Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Reformation of My Heart

Our friends and
neighbors Cathie
and CJ's hearts.

Like last week’s post, this entry from my book reflecting on the spiritual writings of Henri J. M. Nouwen might help us cope with the worldwide pandemic.

It makes no sense to preach the Gospel when I have allowed no time for my own conversion. –Henri Nouwen, The Primacy of the Heart, p 4.

Recently, during a retreat, someone described himself as a “square peg trying to fit into a round hole,” a metaphor with which many participants identified. But one retreatant who worked at a nineteenth-century historical site pointed out something new to us. In constructing a wooden building of that time, he explained, you wouldn’t want a round peg in a round hole because it could expand or contract, depending on temperature and moisture. It was actually better to have a square peg in a round hole to maintain the grip between the pieces.

In trying to fit into monastic life, Henri was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. He was an extrovert with an introvert’s calling. But the monastic life had a grip on him even if it wasn’t a complete or comfortable fit. This might also be your experience. Not all of us fit a monastic life, but maybe that’s all the better for its firm grip upon us. We are all called to monastic reflection, that is, moments we set aside for contemplation. If we can do this daily, we are all the more blessed.

Retreats are how we are most likely to fit the monastic way of life into our busy lives. It is there we may listen to sacred texts and to one another in new ways, as well as listen to our own hearts, our own centers, and to the God of our hearts. Unprovidentially, many of us want our retreats as full and busy as our everyday lives, and we anticipate a schedule of uplifting, stimulating talks, or we bring many books to read or plan many tasks to accomplish. But we need to find idle time lest we be distracted by time-bound idols.

In a previous book, Reformation of the Heart, I described two insights offered by participants in two different Henri Nouwen retreats I led the year following his death, one at Kirkridge in Pennsylvania and the other at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. At Kirkridge, a physical therapist explained that a wound has to heal from the inside out. At Ghost Ranch, a ceramic artist told us that, in spinning a pot, the shape of the inside determines the shape of the outside. So it is with the human heart. Our wounded hearts must heal from the inside out. And the gospel we proclaim is shaped by how we allow the good news of God’s love to shape our own hearts.

The truth is, however, that healing and love occur in the everyday events of our lives as well as on retreat or in what I call in my workshops “monastic moments,” brief opportunities to look inward. Healing and love may come to us in conversations with our friends, in caring for others, in serving a just cause, in catastrophic personal or public events, in life’s many interruptions, irritations, distractions, sorrows, and joys. Yet to have ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to feel, we need moments of quiet reflection to allow those many ways in which we experience healing and love to consciously convert our hearts so that we may be healers and lovers, better proclaiming the gospel.

+Heal my heart, so I may offer healing. Love my heart, so I may love.

I invite you to register and attend an online course/retreat I will be leading in September as part of the Spirituality Program of Columbia Theological Seminary entitled,An Open Receptive Place: Henri Nouwen’s Spirituality.”

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Copyright © 2002 and 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite.


  1. Good morning Chris,
    First off, I would love to participate in your workshop/retreat, but when I checked it out, the price they have listed is for in-person attendance, which I can't imagine will be the charge for an on-line experience. I would appreciate finding out what the charge will be, if you can help in any way.
    Next, I usually take an annual silent directed retreat where we are encouraged to come with no expectations and wait to be surprised....which always happens. One time in particular, I was chewing on the verse, "but who do you say that I am" only I was asking Jesus that. I had an inclination to draw something depicting that, but I had only a pen and my lined notebook paper. As I was drawing Jesus facing me with his hands on my shouldes, I was having a difficult time getting Jesus' mouth right so I kept going over and over it making it completely dark, while at the same time I was having difficulty drawin the back of my ears so they didn't look like handles on a jug, so they ended up really dark and pronounced as well.
    But, I was determined to show it to my director anyway, prefacing it with "now don't laugh"......she said such an amazing thing to me..."what are to two most prominent parts of the picture? Jesus mouth and my ears"...What a powerful realization that was....something I'll never forget.

    Once again you have given me food for thought Chris...
    Have a blessed week,

    1. Mary, wow, what an insight! Thanks for that--an interesting exercise with an intriguing response. And yes, the online version will adjust the present description and of course there would be no meals or housing required--it just hasn't happened yet. Glad you're considering attending! Blessings on you as well! Chris