The Incarnation of Hope Thoughts on Henri Nouwen's, Our Greatest Gift: Meditations on Dying and Caring

Last night I dreamed I was pregnant.  I’ve dreamt it before so I know better than to give it too much heed. After all, most dreams really don’t come true and it’s a good thing or I would be perpetually showing up for exams that I hadn’t studied for and failing out of college.  Still I couldn’t resist the urge to linger over the idea for a few minutes.  I closed my eyes and let my head fall back into the pillow, my mind was quick to create images of muslin blankets and tiny diapers. What a celebration a new baby would be for us and for my daughter whose only sibling is an imaginary friend.  No matter how many times I set my mind on contentment, nay, no matter how content I truly am, I can not help but let hope whisk me off into a world of unrealized dreams. Hope, it seems, is irresistible.

I thought next of my friend who lost her father this year, another whose husband left her, another who miscarried recently. I wondered if they too let their minds wander.  If maybe all of us, in the vulnerable moments of sacred quiet when the lines between truth and fantasy are blurred by sleepy heads, if all of our dreams attempt to overtake us.

This month we read Our Greatest Gift: Meditations on Dying and Caring, in the Liturgy of Life Reading Group.  Henri Nouwen’s gentle questioning got me thinking that perhaps these irrepressible hopes are the very whisper of God to us.  Perhaps they are inescapable because He is all encompassing and in our hopes He speaks to us of His Kingdom.

Christians are fools there is no denying that. We are a people founded in mystery.  Our story begins with a talking snake and climaxes with a virgin giving birth.  We dare to call the undeniable existence of death nothing but a lie.  For us the brutality our last breath is our entryway to eternal glory.

We believe in the Incarnation of Hope.

So when hope rises in our hearts, we should not be ashamed.  We need not bury our longings for our parents to be reconciled in their marriages or for our dead children to come back to us.  The never ending “what if’s” and “if only’s” need not haunt us.  We are called to grieve for the brokenness of the world, indeed we are called to be broken. If you are like me tonight, your head weary on a pillow damp with tears, if it feels like hope is tearing you apart, know at least this, you are not alone and your dreams are not in vain. Out of our bleeding wounds we call forth life. We live for Resurrection.

 

 

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On listening to God and knowing when it’s time to stop asking for more

For all of you who have been praying for us in our infertility struggles I have a story to tell you (before you get too excited  this is not a lead in to a  pregnancy announcement).

 

My one year old daughter was swaddled and snoozing, I was home from work after anther 16 hour day, at my desk, head in my hands, praying the evening prayer service at The Trinity Mission, Exhausted, I was mostly reciting the words trying to get my heart in sync with.

And then the room changed.

 

God was there.  There was no bright light or angels singing but a heaviness descended over me. I was absorbed in peace that felt full and continued to get fuller as I sat.  There was no audible voice but in my heart I heard these words,

 

“I’ll give you a full household. . . but not of your own children.”

 

And that was it.

 

No amount of longing or reaching could make that peace stay, it lifted and I finished my prayer wondering if I had made up the whole thing.

 

Sometimes when I share this story, others think it means we should adopt. At night I worry that it means my daughter will die. But when the words came they didn’t feel like a command or a warning. They just felt like God’s presence.

 

Over the past three years I have hated those words. I’ve convinced myself that I misheard or was delusional.

And at the same time, I have loved them. They assure me that God is with me, that I am seen and known and loved and through them my grief is far more bearable (I’ll add that I do believe that God could still give us another child, far be it from me know the extent of His plans for me, all I know is that these are the words He has given me and my sense after He spoke them was that we wouldn’t have more children.)

 

This week I read this by an Orthodox Saint,

We shouldn’t ask God to release us from something, from an illness, for example, or to solve our problems, but we should ask for strength and support from Him to bear what we have to bear. Just as He knocks discretely at the door of our soul, so we should ask discretely for what we desire and if the Lord does not respond, we should cease to ask. When God does not give us something that we ask for insistently, then He has His reasons. God, too, has His ‘secrets.’ Since we believe in His good providence, since we believe that He knows everything about our lives and that He always desires what is good, why should we not trust Him?

Let us pray naturally and gently, without forcing ourself and without passion. We know that past present and future are all known, ‘open and laid bare’ before God. As Saint Paul says, ‘Before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to His eyes.’ We should not insist; such persistence does harm instead of good. We shouldn’t continue relentlessly in order to acquire what we want; rather we should leave all things to the will of God.

 

And then over the past few months on our Liturgy of Life reading group  has been reading and writing about grief and suffering in the life of the Christian.  In my own family we have been  singing and meditating on the psalms, lately these words have been constant on my lips.

Here my prayer O Lord give ear to my cry for mercy.

In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness.

Enter not into judgement with your servant;

For no one living is righteous before you;

For the enemy has pursued my soul,

he has crushed my life to the ground.

He has made me to dwell in dark places

like those long dead.

So my spirit grows faint within me.

My heart within me is desolate.

 

In desolation I’ve been revisiting God’s words over me.  And today I am ready for a new prayer, a prayer I’ve never prayed in all these years. Today I stand with open hands, my heart longs for more children, but in longs for Christ more. Today I take my eyes off of the, “not of your own children,” and remember that God always words for my best. Today I remember the first part of his words to me.

Today I pray for a full household, whatever that could mean.

 

gratitude

 

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On the Entwinement of Grief and Joy

On the Entwinement of Grief and Joy Starting our latest Reading Group Book, Silence by Shusaku Endo

Grief and Joy, Liturgy of Life Reading Group, Silence by Shusaku Endo

For the enemy has pursued my soul;

he has crushed my life to the ground;

he has made me to dwell in dark places like those long dead.

So my spirit grows faint within me;

my heart within me is desolate.

excerpt from Psalm 143

 

There are times when the words of the Old Testament are foreign, even repulsive, they drip off my ears forming puddles and pools on the floor.  But then there are times when I soak them up like a dry sponge, and they saturate the deep places in my soul.

 

Our family has taken to memorizing and reciting psalms together (we are actually learning to chant them which is an amazing tool for internalizing scripture but more on that later).  Over the past months we have been consuming Psalm 143, digesting it and incorporating it into our bodies.  Today the words resound in me. Today my soul is desolate. Today I don’t care for any of my success.  Today all I want is to be able to create another baby and to give birth to her and watch her grow and be home and mother. Today I stare at ink drying on paper as I write and I’m grateful for this small distraction from my self pity. Today I  grieve.

 

When we pray the psalms at our table we light a candle and we look at images like this one:

 

Grief and Joy, Liturgy of Life Reading Group, Silence by Shusaku Endo

 

A young mother who raised a miraculous child only to watch him stripped and tortured before her eyes.

 

And this one:

Grief and Joy, Liturgy of Life Reading Group, Silence by Shusaku Endo

A man, who though He was God, allowed Himself to be subjected to ridicule and death for the sake of God’s glory.

 

And we know there are thousands more stories of the helpless and vulnerable, of those seeking God, of good and honest people whose lives were filled violence, calamity and persecution.

 

That grief can be avoided through fervent prayer or good deeds is an enticing myth which woos us to idolatry. But living a life free from the burden of deep sorrow is not possible and probably not even beneficial (though it is still incredibly desirable).

 

Instead the Christian life offers us a divine mystery where we can be both entrenched with grief and still overflowing with abundant joy.  I can rejoice at my one beautiful daughter and even be grateful that I can give her all my attention when she is up at night with a fever and that I still have free arms to hold her in church when she wants me to.  And yet at the same time I ache for a little baby to wake me up at night even when I’m exhausted and to fill my arms when they are empty. I celebrate what God has given me yet  I long, with the rest of creation, for fulfillment, for wholeness, and for healing.

 

This week in our reading group we begin a sad book about hope. Silence by Shusaku Endo takes place in Japan in the 1600’s during a time of Christian persecution. Like the ancient texts of the psalms Silence challenges us to look at our own lives, our practice of faith and to seek out God’s presence and wait for him in His silence.

 

Silence asks us, are we willing to make space in our life for pain? Will this allow us also to know more fully the hope of salvation?  Are we willing to ask the questions?

 

 

 

 

 

This post is part of our Reading Group series. Right now we beginning Silence by Shusaku Endo. We would love for you to join us.

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.

For another perspective on suffering and joy check out the latest post at Mothering Spirit