Monday, March 17, 2014

Today: A New Beginning

"A new beginning! We must learn to live each day, each hour, yes, each minute as a new beginning, as a unique opportunity to make everything new. Imagine that we could live each moment as a moment pregnant with new life. Imagine that we could live each day as a day full of promises. Imagine that we could walk through the new year always listening to a voice saying to us, "I have a gift for you and can't wait for you to see it! Imagine!" Henri Nouwen, Here and Now, 16

Autumn dawnFor years, I would read a Henri Nouwen book about once every 12-18 months. I would mark it up, take notes, and copy quotes like this in my journal. Then I would put the book aside and think, "Well, I'm just not there yet."

Upon reading his stuff, I would get what he is saying conceptually, but my soul didn't get what he was really saying. I felt like a little league baseball player watching the high school team practice.

Then I realized that I had never been through the periods of wrestling with God like I read about in Nouwen's journals, with all of the brutal honesty, the willingness to deal with reality, the courage to step out of security (leaving his professorship at Yale), and searching his soul for his true vocation. His walk with God was so full of ups and downs and that shaped his spirituality.

I, on the other hand, had a view of spirituality that looked like a staircase, one that presumed that the path with God was one of continual ascent. Victory unto victory. Overcoming unto overcoming. Success unto to success. Any struggle, any failure, any down periods, only meant that I needed to pump myself back up and move up to the next level on the spiritual staircase.

But what do you do with the struggles?
What do you do with the doubt?
What do you do with the fear?
What do you do with all of the stuff that does not look like victory, overcoming or success?

Well, you listen to the sermon, you claim the victory, you press on with the truth. When your imagination is shaped by a staircase view of spirituality, there is little room for such honesty. After all, it might get in the way of ministry. It might prohibit the work of the church. It might derail the work of God.But the struggles, the doubts and the fears don't go away. And any promises of a "new beginning" only looked like pipe dreams. 

I was drawn to the simple vulnerability of Nouwen and the doors into the life of God that it seemed to open up for him.

This "new beginning" is not about the journey of continue progression up the mountain with God. The journey with God traverses both mountain trails and valleys. (See Ps 23.) We can only embark on this new beginning as we offer our reality, our honest selves to the Lord. As an old friend told me once in college, "God can handle your honesty." Here we find the reality of a "day full of promises." They won't come like we expect, but our expectation will open our eyes to see God's gift in ways that we cannot predict.

Of course this applies to our personal relationship with Jesus, but it also relates to the way we walk with others in community. The journey with others—whether in our families, in our small groups, or with a few friends—will advance to the degree that we give room to one another to be themselves. As soon as we project expectations of moving up the stair steps with God, then we actually jerk the rug out from one another. The only way to advance is to make room for reality. That's where the gift of God comes in unexpected fashion.

Picture Credit: Creative Commons License James Jordan via Compfight

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