Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ontological Polarities of the Spirit (Nouwen's "Movements of the Spirit")

Lilacs, in our front yard
 For my ABCM colleagues in ministry. 

I recently finished my slow-cook through Henri Nouwen's Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. I now see  how indebted I have been to Nouwen regarding my own idea of "ontological dualities of the human spirit." 

Nouwen calls them "polarities." They have a vectorial, from-to movement. They help us understand the directionality of spiritual formation and spiritual transformation.

My original eight ontologica ldualities are:

i.      From PRIDE/SHAME to -------------- HUMILITY
ii. From CONTROL to -------------------- TRUST
iii. From REJECTION to ----------------- AFFIRMATION
iv. From EVIL to -------------------------- GOOD
v. From FEAR to --------------------------- FAITH (RISK; OBEDIENCE)
vi. From MATERIALISM to -------------- SIMPLICITY
vii. From DEATH to ----------------------- LIFE

MichaelChristensen, in "Nouwen’s Place in Spiritual Development Theory" (Appendix), identifies twenty-six such "polarities" in Nouwen's writings. They include:

·                     From LONELINESS to----------------------SOLITUDE
·                     From HOSTILITY to-------------------------HOSPITALITY
·                     *From ILLUSION to----------------------------PRAYER
·                     From SARCASM to--------------------------CONTEMPLATION
·                     *From OPAQUENESS tp---------------------TRANSPARENCY
·                     From LONELINESS to----------------------SOLITUDE
·                     From LIFE'S ILLUSION to-----------------THE PRAYER OF THE HEART
·                     From FATALISM to-------------------------FAITH
·                     From WORRYING to------------------------PRAYER
·                     From MIND to--------------------------------HEART
·                     From DISSIPATION to---------------------HOMECOMING
·                     *From RESENTMENT to--------------------GRATITUDE
·                     From FORGIVEN to------------------------FORGIVER
·                     From PROFESSIONALISM to------------CREATIVE MINISTRY
·                     From ALIENATION to---------------------COMMUNITY
·                     From COMPETITION to-------------------COMPASSION
·                     From ANGUISH to--------------------------FREEDOM
·                     *From SORROW to---------------------------JOY
·                     *From THE HOUSE OF FEAR to----------THE HOUSE OF LOVE
·                     From AGING to------------------------------DYING
·                     *From EXCLUSION to----------------------INCLUSION
·                     From DENYING to--------------------------BEFRIENDING DEATH
(Christensen, Appendix in Nouwen, Spiritual Formation, Kindle Locations 2119 ff.)

In Nouwen's work, seven of the Spirit-movements predominate (indicated by *). As we dwell in God's presence the Spirit of God meta-morphs our hearts, with a "from---- to" movement. We are changed from, e.g., a HATEFUL HEART to LOVING HEART. In this way our subhuman heart takes on the form of Christ's heart. (Galatians 4:19).

Christensen writes:

"These movements of the Spirit may vary with the individual and with one’s season of life and community of faith; yet no one’s spiritual life is static, absolute, or perfectly completed, as if we must graduate from one movement to another before continuing our journey. Rather, we remain in motion and in the process of discerning which way the wind of God’s activity is blowing in our life. The process involves becoming aware of and naming the subtle movements of Spirit. To live spiritually is to seek to breathe with the Spirit’s rhythm and move in a God-ward direction on the long walk of faith.”