As a progressive Christian, I am hesitant to admit how dearly I wanted my college buddy to know Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Clearly it was a desire for intimacy on my part, but I also wanted him to know how dearly loved he was: if he could never be told of my love, at least he would know the love of Jesus.
I recognized the experience decades later upon reading Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved, written for a young secular Jewish friend requesting generic spiritual guidance. Henri wrote:
All I want to say to you is, “You are the beloved,” and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being. (p 26)
When offered the manuscript to read, Henri explains in the epilogue, the young man responded basically “thanks, but no thanks,” as it was still so Christian. But Henri published the book anyway! I gave the book to a gay friend graduating from seminary, fearing that he might lose his sense of belovedness serving the church from the closet.
What awakens these memories is reading again Paul’s letters to his “beloved,” congregations he founded or shaped for whom he behaved as a mother caring for her children (1 Thes. 2:7), treating “every one of you as a father treats his children” (1 Thes. 2:11). I am in awe of Paul’s passion for the first Christians and their passion for one another, sharing all things in common, giving thanks in all circumstances, as well as their passion for loving and helping their neighbors, what made the faith so attractive in its beginnings (see Elaine Pagel’s Beyond Belief). Among progressive Christians, such passion is often focused in our pursuit of peace and justice. Obviously, that’s a good thing, but do we welcome spiritual intimacy in this process?
Our fear, of course, is becoming like some of our evangelical brothers and sisters, who, as Jesus said of the Pharisees, “cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matt. 23:15).
Seeing even “in the center of an intimate relationship the seeds of violence,” Henri critiqued the passion that may lead from embracing to grasping in his third movement of the spiritual life, a movement significantly named “From Illusion to Prayer” in his book Reaching Out (p 84). Prayer and contemplation may lead us away from illusory power and control, away from idols and our own demons.
Religiously, we see this grasping in the misdirected passion of the self-inflicted martyr and would-be terrorist, the inquisitor and the enforcer, that can be found in every faith historically—even among progressive Christians.
The solution for Henri was hospitality, the ancient spiritual practice, which he explains “is not a method of making our God and our way into the criteria of happiness, but the opening of an opportunity to others to find their God and their way” (Reaching Out, p 51).
This, to me, is the best spiritual path and practice of progressive Christians.
“Last call” for this weekend’s Kirkridge Oct 3-6 retreat: “For All the Saints!” which includes a film and segment on Henri Nouwen.
Upcoming Henri Nouwen events led by Chris Glaser:
October 12 in Pasadena, CA:
November 9 in Dallas, TX:
January 12, 2014 in Seattle, WA:
January 18, 2014 in Chicago, IL:
What Community Meant to Henri Nouwen (Sat. aft. TBD)
May 2-4, 2014 at Kirkridge, PA:
Henri Nouwen’s Road to L’Arche
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