Item consists of four audio cassettes of Nouwen's talks given at the Consultation XVII on Parish Ministry conference which took place in Orlando, Florida between January 6-10, 1992. Nouwen gave four talks.
SR110v1 "Pastor as Spiritual Leader";
Nouwen thanks Ann Johnson for inviting him, and introduces the talk, “Think about this as a time to be together in prayer, listening, sharing, as a kind of mini retreat, in which you might make some connections. I will say things that you might connect with. If not, let it go. If it connects, let it grow. But, trust more where you connect and where you agree, because spiritual life is a life of making connections. You come out of a world in which we are often agreeing or disagreeing, but maybe for a few hours we can just rest in the spirit, and feel sort of safe, and feel together, and feel ready to let God speak to us.” He says that he no longer likes to travel alone, and says, “The place from where I speak and where I learn about the spiritual life, is from my own community.” He introduces Lorenzo Sforza, David Gray, and Francis Maurice as his companions from his L’Arche Community, and he hopes that the people present at the convent will involve these members in their life at the convention.
Nouwen talks about several things in the talk: his community, how his understanding of the spiritual life and ministry has flown out of that community, telling stories about people so the listeners can connect them to their own story, and the disciplines of the spiritual life. He says the morning will be interrupted with some songs and some moments of silence.
Community, and his discovery of his ministry: talks about Jean Vanier and the origins of L’Arche as a ‘safe home.’ He discusses how this community has helped him to discover who God is in a whole new way, and says: “I must say, it moves me very deeply, especially in this Christmas season, that the ones who become or who are totally dependent who cannot stay alive without constant care, are the one who reveal God to us. They bring me back in touch with that incredible mystery that God decided to overcome our fear by becoming completely dependent on us. The child Jesus is a child, a baby, if we believe, that that is the God among us, we have to realize that we have to care for God, to keep God alive among us.”
Spiritual Life: “To live a life of ministry means to lay down your life for your friends.” He talks about being held in a place of love, where we are loved for all eternity – before we are born we are loved, we are loved during our short chronology, and we are loved after we die. The spiritual life is knowing that you have been loved and will be loved. He speaks about living the life of the beloved. You are not what you do, what people say about you, or what you have. The world uses these ideas to manipulate us and make us happy or depressed according to its strategies. Believing that you are what you do, what people say about you, or what you have, is tragic, because when you’re dead, you’re dead. You no longer do anything, people don’t talk about you, and you don’t have anything. Our true identity is that we are beloved sons and daughters of God. That is what ministry is – living with the knowledge that you are the beloved, and God’s favorite blessing.
SR110v1_b – 55:07
We are victimized by the world, because the world wants to suggest that we are not the beloved. It is hard to get in touch with that voice that says ‘you are the beloved.’ Nouwen says, “I tell you, if your ministry comes out of that truth, a whole new world opens up. You are acting out of that place. Don’t worry what to say to your judges. Don’t prepare speeches. That comes out of your anxiety of what people think about you. Trust that the spirit will speak through you, but you have to live in the spirit. You belong to me, as I belong to you. You are mine, I am yours. I will never never leave you alone. And the love with which I love you for all eternity, is the love that I will continue to love you after you have finished your little chronology. I have loved you so much, that I Have sent you in to the world for a little bit, to give you a chance to accept that love. Yes lord, I love you too. You’re laying down your life for your friends, comes from, you’re letting people know that there’s so much trust in your belovedness, you can give everything away without losing everything. In fact, you gain it.”
We are able to love one another because God loved us first. The answer that God gives us always seems to be ‘go to the poor.’ Jean Vanier went to the poor and he found a home there. The poor are there to reveal our own poverty so that poverty can become the manger where God can dwell. If someone brings us to our poverty, we can discover that we are also marginalized [like the poor] and we are broken. If we dare to stay where our poverty is, we discover that it is there that a child is born, and we can worship the child. Nouwen says to bring it all before the child and hold nothing back.
He concludes by talking about the practice of the spiritual life. He says, “If you are in touch with being the beloved son and daughter of God and if you keep trusting that you hear that voice in your own poverty, and in the poor of this world who are the blessed, then you can start living a life that is radically spiritual… It means, if you’re always willing to forgive. It is precisely the experience of the first love that makes you aware that your family, church, etc. is not going to be able to give you that first love. So you have to keep forgiving them. They are not God. They are not there to fulfill the deepest desire of your heart. Whenever they give you love, they also wound you. Precisely because they are broken little people like you. The spiritual life is to return and return and return to that first love. The ones who love you poorly are the ones who can catapult you back to God. That is your home.”
SR110v2 "Meditation and Silence";
The theme of this session was meditation and silence. Nouwen invites them into that silence, although people will be coming in and out of the room. He will read a passage from scripture, and asks them to stay with that passage for this session, and raise questions about their own lives, meditation, prayer silence, and solitude. Then they will have discussion and people can raise these questions. He will listen to what they say, and respond to the different experiences and questions.
Talks about his own meditation practices: he takes time in the morning, takes the gospel of the day (usually a scripture text), and stays with that text. He tells them to descend from the mind into the heart, as that’s what meditation is about. Let the words sink in and become flesh in you.
He reads the text, and asks them to look at the words through their eyes and life. Luke 4:16-22.
He goes through the text again as they meditate, and asks them to look at their lives through it, as he reads. He says, “Look at where are you trapped, victimized, addicted? Find your own addiction: work, alcohol, sex, relationships. Where are you compulsive? Not free? Captive?” He talks about the many ways we feel oppression, and says we can only talk about others’ oppression from a point of our own. Nouwen says, “God is here and now, and I speak in God’s name. Are you willing to claim that God’s favor is here for you. You don’t have to wait until tomorrow, next year, or later. All that you need is here, Jesus is here right here where you are, he is reading these words to you, as words that will take away your blindness and your oppression and your captivity and your poverty. I want to live with my eyes fixed on Jesus. I want to see only him, I will see him in everyone who comes to me with their struggles and pains. They won’t be a burden because they bring good news, favor, freedom, liberty, sight. Who brings sight? All those who come to me. They reveal to me the face of the one on whom I have affixed my eyes.”
They have a discussion, and a few people ask questions and talks about their problems with meditation and prayer, and living the spiritual life. Their questions are difficult to hear on the recording. Nouwen asks them questions for clarification, and then he addresses their questions when they are finished.
The tape concludes with a start of a discussion on discipline – discipline is the other side of discipleship. Discipline and disciple are the same word. Discipline is the effort to keep empty space empty so that God can speak.
SR110v.2_b – 39:08
Because we are fearful people, we fill up empty space. Horror vaccui, or the fear of the empty space. Wherever we see emptiness, we want to fill it up. Discipline means to create boundaries around an empty space so it stays empty, and in the emptiness the spirit can manifest itself to us. To live a spiritual life is to leave emptiness for God, space for God.
It isn’t just a question of having an hour in the morning to pray and then you get busy again. That’s what liturgy is about: A little bit of bread, not enough for everybody to take hunger away. A little bit of wine, not enough to take our thirst away. A few words, not enough to take ignorance away. It’s a little bit to create some boundaries where we are poor together. We are silent, and we create a safe, silent place where we can hold hands around an empty spot and trust that God will reveal himself to us.
If that is not your ministry, then your ministry becomes entertainment. Nouwen says he wants people to have a good time when they come to the service, but that is not his vocation. His vocation as the priest or minister is to withdraw so much that there is a new space where people can be and discover God. We are not there to entertain, to hold people attentive and keep them busy so they won’t have to deal with the emptiness. We have to create the space where God can let something happen that is radically new in us and among us.
He answers a question from earlier regarding creating a time and place to pray. He says, “Pray in a place so the place can pray for you when you’re gone. The space is always there for you so if you step into it, you step into prayer again.”
SR110v3 " Pastor as Spiritual Leader";
Nouwen begins by leading prayer and follows by discussing Van Gogh's Sunflowers at the request of an attendee. He touches on the ministry of Vincent Van Gogh, talking about Van Gogh's time working in Belgium coal mines, living with the poor, his relationship with his brother Theo Van Gogh and his paintings as having something to say about life.
Next, Nouwen discusses the disciplines of the spiritual life. The life of the beloved is being taken, blessed, broken and given, and they have discussed that. But now he talks about the practice the discipline to stay in touch with these deep truths. Nouwen identifies the seven disciplines he will be addressing: Prayer, slowing down, sense control, daily routines, ministry as a formal activity, spiritual reading and fellowing.
Discipline is the concentrated effort to keep empty space empty. Because of our fear, we want to fill them up, we have a fear of the empty place.
Prayer is about letting the Word become flesh. An obedient person is someone who listens to the voice. If you no longer listen, one becomes deaf. An absurd life is one in which one does not listen to the voice that will allow them to reach a new place. In ministry, we must help people move from an absurd to an obedient life, and listen to the voice of love. Total attentiveness to the voice that calls us to love.
Nouwen talks about his accident in which he was hit by a car while hitchhiking. A visiting minister brought him a psalm, which Nouwen learned by heart and let sink into his flesh. The psalm was telling the truth about him and was making the truth in him.
Make an inner space where these words are written on the wall (words can be ‘blessed are the poor’, ‘the Lord is my shepherd,’ Paul’s letter to the Corinthians) – these words are not just words you can read and understand, but words you can taste and feel in your inner room. It is in that inner place where you can invite the people who come to you for ministry. It is from that place you can speak, and the more you pray and let those words become you, the bigger that inner place becomes. Discipline is to create an inner place, a spiritual space in which you can offer hospitality to those who come to you.
Lorenzo Sforza talks briefly about washing dishes with David Gray, and how he wanted to rush and do the task quickly, and Gray would go slowly and tell him to slow down.
Nouwen talks about how we fill up our inner lives with garbage that we don’t want or need. He says, “I remember when this crisis in Russia happened, I was nailed to the tv for hours, as if I was in control of the situation.” Television fills us with ideas and stories that are not good for us, and we let ourselves be bombarded with things that are not good for us, and we are not nurturing our souls, and therefore not our ministries.
SR110v.3_b – 52:56
Nouwen talks about how we need to be masters of our minds. He once drove through Los Angeles, and it was as though he was driving through addiction. All of these words were trying to grab his attention, but what words does he want to become part of his flesh? Does he want to let these words determine his own physicality and spirituality, or can he let THE Word become the flesh that is life. He says, “That is the real choice, we are constantly in front of choice. What to let in and what not.”
The next discipline is gaining a routine. The most simple daily tasks can become a form of prayer and spiritual life.
Lorenzo Sforza speaks again about routine in the L’Arche community. He was looking for meaning in his life, and decided to go to Daybreak. Sometimes one can get sick of all the details and menial tasks to do, but if you see them in a religious and spiritual sense, that makes it a very important task [i.e. dishes, other chores].
The discipline of ministry is to wait and listen for what each person can tell you of God. What is the good news that this person brings, and calls me to conversion? It is then that ministry is life-giving. This will also let you know when to take a rest, when to step away, when to spend time with family. Nouwen points to his relationship with Adam Arnett to contextualize his point, discussing Adam as a teacher. He also explores the AIDS crisis as an opportunity for conversion, asking: "How is the AIDS crisis a call for conversion to the Church? How is the fact that young men, women and children, die young from AIDS, in their search for love find death? How does that call us as a church to something new?"
The last discipline is spiritual reading. One must keep reading about God to keep the perspective going. Nouwen recommends that they read the mystics, because mystics speak about the communion with God. He says, “We have to be mystics, we have to be people who live in communion with God, and nurture that and feel connected there, and from there we deal with the issues and become moral people. The moral life has to grow out of the mystical life. And if the church and the Christian community is considered to be primarily dealing with moral issues, people are not going to come. Because it doesn’t nurture to hear what you’re allowed to do and what you’re not allowed to do. That doesn’t help the deepest part of our heart.”
SR110v4 "Tuesday Evening with Henri Nouwen".
Nouwen wants to explore more in depth what it means to live the life of the beloved that he talked about this morning. He first answers questions that convention members have asked Lorenzo, Francis, David, and himself about their community. First, L’Arche is an ecumenical community, not a Catholic one. He asks David Gray to speak about his Anglican church, and his family that is involved in the Anglican church. Second, L’Arche is an international community, and Daybreak has members from about twenty different countries. He says, “I often ask myself how we make it together, but we do make it together because of those among us who hold us together.” Third, people come to the community for different lengths of time, sometimes for three months, or half a year, or for life, and it’s very flexible. Some will come for three months and stay for three years.
Nouwen then talks about the dynamics of the Spirit. He uses the icon by Andrei Rublev as an example: the icon was painted during a time of political upheaval, and Rublev was asked to paint the icon to bring peace to the monks. The icon is a trinity icon, which represents the three angels who visited Abraham, as a “pre-figuration” of the Holy Trinity. The icon calls you to enter, and you are called to place yourself within so you can be lifted up into the circle, and enter into the mystery of God.
Nouwen talks about being taken, blessed, broken, and given. Jesus was recognized through these four words, and it is through these four words that Jesus makes himself known. These four words summarize the mystery of the incarnation – Jesus is the one who is taken by God, blessed by God, broken by God. The Father handed Jesus over to suffering, and Jesus was given to the world by God. Those are the characteristics of the son of God, of the child of God. The child of God is taken, blessed, broken, and given. That is what we are called to be. The children of God live out the mystery of the life of Jesus. The life of the beloved is a life that is taken, broken, blessed, and given.
Nouwen goes more in depth on each of the four qualities of the spiritual life: being taken, broken, blessed, and given.
Taken – Nouwen prefers ‘chosen.’ You’re chosen by God. You must believe you are the chosen one of God, and you must get in touch with your chosenness to move on the spiritual journey. The greatest temptation of life is that of self-rejection. We are not seeing our preciousness. Ministry starts from the place where we help people to recognize their chosenness, their uniqueness. My chosenness does not exclude others, my chosenness helps me to see the chosenness of others. That’s where ministry starts.
Blessed – Talks about Janet, a member of the L’Arche community, asking for a blessing. He told her, “You’re beautiful, you’re loved, you’re good. Don’t you know that?” We who are self-conscious are much less free.
SR110v.4_b – 39:08
Blessed – We have to bless one another constantly. To bless people is to say they are good in God’s eyes, and to speak in the name of God that they are beloved. Say it with all you’ve got to let people know that they are the beloved. To minister is to bless people, to speak good things about them, good things in the name of God, and not just in the name of a world that wants to compare one talent with the other. As the beloved, we are not only chosen and blessed, we’re broken.
Broken – Our brokenness is that which is obviously most in our consciousness. What are we called to do with our brokenness? First, we have to befriend our broken. We have to hold our brokenness close to our hearts, because our brokenness is us, and our brokenness is as unique as we are. You never have to compete with the pains of others, your pain is enough for you. We have to date to claim our pain as well as we claim our blessings. Pain and joy are never separated in this life. The moments of the greatest pain are the moments of the greatest joy (talks about the death of his mother), that’s the mystery of the spiritual life. Ministry is to help people with their brokenness. When your brokenness is lived under the blessing, that is the way to glory.
Given – The greatest desire of the human heart is to give itself. Not part of oneself, but all of it. You and I will find our fulfillment in giving ourselves away. That’s what death is all about, to give yourself away and thus bear fruit. You’re not called to be successful, you’re not called to give many results, but you’re called to be fruitful. Jesus gave himself so we could bear fruit.