The writings of Henri Nouwen have been filling my meditation and challenging me to consider how we can spiritually survive our journey today.
“Our culture has become most sophisticated in the avoidance of pain, not only our physical pain but our emotional and mental pain as well. … When we have no project to finish, no friend to visit, no book to read, no television to watch or no record to play, and when we are left all alone by ourselves we are brought so close to the revelation of our basic human aloneness and are so afraid of experiencing an all-pervasive sense of loneliness that we will do anything to get busy again.”
-Henri J. M. Nouwen
Reaching Out (first published 1975)
Dear God, I am so afraid to open my clenched fists! Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to? Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands? Please help me to gradually open my hands and to discover that I am not what I own, but what you want to give me. And what you want to give me is love — unconditional, everlasting love. Amen.
With Open Hands (first published 1972)
When I put down my phone,
When I turn off the news,
When I take a break from the Netflix show I am binging,
When I try to get quiet inside,
My hands twitch towards my pocket or bag
As I try to find that smooth device that keeps me tethered to …
What is it I’m yearning to be tethered to:
Reality? Busyness? The avoidance of pain or fear?
What is it that I’m seeking to fill up the emptiness inside of me?
They say God created us with a God-shaped hole inside of us.
And then I put everything I can into that place
So that I don’t have to feel lonely or anxious or empty.
God is calling me to reclaim the disciplines that I have forgotten.
For me, they are sabbath, silence, and breathing.
What are the disciplines to which you’re being called?
We watch the fear, the pain, the struggle
And we cannot take away any of it.
All we can do, sometimes, is hold the space.
And that is enough.
Each day I see the legacy of hatred
Written across my screen,
Displayed in videos.
It enters my car in voices on the radio.
Fists raised in anger.
Dueling pundits on cable TV.
The latest shooting.
Marching crowds and candlelit vigils.
Mothers weeping over children, slain.
I confess …
This legacy of hatred lives in me.
It flares out in traffic jams
And simmers inside my clenched jaws.
It plays out in my heart and mind
In unspoken judgments and harsh criticisms.
How did you learn to love?
How did you learn to let go of
Holy One, you said that I should love my enemies
And pray for those who persecute me.
Have mercy on me, Gentle One,
For I don’t know how to love.
I usually wake up early,
Turn on the news,
And go back to sleep.
This morning I was shocked awake
By the news of further violence.
The targeting of police officers in Dallas.
A suicide attack at a Muslim shrine in Iraq.
God of Love, what have we become?
We need you now.
We are broken, torn apart,
Permeated with a violent malignancy.
Come, now, and heal this hurting world.
A prayer for today.
I wrote this prayer a few weeks ago in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting. Since then, there was the attack in the Istanbul airport and, this morning, news of a bombing in a Bangladesh restaurant. I offer it here as I continue to struggle with the violence that continues around the world.
The news is bad.
We are outraged and horrified.
We are shocked and afraid.
We are overwhelmed and numb.
How many more times will we awake to such news?
Some of us sit in front of the television,
Search the internet for stories,
Watch, listen for something
That will help make sense,
That will soothe or comfort,
That will bring order back again.
Some of us can’t bear the words, the images.
The press conferences and scrolling news feeds
Freeze our brains, our hearts, our guts.
Some of us pray.
Some of us escape.
Some of us rage.
Some of us cry.
God, have mercy on our world.
Have mercy on the powerless and the powerful.
Have mercy on the first responders and those in ministry to the brokenhearted.
Have mercy on the victims, their families, their friends.
Sit with us in our terror, our sadness, our hopelessness.
And let us hold the space for others as we
Sit or cry, light candles or pray,
In solidarity, in hope, in love.
We wake up to the news
Of another terrorist attack.
Ordinary people doing ordinary things.
Lives changed forever.
This place seems so far away this morning.
But we are joined in our fear,
Our horror, our grief,
Our powerlessness to stop the evil of this world.
And yet, in this week, we remember
That though there is evil in this world
There is a Love that is greater.
There is a Love that overcomes even death.
This world, so large,
Yet so small.
We are joined together across the globe
In our ordinary human lives.
For those who suffer, send comfort.
For those who fear, send presence.
For those who grieve, send healing love.
God, in your mercy, hear our prayers.
Read more of Beth’s blessings in her book Christ Beside Me, Christ Before Me: Celtic Blessings.
Someone described yesterday as a day of “emotional whiplash.” From the declaration of love, justice, and equality by the U.S. Supreme Court to the funeral of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of those murdered in the hate crime committed at a bible study in Charleston, S.C. I believe, I hope, I trust that the presence of the holy was in these places both of ecstatic joy and of deep sorrow.
I sat in my office, weeping,
reading the live blog
from the Supreme Court.
5-4 in favor of same sex marriage.
Who could have known
this day would come?
Protection for families,
equal rights for couples.
Small things, so important …
A spouse’s name on a death certificate.
Two parents’ names on an adoption form.
The right to be by a loved one’s side in the emergency room.
The acknowledgment of covenant,
I sat in my living room, weeping,
watching the President,
family and friends and leaders,
mourn and celebrate the life of Reverend Pinckney.
Deaths too awful to comprehend,
lives torn asunder by racism,
an ugly, malignant tumor in our land.
I watch as this gathering, these witnesses,
I listen, and my spirit
rises out of despair and darkness
towards hope and light.
God, how can you contain
all of this?
All of this joy and sorrow,
all of this love and grief.
Be present with us in these days.
We need you now.