Henri Nouwen "Practising the Presence of God" | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the executive director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a new episode of Henri Nouwen: Now and Then. What a challenging time we are living through today! No matter where you live, COVID-19 has turned our world upside down. And we’re all really trying to find our footing in the midst of enormous changes on every front. We’re in the season of Lent. And today, I found a talk that Henri Nouwen gave during Lent in 1985 at Harvard. It’s such a powerful message about how to live the spiritual life empowered by the Holy Spirit. He said that when God is with us, we don’t have to worry about the future. Over and over, Henri affirms that God is a God of the now. For all of us in the midst of changes so beyond our control, Henri’s message helps us find the answer to how we can practise the presence of God in these very difficult days. He says that even in the midst of your pain, God is at work in you. I hope this wonderful message will inspire and renew your courage and vision.
The biblical reference for this talk is Acts chapter two beginning in verse one, we read when the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly the sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed like tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Henri Nouwen: The disciples were confused, but Jesus said, “Don’t go out. Don’t go out. Don’t start doing things. Just wait until the Spirit comes.” And when the Spirit came, suddenly, all changed because suddenly, they saw and they realized, and they understood what they had been part of. Suddenly, they could start living an interior life, a life in Christ. They might have travelled with Christ, but before the Spirit came, they could not travel in Christ. Before Jesus died, they could not say, “Not I live, but Christ lives in me.” They couldn’t say that. They could only say that when the Spirit had come, the spirit of Christ, the breath of Christ had come into them, so that they could say, “I am the living Christ, but Christ lives in me.” And as soon as they discovered that they had indeed the life of Christ within them, suddenly, all the boundaries broke open and they went all over the world.
And this is the great mystery of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is Christ with us through the ages. Christ in us in the most intimate way, so that in the most intimate places of ourselves, we can say that God is with us, but also Christ with us, who sends us out over the whole world and to all the countries and the nations and the peoples. And so that suddenly, suddenly we don’t have to be limited to be in one country or the other, because in Christ, in the spirit of Christ, who is with us, all places are ours. All the world is ours to travel, because we are at home, we are already in God, we have already found a communion and we don’t have to limit that to any family, any country, any circumstances or so. I hope that somehow this stuff is making sense to you. It’s hard to say, but it is a great mystery that you and I can live a spiritual life. The life amidst the spirit of Christ dwells in us, a spirit that sets us free to be not just limited to any particular circumstance, but free to be wherever we are sent. And that is happening in absence, in the absence of Jesus, who says I sent you out until I come again.
And that brings me to the second point. That is that the presence of Christ in us, through the Spirit, creates in us that enormous desire to move to the future. But let me say something about that, that is important. When we believe that the Lord is with us always, through the Spirit, we can let the future emerge out of the present. When we really believe that God is with us and that we already, now, are breathing his spirit, we don’t have to worry about the future. We don’t have to worry about what might happen next.
And we can start trusting that if we fully live the life in the Spirit, the future will unfold from the present, ass we travel through life. One of the greatest temptations of our life is always to live ahead of us and not believe that something is happening here, now. And the world in which we live tries to make us believe that the real thing is happening tomorrow or next week or next year. And we as Christians are challenged to believe that what is happening is always happening here and now. At this moment. Now. And if you live the now, the present to the full, the future will grow, will reveal itself to us.
Because we have already received the Spirit. We have already received the beginning of the eternal life. We are already in the house of God. We are already breathing his breaths, so let us stay there and listen carefully. There’s this wonderful word in the gospel that is “patience.” But the literal meaning of the word patience in the gospel means to stay fully where you are. To live the moment to the full. To trust that all that you need is there, where you are. An impatient person is always saying, “Well, this is not a good place to be. I want to be somewhere else. This moment is empty. This moment doesn’t hold anything for me. I want to be there tomorrow. Next year. And later when I go out, when I get my career, when I get rich, or whatever, I am always working ahead of me. I’m in grade school to go to high school and the high school to go to college. I’m in college to get my little job. I get my little job to get my big job. I get my big job to retire. I retire to…”
But the answer is always ahead of them. And a lot of us live ahead of ourselves and therefore are not tasting the truth that the Spirit of God is with us, now. That the Lord is with us now, here, at this moment.
And he says, “Be patient.” That means stay where you are, because the story of the seed tells us a beautiful deal. The good soil I Doris who lived their life in patient. That means who stay with the soil and let, uh, let the sea, that is their girl closely and pay attention to the moment because the good news is that our moment is not empty, but full in the fullness of time. God came to us at our time has become full time because the spirit has been sent to us because the Lord is with us. There’s only one of you is the Lord. God, if that is our desire, well, if God sent us his spirit and said, this has breasts, is that enough to be fully present to the moment where we are breeding, where that spiritual brooding is taking place and therefore the offense we have to learn to live fully in the present, because God is always the God of now, of here.
The day in which you live is always the day of the Royal. If anything is happening, that is spiritually valid. It’s happened here. And now at this moment, as we are here together, as we pray, it’s always here. And the great art of spiritual living is to pay attention to the breathing of the spirit, right? Where you are and trust that there’ll be a breeding to life that will reveal itself to you. As you, as you move out, that’s the beauty of the spiritual life you can be when you don’t have to be anywhere else, you can be fully present to the moment and trust that even in the midst of your pain, in the midst of your agony, in your midst of your struggle, some sing of God is at work in you and wants to reveal itself to you. And so be there and be quiet.
Finally, how do we practice the presence? How do we practice the presence of God? Because there’s a practice of the presence of God. This is all through a title of a wonderful little book by Baltimore Lawrence, uh, that you might’ve heard of. It’s a, it’s a wonderful idea to practice the presence of God. And in which we practice the presence of God, our prayer and service. I want to say a little worried about boss. If you ask me what is prayer, I could say prayer is to enter in to the presence of God here and now prayer. It’s precisely the way in which we become present to the moment and listen to God who is with us. God is always where we are. He’s research always until the end of time. So we have to listen. We have to be there. We have to be preventive.
And prayer is the discipline of attentiveness of being there. And I really want to ask you practice that, that prayer as a practice of the presence, you don’t have to say many words. You don’t have to have deep thoughts. You don’t have to really about how to think. You can just be there and say, I love you. I love you. I know you love me. I love you. Okay. I don’t have any big things to say. I don’t have any profound words to express, but I I’m here. And I want you to be with me and I want to be with you. It’s that simple, very simple thing. Prayer is not complicated. Not difficult. If people say, how do you pray? You say pray. Yes, sit down and say, Lord, here I am. I, you know, distractions, all this means you put all to the past or to the future.
That’s what a distraction is. You stop thinking about singing. It happens yesterday or worrying about singing is bad. Happened tomorrow. Distractions mean you’re not yet fully here. You’re not fully present yet. That’s okay. You have to smile and say, I’m not there fully. I’m not fully trusting. I’m still, I’m still all over the place and I want to play. But I’m thinking about this person yesterday that got to me and I’m still thinking about him. I wish I wish that I could talk to him again. I would give him all this talk all you can say, well, what if tomorrow, you know, I’m going to do it is I’m going to, it’s going to work. And my son has to go to the hospital and I have to see this, this person to discuss this promotion. I’m hoping for, or I have to look for a job tomorrow and I’m worrying if it will happen.
Sure. And that’s, that’s us. That’s us. We, we, we are. We I’m over. Never totally here. If you a totally here, we will be in heaven. So we’re not totally here. We are a little bit the past, a little bit in the future and all over the place, actually. But it’s so important that you shut off say, but I want to be more here because I know that you are here. I know that you love me. And it all in a way, all that I need is always here. And if I’m going to sit here for a moment and say, thank you for being a facial, God sent you for your name. I am sent you for your son. Jesus, who came to be with us, sent you for the spirit who, who, who dwells in me so deeply that I don’t even feel it all the time, like experience it.
But I know it. I know. Yes. As I know that I’m bleeding without feeling my breasts all the time. So I know that you got a wish me, even that I feel it all don’t feel it all the time. And so prayer is that very simple presence and that we have to practice. And I promise you, I promise you if you do it simply like that, you will be fully rewarded. God does not wait long to let you know how close he is to you really. And a lot of struggles you might have about a past or the future, but suddenly become less painful or less dominating or less imprisoning. There will always be there. You will always be distracted. You’re always boon be worrying. Sure. But, but you have suddenly a place in yourself that that is free of it. You will have your fears.
You have your anxieties and they will be there around you. But in a center of all the storms, there is this quiet place where you can say, I love you. You love me. It’s here. It’s now it’s good to be here. It’s got to be here. It’s good to be your presence, Lord. I don’t need anything else. So prayer, prayer is the practice of the presence of God and surface and the surface. I mean, any little act that is an act of the kingdom to visit the sick, to visit the prisoners, to be kind to your family, the people you work with to say a word, to write a letter, to send a flower, to, to, to be involved in some, some thing that is for the people of God.
And sometimes it might be larger things, but it’s always small to begin with small gestures, close to naked shelter, the poor help to refugees be go to your family, be kind to the people you work with, be attentive, be attentive, be attentive. And you know, when you pray a lot and you know that God is in you here and now you’re very attentive to artists. That’s one of the greatest and the first rewards, because you’ll have less preoccupied, fish yourself. You’re less worried about yourself. And if you’re not very worried about yourself, you certainly see people much better. You see the struggle, you see their beauty, you see the kindness, you see that Ryan really tried to get to your allergies, but that they have their own problems. And therefore, sometimes I’m talking to you, but you much gentler because you are, you are in the presence of the spirit.
And you suddenly realize that there’s people there are also struggling. And certainly the spirit in you see the spirit in them, the Christ in you sees the Christ in the heart of God and you she’s the heart of God. And then, and then spirits speak to spirit. The heart speaks to heart and Christ speaks to Christ. And then you suddenly realize that you cannot see Christ in the world, but the Christ in you can see Christ in the world, the God, and you can see the God in the world. And at somehow the spiritual life is a recognition of a spirit in the spirit for the spirit of the mutuality of the spirits, seeing the spirit. That’s the, as God praising God, it’s a spare to place in us. It’s the spirit who sees the spirit another. And suddenly you realize how, how good people I, and the new role, the violence and the hatred and the revenge and immersion and the aspirations you realize.
There are people of God that the Spirit also blush and Dem boonies in them. And that you suddenly realize that the people are on the floor. The people are beautiful. That somehow they are persons sounding through the love of God and you see it. And you’re glad you could even say, it’s so good to be with you because you remind me even more of God’s life. And then the community said for me, the life that they can place and all the little actions that you do suddenly are actions of gratitude. You do not because you want to change the world so much. Not because you want to change this situation, that situation you hope for change that you are, but you don’t act under the condition that changes your, the place. You can see how, how intense that bad come. If the only concerns I better help him or them or this, or do something because I met change them or the world or the country or the politics or the social situation. If, if change is the condition of service, you are going to be very bitter face shoe. Yeah.
But if, if serve as an expression of gratitude for the love you have already experienced, then you can be free in, in, in bringing about changes without you even trying Shahara human service action for your neighbor, whether it is small or large, whether it evolves in the videos or communities or countries, actions of service are to be done out of gang attitude have to be out here. Hysteria. You curious gadgetry has to be an expression of the fact that God has come through us, dwells in us. And that God has already given us in life eternal because he’s given us his breath is breathing. We are already in God. We have already overcome in principle deaths and evil, and therefore we can be free to live gait fully and manifest our gratitude by our care for the neighbor, for the people of God and for the world. I mean, it’s such a freeing thing to know that presence of God is practice by acts of skate, full surface. And that makes all the difference.
And so let me conclude here and simply say that that Jesus left us so that we could live his own life and form a new body among ourselves in the community of prayer and service. He just says, “It’s good for you that I leave, because only when I leave, you will come fully to know who I am and the France, this is also true for this series. Actually, it’s good that it comes through an end. Um, I think always good to conclude things as much as to stop them. It’s good that sames has a beginning and an end it coming and going because sometimes what you have heard here or experienced here might only become fruitful much later in your life. You might have heard something that you forgot, but it made it turn to next week. Next month, next year I’ve experienced in my life that sometimes run a window at a treat.
It didn’t seem very important that moment. But later on, I realized that something had happened there that changed my life. And sometimes the Spirit works very deep. And when the Spirit works in your heart, you might not even be aware of it, but only made it maybe next week or next month or next year, or even later, you might say something happened to me then and there. And if I really, really think about it, I realize that something started of God while I was hardly aware of it, but now I can see how it happened. And so it’s good that we leave and we go our different ways, because then we can also wait for the Spirit to reveal itself more fully to us and call us to new forms of ministry and new forms of service. always cared for all our church that is praying.
Thank you, Lord, for this time together, for bringing us together in a joyful and peaceful community. We thank you for the many gifts you have given to us. And we pray that you’ll stay with us now and always. Thank you for the people who have helped us to make this possible for this parish that invited us. For all the ministers of this community, for all the ministers of series, for all those who care for all those who came for all of us were saying the pray who listened and shared [inaudible] for, for all of this. So that in that gratitude, we can bring good news to others, and that has not pray together the words which Jesus himself taught us: Our father in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen
Karen Pascal: Thank you for listening to today’s podcast. I hope this talk by Henri Nouwen may be fruitful in your life. All of us at the Henri Nouwen Society want to pass on to you the vital and undisputable truth that Henri Nouwen discovered – the truth that you are God’s beloved child. May that truth hold you through these very difficult times. For more resources related to today’s podcast, click on the links on the podcast page of our website. You’ll find additional content there. Please feel free to pass on our daily meditations and this special talk by Henri Nouwen to your friends and family. Thanks for listening. Until next time.
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