Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Henri Nouwen was a professor at Harvard, a prolific author, and a priest.  Over the course of his life he wrote over 40 books, and there is even a Henri Nouwen Society devoted to perpetuating his legacy.  But toward the end of his life, he began to feel as if all of his success was destroying his soul.  After some serious prayer, he heard God whispering to him, "Go and live among the poor in spirit, and they will heal you."  So he moved from Harvard to a L'Arche community for the mentally ill, where he served as their pastor for 10 years.

Concerning this move, he wrote: "This experience was and, in many ways, is still the most important experience of my new life, because it forced me to rediscover my true identity.  These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self - the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things - and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments."  (Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership [New York: Crossroads, 1989], 28).

We spend so much of our lives trying to stay in control of our circumstances, to be competent at what we do, to be people who seem to have it altogether.  But Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3).  It is when we draw near to the people who don't have it altogether and who can't even pretend to do so (the mentally ill, those who are grieving a terrible loss, those who are new and strangers to everything around them...) that we get to see the people who are vulnerable enough to receive God's blessing.  And then, just maybe, we recognize our own vulnerabilities and open ourselves to receive God's blessing, as well.

1 comment:

  1. This is so true! It's hard and scary to give up control and just give love to those who need it, the poor, the mentally ill. It reminds me of Shane Claiborne, the subject of your recent Bible study, who lives among the poor, showing the love of Jesus to those who don't have much hope.