Henri Nouwen talked about the difficult task of “Finding Our Sacred Center.” He noted that this was achieved through three disciplines that can be found in scripture; solitude, community and care.
He refers to a passage in scripture where Jesus goes to the mountain to pray. He comes down from the mountain and commissions twelve disciples to go out and serve as healing agents. Luke 6:12-19:
12 Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
Jesus Teaches and Heals
17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
Nouwen, who was a licensed psychologist, was a master at getting to the heart of personality and the neurosis that gets in the way of finding the center.
He identifies the problems of being distracted in life by our problems. We are distracted by regrets at losing hope and bad decisions we’ve made, guilt for our sins and inability to reconcile with our shame, and sadness that comes from loss – loss of dreams, loss of loved ones and, at times, loss of dignity. Nouwen pinpoints how life has a way of distracting us from our dreams and fulfilling the destiny we thought we could always have.
These preoccupations keep us from fulfilling a literal call to bring forth the presence of God’s glory that exists within. We lose that childlike gift of seeing the presence of God.
He notes that spiritual discipline can create an empty space where God can dwell.
These “three disciplines help us create space for God.” He mentions that through this development we can establish inner space and outer space in our lives. This really is a brilliant assessment of how one can establish control of his life.
We have the power to shape our destinies but there is doubt about what such a discipline can do for us. Every day is a new opportunity to develop a relationship with God and ourselves.
We can see these three disciplines in other passages. When Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane, he goes to pray. He suffers in the garden. He returns to his disciples. He asks them to stay awake and pray with him. He feels alone and when he returns from prayer, he awakens them and asks them to remain vigilant with him. When the Roman guards come to take him away, Peter cuts off the ear of the servant. Jesus heals the man.
Nouwen notes that when we are alone with God, we realize how lonely we are or sad or hopeless. It is hard work and some people don’t want to face it. He’s right. It’s hard to learn to be honest with ourselves and try to align ourselves with God’s will for us, but when we do it, the work is well worth the effort.
Nouwen encourages us to embrace this pain during that time – “guilt, confusion and worry.” He tells us to “befriend our pain, anguish and losses.” I tell my students all the time to work on owning their feelings and owning their pain, so they can work through it. “Jesus tells us to take up our cross. This is the act of embracing our pain.”
We say, no pain, no gain. We gain a deeper understanding of life when we embrace our suffering and get to the other side. Joy awaits us in our suffering. Paradoxical but true. Nouwen notes, “in the midst of our pain, joy is waiting.”
Endeavor to find this sacred treasure in the center of our being.