Henri Nouwen at Crystal Cathedral, Part Three | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: In this podcast, you’re going to hear the third sermon Henri Nouwen preached at the Crystal Cathedral more than 25 years ago. He starts with the central truth, that we are truly the beloved daughters and sons of God. In this sermon, Henri teaches us about the three disciplines, which will help us open up a space within, where we can really hear God speaking to us. Listen to this wonderful talk given by Father Henri Nouwen at the Crystal Cathedral in California.
Henri Nouwen: It’s a great joy for me to be with you this morning, to be invited to speak about that great mystery, that you and I are the beloved sons and daughters of God. When Jesus was baptized, there was this voice that spoke to him. And that voice said, “You are my beloved. On you, my favor rests.” And that is what you and I have to hear, too. And that is that Jesus came to let you know that you are as beloved as he is. And therefore, the great challenge is to listen to that voice that calls you, who you truly are – that calls the beloved.
And in this service, I would very much like you to be good listeners, to listen to the voice that calls you the beloved. That’s what prayer is all about. It might be interesting for you to know (this is just playing with words), but the word “listening” in Latin is audire. That’s what that word means. And if you listen with great attention, it’s called obedire. That’s where the word “obedience” comes from. An obedient person is someone who can listen to the voice who calls him the beloved. And if you’re deaf, you know, the Latin word for deaf is surdus. And if you’re absolutely deaf, you’re absurdus. That’s where the word “absurd” comes from. Now, the question is, can you move from a life of absurdity, to a life of obedience – that is, from a life in which you cannot hear the voice, and you get all distracted and you lose touch with who you are. You start thinking, “I am what I do. I am what other people say about me. I am what I have.” All these false voices that make your life absurd. And can you gradually start listening to that gentle, soft, whispering voice that says, “Mary, John, Francis, Peter – you are my favorite daughter. You are my favorite son.”
Believe it. And live from that conviction and your life will be different. There’s a story about the mountain. It’s about a mountain and Jesus went up to the mountain and spent the whole night in communion with God, in communion with God, listening to the voice who called him the beloved. And early in the morning, he came down, and when he came down, he called his disciples and formed community. Twelve apostles. He called them each by name: “Peter, John and James and Andrew. You are my friends, with whom I, the beloved am forming community.”
And in the afternoon, he went off with his community on the plains and spoke the words of healing, touched people and cared for those who are poor. It’s called “ministry.” Communion, community and ministry are the three disciplines to discover the voice that calls you the beloved. I tell you, honestly, my life is usually very different. I want to do it by my own ministry. If it doesn’t work, I call some people to help me out. And if that doesn’t work, I start to pray.
But Jesus starts by spending the night with God. And what are disciplines? Discipline is the human effort to create some open space where you can hear the voice speaking to you. And the world in which we live wants to fill up every place. Wants you to be occupied. And if you’re not occupied, you are preoccupied. That is occupied before you’re even there. That’s what we call worrying. The great philosopher, Spinoza, said there is a “horror vacui,” a fear of emptiness in our life. We want to fill up everything. We want always to have something to do, something to go to, something to be busy with. Discipline is to keep some space open, some space empty, so that God can say, “Mary, John, don’t you know I love you? Why don’t you just relax? I can touch you and hug you and be with you.”
The first discipline is communion. Do you ever spend 10 minutes doing nothing? That’s hard. You’re not listening to the radio, not watching television, not reading the paper. It’s very hard to sit down on your chair and do nothing. Before, you know, you feel that your head is like a banana tree full of monkeys running around: “I should do this. I should do that. I have to write a letter. I have to go here. I forgot that. I’m still angry at this person. I should have done that. I didn’t do that.”
And before you know it, your whole mind gets busy again. So you have to deal with all these inner monkeys. Jesus says, “Stay there, because underneath all these wild voices, there is a central, soft voice that says, ‘You are my beloved.’ Listen to that voice.”
Please try to spend a little of your time every day to listen to the One who so much wants your attention, so you hear who you truly are. You can do that just by sitting on your chair or outside. And maybe you can take the gospel of the day and read it, and then look at it, like a picture, and be there so that it can enter into your heart. And as you drive to your work, and you’re in your busy office, and you’re working in the store or doing whatever, that voice is there with you. You are the beloved, but you need to spend some time with God alone, so he can tell you who you are.
And the second discipline is community. Now, community is what is essential for us to listen to the voice of God. We have to listen together. But you can only create community when you feel that you are truly the beloved. When you truly feel that you are loved, then you can start forming community.
Let me tell you what most communities look like. Whether it’s marriage or friendship or small, little communities, it’s like this: “I’m lonely, I’m empty. I need someone to love me. I’m screaming for affection. And, oh, there is someone else who also is lonely, who is also asking for affection. And maybe we should get together and maybe we should connect and maybe we should live together and maybe we should be all for each other.” And then suddenly, you get locked into each other out of loneliness. And after a while. you say, “But, I’m still lonely. And you’re not the one I hoped you to be, because some things you don’t understand. Maybe we should take a little distance. Maybe we should try again, maybe a little distance, try again.” It’s what we call “friction.”
And a lot of our relationships, when they are born out of our immense need for the solution of our inner anguish, become very possessive. And then while our love becomes violent. Our kissing becomes biting. Our hearing becomes overhearing. Our looking tenderly becomes looking suspiciously. And before we know it, what we wanted to be an expression of love becomes an expression of violence and possessiveness.
But when you truly believe that you are in communion, when you truly believe that there is a voice that calls you the beloved, you know that you’re there alone, but not lonely. And there’s another person there alone, but not lonely. And two people can come together, each knowing about the voice of love and forming home together. And the love that has spoken in me allows me to recognize the voice that has spoken in you, and we can love each other. And we can be very, very, very close, but you can also have some open space at times, and leave each other some room and create a place where new life can be born. Where new friendship can grow, where guests can be welcomed, where a child can be born. That is community. That is the discipline of community. That the voice of love that we have heard can be heard sounding in the other, and calls us together to build home, to build family, to build community, to build a place of love.
And I don’t want to do romanticize that for you. I live in a community. It’s 120 people. It’s not easy. Someone once said to me, “Community is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives.” And that’s true. Jesus called the community of apostles together, and then suddenly there’s this: “And one will betray him.” Community is not a romanticism, but you can only live in community if, in a deep way, your heart is rooted in God. And then you can live even with people who are hard on you. And they might become people who purify your heart and deepen your love. And if you dare to listen to the voice of loving community, then you will discover very quickly that you’re send out to minister. Community is not like a safe, little home where you can just hide out from the world. Jesus calls a community together. You will be sent out into the world and to proclaim good news.
You went to the poor, to the sick, to the dying, to the little ones. Dear friends. I cannot tell you enough how the final voice that calls you the beloved comes from those you care for. That’s a great mystery. I want to tell you this morning, I’m living in a little community with people who are very, very, very handicapped. Some cannot walk, some cannot talk. Some can do nothing. We have a house – we have 15 houses, but in one of them, there are four very handicapped adolescents. And we need at least 10 people to help them live.
And they need us. They need us to live while they cannot do anything themselves. And still, I tell you that these poor people are the life of our community. And these people who cannot talk, who cannot speak, who need to be fed, who need to be moved from one place to the other in wheelchairs and all that. These people are, in fact, the ones who give us life. They are the ones whom God has chosen to speak his word of love to us. In the Beatitudes, remember what it says: “Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the mourning.” It does not say, “Blessed are those who care for the poor.” It doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who console the mourning.” No, no! The blessing is located in the poor. And these people that we want to help, we will find that they carry the blessing in their heart for us, for us to live. I tell you, I wouldn’t even be standing here today and saying these things with so much conviction, if I had not all these wonderful people who are so broken to send me to you and say, “Henri, go. Go to Garden Grove and speak. We love you. Then come home and tell us how it was.”
And some cannot hear it, but can feel it. I want to be touched when I come home and they gave me life. They give me a sense of God’s presence.
And I want to tell you that they, who I go to, to minister to, are the ones who carry in themselves the blessing. And the blessing is, “You are my beloved. On you, my favor rests.” I hear that blessing coming to me through those who are weak, through those who are poor. And you know who the poor are. You know it. They might be wealthy, but they might be still poor. And I want you to realize that you and I are called not just to communion and community, but then to go out and minister and to trust that those you minister to will lead you closer and closer and closer to the heart of love – to the heart of God.
That is the great joy that I want to announce to you, and for you to trust. Because once you are in deep communion with the poor, you will be able to discover your own poverty, your own weakness, your own brokenness, and not be afraid of it. You will discover, “Yes, I am poor, too.” The handicapped people I’m living with make me so aware of my own limitations. But the voice is saying, “Don’t be afraid, because I love you right there, where you are poor, too.” And so, we become in a way, a fellowship of the weak, where the power of God’s grace can manifest itself.
So, keep some space for God’s voice, some space by praying alone, some space by forming community, without possessiveness, space by going out and going to those people in your own family, among your friends and in your own city, who need you. They don’t just need you because they are needy, but also, they need you, to give to you their blessing. And trust, dear friends. Trust, trust, trust that God really wants you to claim your truth, that you are the beloved sons and daughters of God.
Let us pray: O God, help us today to welcome Jesus in our life. The Jesus who we meet in our own family, among our friends, in our cities, and truly believe that as we reach out, we will discover that Jesus is still among us, still smiles at us and still gives us his blessing. Bless us today in each one in this congregation, each one who listens to the word of God, and that something really new will happen among us. that comes from your life. This we pray. Amen.
Karen Pascal: Thank you for listening to today’s podcast. What an encouragement Henri Nouwen gives us to become part of the fellowship of the weak. This is the place where God’s grace can manifest itself. Henri assures us that as we minister to others, it will lead us closer to the heart of God. And ultimately, he challenges us to receive the truth that we are the beloved sons and daughters of God. I hope today’s podcast has been an encouragement to you. If so, please share it with others. For more resources related to the podcast, click on the links on the podcast page of our website. You’ll also find a link to our YouTube channel, where you can watch Henri give this sermon at the Crystal Cathedral. I want to recommend one book I’ve really loved, which captures the many ideas Henri challenges us with in these Crystal Cathedral sermons. Read Life of the Beloved. It’s packed with deep but wonderful truth that will empower you to receive all God has for you as his beloved child. If you enjoyed today’s podcast, we’d be grateful if you’d give us a thumbs-up or a review. Thanks for listening. Until next time.
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