state of merit, that is, unable to grow in love.
  19. Nor does it seem proved that souls in purgatory, at least not all of them, are certain and assured of their own salvation, even if we ourselves may be entirely certain of it.
  20. Therefore the pope, when he uses the words “plenary remission of all penalties,” does not actually mean “all penalties,” but only those imposed by himself.
  21. Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.
  22. As a matter of fact, the pope remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to canon law, they should have paid in this life.
  23. If remission of all penalties whatsoever could be granted to anyone at all, certainly it would be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to very few.
  24. For this reason most people are necessarily deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release from penalty.
  25. That power which the pope has in general over purgatory corresponds to the power which any bishop or curate has in a particular way in his own diocese and parish.
  26. The pope does very well when he grants remission to souls in purgatory, not by the power of the keys, which he does not have, but by way of intercession for them.
  27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
  28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.
  29. Who knows whether all souls in purgatory wish to be redeemed, since we have exceptions in St. Severinus and St. Paschal, as related in a legend.
  30. No one is sure of the integrity of his own contrition, much less of having received plenary remission.
  31. The man who actually buys indulgences is as rare as he who is really penitent; indeed, he is exceedingly rare.
  32. Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.
  33. Men must especially be on guard against those who say that the pope’s pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to him.
  34. For the graces of indulgences are concerned only with the penalties of sacramental satisfaction established by man.
  35. They who teach that contrition is not necessary on the part of those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessional privileges preach unchristian doctrine.
  36. Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.
  37. Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.
  38. Nevertheless, papal remission and blessing are by no means to be disregarded, for they are, as I have said (Thesis 6), the proclamation of the divine remission.
  39. It is very difficult, even for the most learned theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the bounty of indulgences and the need of true contrition.
  40. A Christian who is truly contrite seeks and loves to pay penalties for his sins; the bounty of indulgences, however, relaxes penalties and causes men to hate them — at least it furnishes occasion for hating them.
  41. Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.
  42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy.
  43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.
  44. Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by means of indulgences but is merely freed from penalties.
  45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God’s wrath.
  46. Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.
  47. Christians are to be taught that they buying of indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.
  48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money.
  49. Christians are to be taught that papal indulgences are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them.
  50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.
  51. Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.
  52. It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to offer his soul as security.
  53. They are the enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid altogether the preaching of the Word of God in some churches in order that indulgences may be preached in others.
  54. Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to indulgences than to the Word.
  55. It is certainly the pope’s sentiment that if indulgences, which are a very insignificant thing, are celebrated with one bell, one procession, and one ceremony, then the gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.
  56. The true treasures of the church, out of which the pope distributes indulgences, are not sufficiently discussed or known among the people of Christ.
  57. That indulgences are not temporal treasures is certainly clear, for many indulgence sellers do not distribute them freely but only gather them.
  58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, for, even without the pope, the latter always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outer man.
  59. St. Lawrence said that the poor of the church were the treasures of the church, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.
  60. Without want of consideration we say that the keys of the church, given by the merits of Christ, are that treasure.
  61. For it is clear that the pope’s power is of itself sufficient for the remission of penalties and cases reserved by himself.
  62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
  63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last (Mt. 20:16).
  64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.
  65. Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets with which one formerly fished for men of wealth.
  66. The treasures of indulgences are nets with which one now fishes for the wealth of men.
  67. The indulgences which the demagogues acclaim as the greatest graces are actually understood to be such only insofar as they promote gain.
  68. They are nevertheless in truth the most insignificant graces when compared with the grace of God and the piety of the cross.
  69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of papal indulgences with all reverence.
  70. But they are much more bound to strain their eyes and ears lest these men preach their own dreams instead of what the pope has commissioned.
  71. Let him who speaks against the truth concerning papal indulgences be anathema and accursed.
  72. But let him who guards against the lust and license of the indulgence preachers be blessed.
  73. Just as the pope justly thunders against those who by any means whatever contrive harm to the sale of indulgences.
  74. Much more does he intend to thunder against those who use indulgences as a pretext to contrive harm to holy love and truth.
  75. To consider papal indulgences so great that they could absolve a man even if he had done the impossible and had violated the mother of God is madness.
  76. We say on the contrary that papal indulgences cannot remove the very least of venial sins as far as guilt is concerned.
  77. To say that even St. Peter if he were now pope, could not grant greater graces is blasphemy against St. Peter and the pope.
  78. We say on the contrary that even the present pope, or any pope whatsoever, has greater graces at his disposal, that is, the gospel, spiritual powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written. (1 Co 12[:28])
  79. To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.
  80. The bishops, curates, and theologians who permit such talk to be spread among the people will have to answer for this.
  81. This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult even for learned men to rescue the reverence which is due the pope from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity.
  82. Such as: “Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?” The former reason would be most just; the latter is most trivial.
  83. Again, “Why are funeral and anniversary masses for the dead continued and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded for them, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?”
  84. Again, “What is this new piety of God and the pope that for a consideration of money they permit a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God and do not rather, beca use of the need of that pious and beloved soul, free it for pure love’s sake?”
  85. Again, “Why are the penitential canons, long since abrogated and dead in actual fact and through disuse, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences as though they were still alive and in force?”
  86. Again, “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?”
  87. Again, “What does the pope remit or grant to those who by perfect contrition already have a right to full remission and blessings?”
  88. Again, “What greater blessing could come to the church than if the pope were to bestow these remissions and blessings on every believer a hundred times a day, as he now does but once?”
  89. “Since the pope seeks the salvation of souls rather than money by his indulgences, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons previously granted when they have equal efficacy?”
  90. To repress these very sharp arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies and to make Christians unhappy.
  91. If, therefore, indulgences were preached according to the spirit and intention of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved. Indeed, they would not exist.
  92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace! (Jer 6:14)
  93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!
  94. Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
  95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22).

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Leviticus for Today

LeviticusThis past weekend at Eastbrook, my message was essentially a theological interpretation of the book of Leviticus for Christians today. I found a number of resources helpful in this, but particularly enjoyed the insights of Gordon Wenham in his masterful commentary on Leviticus. In a section of his introduction to the book entitled “Leviticus and the Christian” he writes this helpful interpretive understanding for our reading of Leviticus:

It seems fair to say that the NT not only accepts the moral law of the OT, but reiterates the basic theology of the covenant of which the law forms a part. If the NT stresses much more strongly the grace of God, this is because Christ’s incarnation and death displayed God’s mercy more strikingly than even the exodus in Egypt.

Besides moral laws such as ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (19:18) Leviticus contains a number of laws that are sometimes described as civil legislation, e.g., laws about farming (e.g., 19:9-10, 19, 23-25) and rules fixing the death penalty for certain offenses (e.g., 20:9-16). This type of law is quoted less frequently in the NT than the simple moral imperatives, but when quoted it is treated as equally authoritative (e.g., 1 Cor 9:9 quoting Deut. 25:4 and Mark 7:10 citing Lev. 20:9).  The arbitrariness of the distinction between moral and civil law is reinforced by the arrangement of material in Leviticus. Love of neighbor immediately precedes a prohibition on mixed breeding; the holiness motto comes just before the law on executing unruly children (19:18-19; 20:7-9). Instead of distinguishing between moral and civil laws, it would be better to say that some injunctions are broad and generally applicable to most societies, while others are more specific and directed at the particular social problems of ancient Israel. In this commentary the following position is assumed: the principles underlying the OT are valid and authoritative for the Christian, but the particular applications found in the OT may not be. The moral principles are the same today, but insofar as our situation often differs from the OT setting, the application of the principles in our society may well be different, too (34-35).

In relation to our topic of these past weekends about “God in Blank Spaces” or “God of the Displaced Ones,” Wenham writes this:

Though this law is inapplicable literally in modern societies, the principles underlying it should still challenge Christian men [sic] to devise the most effective means that can help the poor of our age. It is not the task of the commentator to say which means should be adopted, e.g., food subsidies or welfare benefits, but simply to emphasize that Christian politicians and voters have a duty to support good schemes to help the needy.