Saturday, December 27, 2008

Here I am

What should I say as the "real" me? It's strange since my other online incarnations are also "me" even if I don't use my birth name. This Christmas season has me thinking about what I want to do in the upcoming year. As usual I want to learn a foreign language. In particular, I still want to learn Russian. But my list of languages include Chinese, Arabic, and one I took for one year in Junior high, French.
If I want to be able to do any of this, I know that I need to be more disciplined in my daily life. Part of that discipline is ratcheting down the busyness which is totally nonproductive. Number one in that arena is television. I keep saying that I want to disconnect my cable TV. And yet it still stays on. It steals both my time and my money. And the number one accomplice is me. The old Pauline conundrum still stands true, "I do what I don't want to do, and I don't do what I want to do. Who will deliver me from this body of death?"
Just earlier today I finished for the second time Henri Nouwen's newly published book, "The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life" even though Nouwen died over ten years ago, and this particular book was actually written nearly thirty years ago. I've enjoyed Nouwen's writings for almost fifteen years now, since being introduced to his seminal works "The Wounded Healer" and "The Return of the Prodigal Son."
In this latest work, Nouwen describes the true spiritual life as one which is marked by "downward mobility" in contrast to the usual call of upward mobility, which our modern American culture esteems so highly. He addresses three temptations which confronted Jesus and which confront us today: the temptation of relevancy, the temptation of being spectacular, and the temptation of power. He goes into just enough detail in each of these temptations to bring home what these temptations might look like in our own lives.
Thankfully, in the final chapter (there are only three in the book) he describes the three disciplines that can bring about spiritual health and maturity. They are the discipline of the church, the book, and the heart. In the discipline of the church, he points out how important it is to be in community in order to grow into the image of Christ. We learn that all of life is sacramental, and since the church is charged with administering the sacraments, all of life is administered, as it were, through our communal fellowship in the church. Thus we cannot be truly mature Christians if we live our lives as "lone-ranger" Christians. The term is an oxymoron.
Secondly, Nouwen points us to the discipline of the Book, by which he means the Word, first in Christ Jesus, but then in the written word of scripture. The Word of God, as seen in the words of scripture, is the lens through which we see everything. All of life is interpreted by this Word.
Finally, we have the discipline of the heart. Nouwen describes this discipline as being found through contemplative prayer. And he helpfully points out that this particualr discipline is the most most difficult, since it is so easily given up. It is also the most secretive. It is this very secretive aspect of contemplative prayer that makes it so easy to ignore. But it is only when we enter into naked communion with God in secret do we begin to see ourselves as God sees us. We begin to see our deepest needs, our deepest weaknesses, our resentments, our desires. When we are laid bare by direct communion with God we are paradoxically brought low enough to sees others in a new light. We begin to see others as being in need in exactly the same way we are. The particular puzzle pieces may be arranged in a somewhat different order. But it's still the same puzzle. When we are exposed to that in our own life, we can begin to see that in others.
Then we are able to be born, live, suffer, die, and be resurrected again, and be Christ to those around us as Christ has been to us.