Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Three Truths to Remember

Image result for john piippo being
(Seeds, in my back yard)

Henri Nouwen, in Spiritual Direction, writes of three things that were deepened in his heart as a result of his move to L'Arche and caring for handicapped people.

1. Being is more important than doing.

Nouwen writes: "God wants me to be with him and not do all sorts of things to prove I'm valuable." (44) 

God loves you, not for what you do, but for who you are; viz., his beloved son or daughter. Human loves are often performance-based. God's love is not. The distinction between the two is important. 

Internalize this truth. Pray, Nouwen-like, "God, bring this truth that is in my mind into my heart."

2. The heart is more important than the mind.

Nouwen writes: "When you've come from an academic culture, that's hard to learn." (44) 

Nouwen was an academic who taught for two years at Notre Dame, ten years at Yale, and three years at Harvard. In his work with the mentally handicapped that he "saw that what makes a human being human is the heart with which one can give and received love... People with physical and mental disabilitiies easily can let their hearts speak and this reveal a mystical life unreachable by many intellectually astute people." (45)

Yes, we are to love God with our mind. But when Paul wrote this it was out of a culture that had not yet been Cartesianized. Hebrew culture does not make a absolute metaphysical distinction between "heart" and "mind." 

Jesus is after the human heart. Human minds vary greatly in ability. While God wants us to use whatever mental capacities we have for his glory, God can work through the heart of a mentally handicapped person. Mental assent to Jesus is not enough. But when the heart is captured, one's mental abilities are neither some special asset nor debilitating detriment to God.

3. Doing things together is more important than doing things alone.

At L'Arche Daybreak Nouwen befriended a severely handicapped man named Adam until Adam died. Nouwen writes: "Adam's story is my story of weakness, vulnerability, and dependency, but also of strength, authenticity, and giftedness." (46) 

Our non-tribal Western culture is individuated, valuing  autonomy more than community. Many have been trained by our culture to want to do life by ourselves, giving us the idea that we will do a better job if we do it alone. 

But when we work together, more people get to own the results. The more corporate ownership there is, the better "church" will be. Plus, as Nouwen says, there is much to be gained from others as we learn to collaborate. God uses collaborative, tribal activity to teach us things about ourselves and others.

Nouwen's three truths really came together when I worked at United Cerebral Palsy of Will County, Illinois, for one year and three summers. I was beginning my PhD studies. The hyper-academic environment of Northwestern University's philosophy department was met by a year of helping the physically and mentally handicapped. 

While, on the one hand, I was studying Heidegger's Being and Time and Sartre's Being and Nothingness, on the other hand I was being-with and learning from the disabled and culturally marginalized. At first it seemed like a clash of civilizations. Eventually, slowly, my heart was captured and began to inform my mind. I loved these students and learned much from them, not for what they could do, not for their cognitive abilities, but for who they were, revealed as we spent many hours together.

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church 

I am currently writing:

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (editing, should be out in June)

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

After that, God willing, Linda and I will write our book on Relationships.