Wednesday, March 14, 2018

What Jesus Wants

I’ve been rereading Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry for a contemplative retreat I will be co-leading this spring. It’s amazing how much one can get out of what seems a simple little book each time it is read. This time I realized why Henri became popular among evangelical Christians. He emphasizes a very personal relationship with Jesus, so personal that “Christ…lives in us, that he is our true self.”

In the margin beside that assertion I countered, “? not a false self?” In other words, both Nouwen and Merton warned of living the inauthentic or false self. In Merton’s words from Contemplative Prayer, even or especially “the ‘approved way’ may in fact be encouraging us in falsity and illusion.” And, in Way of the Heart, Nouwen warns against “the danger of living the whole of our life as one long defense against the reality of our condition, one restless effort to convince ourselves of our virtuousness.”

I take this to heart because I frequently wonder if this blog is “one restless effort to convince [myself or perhaps readers of my] virtuousness”!

I grew up in a Christian milieu that defined JOY as J.O.Y.—Jesus, Others, You, in that order. “The wisdom of the desert,” Henri writes, “is that the confrontation with our own frightening nothingness forces us to surrender ourselves totally and unconditionally to the Lord Jesus Christ.” I put a question mark beside this assertion, too.

I guess that surrender was the idea behind sitting with Henri very early one morning in his first improvised chapel at Daybreak (the L’Arche community of Toronto) silently contemplating the Host for an hour.  Henri fidgeted continually, undoubtedly wrestling with what he called his “banana tree of monkeys.”

I sat, for the most part, still, but found little meaning in the exercise. Have me contemplate a scriptural phrase or story, or a work of art or icon, even a window with a view of nature, and the silence would have been more spiritually fulfilling. Simple adoration of a transubstantiated wafer within the glass heart of a cross was not in my Protestant bag of tricks!

But giving myself to Jesus Christ was. That’s what I thought I was doing at the tender of age of six or seven when I went forward at an altar call. But that meant following Jesus, not losing myself in Jesus. I do believe Christ “lives in us”—for me, the meaning of the Resurrection—but Chris, not Christ, is my true self.

When I served on my seminary’s worship committee more than forty years ago, I disagreed with those members from “higher” church traditions who believed a worship leader should serve only as a kind of “invisible window” to God or Jesus or the Kingdom. This concept might have suited me well: I am grateful that my parents intentionally gave me the name Christopher, because it means “Christ-bearer,” and that my last name, Glaser, comes from a German ancestor who must’ve been a glassmaker.

But at the time, I pointed out to the committee members that Yahweh was the God of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and his sister Miriam, Jesus and his mother Mary, and that their particular personalities gave very personal faces to the Almighty and God’s Commonwealth.

No doubt my view was influenced by my Baptist upbringing, with much emphasis on personal testimonies, including those of our occasional evangelists or the even rarer visits to one of the late Billy Graham’s “Crusades” in my hometown of Los Angeles.

Twice on this blog I’ve quoted the Hasidic Rabbi Zusya, “In the life to come, they will not ask me, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”

In his book, Reaching Out, Nouwen suggests, “The great saints of the past don’t ask for imitation. Their way was unique and cannot be repeated. But they invite us into their lives and offer a hospitable space for our own search.”

I feel much the same way about Jesus. What Jesus wants, I believe, is for each of us to manifest God’s glory in our own unique way. We can be members of the Body of Christ, his spiritual community, and still be and become ourselves.

In the life to come, they will not ask me, “Why were you not Christ?” They will ask me, “Why were you not Chris?”

A post for St. Patrick’s Day: Easter Rising

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Copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 


  1. J. Barrie Shepherd sent me this comment and gave me permission to reproduce it here:

    thanks again for more probing, provoking stuff today.
    Early in my wrestling with and about a sense of call to ministry I argued with a good friend (still friends today by the way, he served churches in Scotland, as an RAF Chaplain during the Irish "troubles" and finally in far western Canada.)) about my role in preaching. He believed that a sermon should avoid anything personal but should only serve as a clear unimpeded window to Christ. I contended - and have since vigorously practiced - that God created us flesh and blood individuals and that the best way to communicate to other flesh and blood individuals was to be one to them. Our shared human experiences not only can, but must be the basis for much of our preaching. The Word becoming incarnate was all about that very thing.
    Thanks for sending me down this well worn path again today.
    Blessings on you and your vital ministry.

  2. Chris,
    Your blog today reminds me of how, in recent times, as well as during my preaching days, I sometimes hear myself saying words that are meant to comfort, inspire, or convey understanding, but I don't quite believe them, or even believe the voice I say them in. They seem to come from an inauthentic me, just being words that I THINK will comfort, inspire, or convey understanding. Oftentimes they do, which I consider the grace of God working in the other's life. It certainly keeps me humble when I recognize an inauthentic expression of myself in my efforts to be Christ's presence through people. So I take great comfort in the notion you beautifully describe here, that I will not be asked, "Were you Christ?" but, "Were you Steve?" It's only when I recognize that inauthentic self, when I step back from him, and stop and connect with the truth in and of my heart and experience that I once again become authentic. Then I am so much better able to be Christ's presence through people. This is a long way of saying your blog today touches me deeply. Your blog often does, but particularly so today. Thank you so much for your inspired writing, Chris.

    1. This is a very meaningful and helpful reflection for me, Steve. Thank you! One thought that comes to me, not to detract from your realization of your "authentic self." Your/our desire to comfort others is also your/our authentic self. The realization that we are not fully "that" is also honest and real and sincere.

  3. Part of the problem, is that we usually authentic and inauthentic at the same time. If you wait to act, til you have a single (pure) motive you would never act. I think God is very accepting of us multi-motivated humans. Still worth working on!

    1. I agree, Phyllis! Sorry for the delay responding to this. I often take the weekend off from the internet.

  4. You must address at some stage why the inauthentic self is chosen, when it clearly does not make me happy, while the authentic @Christ Within@ offers everything.