Henri Nouwen’s advice for living a spiritual life in a secular world is to realize that the voice of God that spoke to Jesus at his baptism is trying to break through to us. God is saying to each of us, “You are my beloved child. I am well-pleased with you!”
The great spiritual battle begins and ends with embracing your choosenness.
1. You have to keep unmasking the world about you for what it is: manipulative, controlling, power-hungry and, in the long run, destructive. The world tells you many lies about who you are, and you simply have to be realistic enough to remind yourself of this. Every time you feel hurt, offended or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: “These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity and held safe in an everlasting embrace.”
2. You have to keep looking for people and places where your truth is spoken and where you are reminded of your deepest identity as the chosen one.
3. You have to celebrate your chosenness constantly. This means saying ‘thank you’ to God for having chosen you, and ‘thank you’ to all who remind you of your chosenness. Gratitude is the most fruitful way of deepening your consciousness that you are not an ‘accident’ but a divine choice.
Where there is reason for gratitude, there can always be found a reason for bitterness. It is here that we are faced with the freedom to make a decision. We can decide to be grateful or to be bitter. We can decide to recognize our chosenness in the moment or we can decide to focus on the shadow side. When we persist in looking at the shadow side, we will eventually end up in the dark.… When we keep claiming the light, we will find ourselves becoming more and more radiant.
1. For me personally, prayer becomes more and more a way to listen to the blessing. I have read and written much about prayer, but when I go to a quiet place to pray, I realize that, although I have a tendency to say many things to God, the real ‘work’ of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me.… The faithful discipline of prayer reveals to you that you are the blessed one and gives you the power to bless others.
2. My second suggestion for claiming your blessedness is the cultivation of presence. By presence I mean attentiveness to the blessings that come to you day after day, year after year. The problem of modern living is that we are too busy―looking for affirmation in the wrong places?―to notice that we are being blessed.… It has become extremely difficult for us to stop, listen, pay attention and receive gracefully what is offered to us.
1. The first response to our brokenness is to face it squarely and befriend it.… My own aim in life has taught me that the first step to healing is not a step away from the pain, but a step toward it.
2. The second response to our brokenness is to put it under the blessing.… Living our brokenness under the curse means that we experience our pain as a confirmation of our negative feelings about ourselves. It is like saying, “I always suspected that I was useless or worthless, and now I am sure of it because of what is happening to me.” There is always something in us searching for an explanation of what takes place in our lives and, if we have already yielded to the temptation to self-rejection, then every form of misfortune only deepens it.… When we have cursed ourselves or have allowed others to curse us, it is very tempting to explain al the brokenness we experience as an expression or confirmation of this curse. Before we fully realize it, we have already said to ourselves: “You see, I always thought I was no good.… Now I know for sure. The facts of life prove it.” The great spiritual call of the Beloved Children of God is to pull their brokenness away from the shadow of the curse and put it under the light of the blessing.… When we keep listening attentively to the voice calling us the Beloved, it becomes possible to live our brokenness, not as a confirmation of our fear that we are worthless, but as an opportunity to purify and deepen the blessing that rests upon us.… Great and heavy burdens become light and easy when they are lived in the light of the blessing. What seemed intolerable becomes a challenge. What seemed a reason for depression becomes a source of purification. What seemed punishment becomes a gentle pruning. What seemed rejection becomes a way to a deeper communion.
1. First of all, our life itself is the greatest gift to give—something we constantly forget. The real question is not “What can we offer others?” but “Who can we be for each other?” The greatest gift I have to offer is my own joy of living, my own inner eace, my own silence and solitude, my own sense of well-being.
2. Secondly, we are called to give ourselves, not only in life, but in death as well. I am called to trust that life is a preparation for death as a final act of giving. Not only are we called to live for others, but also to die for others. We have to choose between clinging to life in such a way that death becomes nothing but a failure, or letting go of life in freedom so that we can be given to others as a source of hope.