"The spiritual life counteracts the countless divisions that pervade our daily life and cause destruction and violence. These divisions are interior as well as exterior: the divisions among our most intimate emotions and the divisions among the most widespread social groupings. The division between gladness and sadness within me or the division between the races, religions, and cultures of darkness. The Spirit of God, the Spirit that calls us the Beloved, is the Spirit that unites and makes whole. There is no clearer way to discern the presence of God's Spirit than to identify the moments of unification, healing, restoration, and reconciliation. Wherever the Spirit works, divisions vanish and inner as well as outer unity manifests itself." (Henri J.M. Nouwen, from "Life of the Beloved.")
Henri Nouwen wrote those words to a Jewish friend of his after years of friendship that was born in an interview for the New York Times. It's a beautiful book about being taken, blessed, broken, and given, all in the name of finding our place as the "Beloved" of God. He starts the chapter "Living as the Beloved" with these words:
"As those who are chosen, blessed, broken, and given, we are called
to live our lives with a deep inner joy and peace. It is the life of the
Beloved, lived in a world constantly trying to convince us that the
burden is on us to prove that we are worthy of being loved."
It's no secret that, as a pastor, I see things differently than I once did. Very few things are black and white anymore. It's no secret that, as a pastor, I am called to become different, to look at things differently, to listen differently, and to respond differently. At no time in my career have I witnessed the importance of this more than in the last month.
I have talked much about the events that have brought out a part of me that I wasn't even sure existed until very recently, and with that, a passion to show folks that they, just like me and you, have a place as the Beloved, regardless of their abilities, race, faith, gender, or income. What I have learned though, is that this is not always as simple as one might imagine.
I guess I assumed (and that was my first mistake) that everyone would see every situation the same as I. It was naive, and led to a great amount of frustration. I guess I assumed that everyone would be as passionate about the same things I am passionate about. That was also naive, and led to a great amount of frustration. In fact, most all of the walls I have hit in the last few weeks were because of naivity on my part, and it has been frustrating...and it has made me question...and it has caused doubts to be born within me...and, even more importantly, it has caused me to ask for forgiveness from those who witnessed my frustrations first hand.
The subtitle of "Life of the Beloved" is "Spiritual living in a secular world." That nailed it. That is exactly what any of us, who claim a spot at the feet of Christ, have been called to do. But how? How do we deal with the very things Nouwen talks about in the quote from above: divisions between gladness and sadness, divisions between the races and religions, even divisions within our own circles? And how can we claim a life in the Spirit when division and hatred are so widespread?
Maybe the problem is that we are so focused on our differences that we can't see the areas we agree on. Maybe we really do want the same things, we are just not communicating it well. Maybe we can spend more time looking at the division between sadness and gladness within ourselves to see where our real passions lie. I don't know, I'm just thinking out loud this morning. But there has got to be something, some way, to fulfill our calling as disciples...find our place as the Beloved...balance sadness/gladness and frustration/joy within ourselves, and still respect the opinions of others regardless of who they are.
I think it boils down to one thing, and again, I'm quoting Nouwen: "There is no clearer way to discern the presence of God's Spirit than to identify the moments of unification, healing, restoration, and reconciliation. Wherever the Spirit works, divisions vanish and inner as well as outer unity manifests itself."
Maybe that's where we need to start, with an intentional search into the soul of unification, healing, restoration, and reconciliation. We will probably need to throw in a lot of patience just for good measure. A big dose of intentional listening would probably be good too. Oh, and a lot of respect for those who's opinion might be different from ours. I don't know that it will work, but it sounds like a good place to start.