Henri Nouwen "Finding Our Sacred Center" | 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. Our goal at the Henri Nouwen Society is to extend the rich spiritual legacy of Henri Nouwen to audiences around the world. This week, as we enter the new year of 2022, we have a wonderful recording of Henri Nouwen. And to share with you, this is a talk that Henri gave in Mobile, Alabama in 1994. He was there as part of a presentation of the L’Arche community in Mobile. You may be wondering what L’Arche means. It’s the French word for “ark”. L’Arche is an international federation of communities in which people with an intellectual disability and those who can help them, live, work and share their lives together. This talk is a wonderful way to start the new year. Henri focuses on how to find the sacred center in our life. He teaches about the spiritual disciplines needed to make space for God in your life. I know you’re going to enjoy this very special presentation by Henri Nouwen.
Henri Nouwen: I would like to speak tonight about finding our sacred center. And that’s something that’s not so easy. It’s quite difficult, in fact. It’s hard to find. And just for a moment, I would love you to think a little bit about your own life and see where you can connect with what I’m saying. What I would like to say is it’s hard for you and hard for me to find our sacred center, because there are all sort of things that fill us up that makes our center filled with different things that prevent God from really being there; that prevent God from being within us and among us. And I just want to mention a few things. Quite often, we feel very guilty about things that happened in the past. And we ruminate about all these things, or we’ve worried a lot about things that might happen in the future and our guilt and our worry often prevent us from letting God be within us and among us.
Think about where are you with that. Are you guilty about sin? Are you worrying about sin? I guess everyone is. I am. And then we are busy, busy, busy people. Busy, busy, busy people. You know, they even say to you, are you busy? We say, oh, you’re very busy. Oh, good, good, good, good, good. If you’re not busy, if you’re not occupied, if you don’t have an occupation, people start worrying about you. You better be occupied. And if you’re not occupied, at least you should be preoccupied. You know, that means filling up your space even before you get there.
And in the world in which we live there’s a lot of busy people. I’m busy, you’re busy, you’re all busy. But we fill up often our space, our inner space, with busyness. The famous philosopher Spinoza said we have a horror vacuum. That means we are afraid for emptiness. We fill it all up. And then there is a lot of confusion. Our mind often is confused. I meet a lot of people, terribly confused. You know, they say, “Henri, what should I do with the rest of my life? Tell me, what’s next? I don’t know. I don’t know the meaning of all things. And I’m lost somewhere.”
And then, because people often are so interiorly confused, there is no inner peace, no inner space. They don’t feel that they know what everything is about anyhow. And so they are busy and very, very occupied. But underneath there is this feeling of, “What is it all about?” And then I realize that many of us are sad. There’s a sadness, you know. Why are we sad? We there’s a lot of sadness in us because we have suffered many losses. And thinking for a moment about your life as full of losses: losses of friends, losses of family, losses of your dreams. You know, when I was 18, this is what I wanted to do with my life. And look here, I’m 50. And what happened with my dream? Losses of health. And underneath there’s a lot of sadness. My life didn’t work out as I had thought. Or there’s a pain because someone died. And I wasn’t able to have the relationship with that person that I had thought of; or separations in friendship or in marriage. Suddenly we realize there’s a loss of intimacy and quite a lot of us are sad. But you know, that sadness prevents us a sometimes from finding our sacred center.
And so I want you to for just for a moment to think about where you are. Are you guilty? Are you worrying? Are you very, very busy? Are you confused somewhere? And are you sad or feeling the losses? Andy died, you know, and that’s a great loss. And that makes us sad in the community. And sometimes the sadness makes us dark or makes us anxious or makes us lost. And we are no longer able to experience God somehow, where there is no space for God anymore.
And what I would like to talk about tonight is about some spiritual disciplines that help us to create space for God. That’s what this evening is about – to create some spiritual discipline that helps us to create some inner space, but also some outer space, some space among us for God, so that God can touch us deeply. And I want to do that, first of all, now. I want you and us to know that this is a moment in which we want to create some space for God. You know, the word discipline is the same word as discipleship. You know that? So often people think discipline is to discipline your child. That means nearly to punish yourself, or to learn a discipline like psychology or sociology. And that always in the world discipline means to get control over something.
I know the discipline of economics. I know the discipline of psychology. I have control over it. I discipline my child or my students. So I, have no control over them. But in the spiritual life, discipline does not mean to get control over things. It means to create some space so that not every empty space is filled up. It means to create an emptiness. That’s what discipline is about – to create some empty space where God can speak to me in the interior places of my being and can speak to us when we, as a community, come together and can speak when we care for others.
So I want to speak about three disciplines that help us to find our sacred center, where God can dwell. And the first discipline is solitude. And the second discipline is community. And the third discipline is care. And I would like you to think about these three things that are very important for our life – solitude, community and care – as disciplines that help us to find our sacred center. What I’m going to do is I let you listen now to a passage from scripture where those three disciplines are described.
Karen: Reading from Luke 6:12-19, New Living Translation: “One day soon afterward, Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. A at daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose 12 of them to be apostles. When they came down from the mountain, the disciples stood with Jesus on a large level area, surrounded by many of his followers and by the crowds. There were people from all over Judea and from Jerusalem and from as far north as the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those troubled by evil spirits were healed. Everyone tried to touch him because healing power went out from him and he healed everyone.”
Henri: Jesus spent the night in prayer. In the morning, he called people around him and formed community. And in the afternoon with that community, he went out and ministered and cared. Everyone who touched him was healed. I just, for a moment, want you to really look at that as you saw it: the night Jesus spent in solitude with God, in communion with God. In the morning he created community. He built a circle around himself. He didn’t want to be alone. He wanted to live in community. And with that community, and as community, he went out to minister.
Do you want to know how I go about things? I want to do it alone. If that doesn’t work, I said, could you please help me? And if that doesn’t work, I finally started praying. But that’s not the order. That’s not the order of God. The order that Jesus shows us is the order from communion with God, to community with one another, to ministry. From solitude to community to care. And therefore, what I find important for you and for me is that you and I are asking ourselves, ‘Where is our night? Where are we alone with God?’ You know, the word night doesn’t simply mean when there’s no sun. You know, where is our time with God? Where is our solitude? Because the word ‘solitude’ comes from the [word] solus, which means alone; alone with God.
Where is your community? Family, congregation, friends? Where are the people that you call around yourself? Where are the people who care for you and who form a home for you? Where are you caring for others and ministering to others? And what I would like you to realize is that solitude, community, and ministry or care, are three ways in which God can become present to you. In solitude, in community, and in ministry or care. When you are alone with God, you often realize how much you are hurting, how wounded you are, how painful your losses are, how sad you are, how guilty you feel, how worried you are.
And I just want you to hear that. If you are entering into solitude, you’re not going to feel wonderful right away. When I am sitting on a chair trying to do nothing for a half an hour, I’m not having a big revelations. I just feel that I’m like a banana tree full of monkeys, jumping up and down. Listen: ‘I shouldn’t do that. Why did I say that? I shouldn’t have said. Why is he still mad at me? I should write a letter.’ But that all these things I just… And as I realize that all that’s happening in me, I realize how much my mind is confused and how anxious I am.
And dear friends, I want to say something very simple to you. I want to say, don’t be afraid of all that stuff – of your pain, of your grief, of your anguish, of your confusion. Don’t kind of push it away, but try to embrace it. Try to embrace your pain, your guilt, your confusion, your worry. Okay? Give another word: befriend your pain. Befriend your anguish. Befriend your losses. Embrace them and say, Yes, that’s me. It’s me. This is my pain. This is my anguish. This is my suffering. I didn’t expect that I ever would lose a child. And here I lost a child and I want to embrace that pain. I want feel it. Here, I got separated and I didn’t want it or plan it. But here I am feeling very lonely. Can I embrace the pain? Here I am worrying about all sort of things and I shouldn’t, but I do. And, and I can push it away. I happen to always in my mind to say, yes, that’s who I am. That’s me. I, Henri. I, Mary. I, John. I, Peter. I really suffer. And this is real. And this is me. And if I don’t dare to say, ‘this is my pain’, and I’m going to own that pain, then I will never be able to experience joy either.
And I think it’s so essential. And the world in which we live says, ‘push it away. Do as if it doesn’t exist. Oh, his mother died yesterday and he was back to work today. Isn’t he brave? Or look, you know, he’s going through this terrible difficult time and he doesn’t even talk about it. Isn’t he brave? Or, isn’t she brave? And somewhere the world in which we live is suggesting, ‘Well, you know, just yes it’s painful, but there are other people who suffer more’. That’s not helpful. It’s not at all helpful for you to say, ‘Well, you know, my pain is not important, but look at the people in Boston.’ That’s not helpful. You have enough pain for yourself and you have to dare to say, ‘It’s my pain. It’s real. And it’s as much as I can bear now, but I want to bear it. It’s my pain.’ That’s what Jesus means when he says, ‘Take up your cross.’ He doesn’t say, ‘Make a cross.’ He doesn’t say, ‘Put a cross on everybody else.’ He says, ‘Take up your cross, your pain, and embrace your cross.’
And that happens in your solitude. Your solitude, when you are alone with God, you are invited to embrace your pain. And therefore it’s a time and a place of mourning, of grieving of crying of saying, ‘God, why is this happening to me? But I want to talk to you about this. It hurts so much. And I feel so rejected. I feel so abandoned. I feel so misused. I feel so in pain and I don’t know why, but I, I feel it. And I want to feel it in your presence. I want to embrace my cross.’ And solitude, therefore, is first of all, a place of mourning. You know, when these two disciples went to Emmaus they were in mourning, in grief. And Jesus said, tell me, where are you hurting? Tell me what happened. And they told him. They had lost their great friend. They had lost their hope. They had lost their joy and they were downcast. And Jesus says, tell me about it. I want to hear it. I want to know it. But it’s not only a place of mourning. It’s also a place of dancing.
Solitude is a place of dancing. And I want you to discover something tonight that’s very important: that right in the middle of your pain, there is joy hidden. Right in the midst of your tears there is a smile. Right in the middle of your anguish, there is some peace. Right in the midst of your pain, there is some healing. And I want you to hear that very, very well tonight that as you enter into your pain, as you embrace your cross, right where you least expected, there is a treasure hidden for you. And it’s a treasure of joy. It’s a treasure of peace. It’s a treasure of love. Right where you are grieving and crying, you write the choreography of your dance. That’s where the first movement of your dance comes. Right when you are down, while you’re in tears. Somewhere, you start discovering you’re beginning to dance.
And I want you to realize that in the Christian vision, sorrow and joy are not each other’s opposite. Gladness and sadness are never separated. Anguish and peace are not completely opposite. That belongs to the center of our faith, that we look at the cross and we see the greatest suffering and we see also that out of the pierced heart of Jesus, water and blood comes forth, which is new life. And I, John, am witness to that. At right where the greatest sorrow is, there new joy comes. Right there where we witness death, resurrection is born. And this is a wonderful thing to talk about it as something that happened long ago. But I want you to realize it happens here and now among us. You have to really be in touch with the fact that precisely when you have the courage to say yes, I want to embrace my pain, that somewhere there is a secret and a gift for you.
I don’t know if you ever had the experience of going on the mountain top. And I say, wow, what a beautiful view. I wish my mother were here. Right where you have the most beautiful experience, you miss something. And you also might have been with a dying person and hold that person’s hand and feel the deep pain of losing that friend. And right there and then you feel a peace you’ve never experienced before. And you say, I saw it. This is only grief. And one of my most peaceful moments where, when I was holding my mother’s hand, was dying. And I still know that that was a holy sacred moment in which it wasn’t just sorrow, it was something very holy. God was right there. Right there when I faced the death of my own mother. Right there, where I was in pain, suddenly I knew that all was well.
And you know, suddenly I realized that the gift of joy is hidden in my sorrow. And that’s what solitude is about. Solitude is that, while you are all alone with God and you hear all these voices – the voices of guilt and worry and shame and confusion – while you hear all these voices underneath, there is another voice. All these voices, you know what all voices are saying? You’re no good. You’re no good. You’re awful. You’re a disappointment. You’re a disillusion. You’ve loused up your life. You’re a mess. All these voices, and underneath or beyond all these voices is a very soft voice, a gentle voice that says: ‘You are my beloved. On you my favor rests.’
That’s the voice that Jesus heard. And that’s the voice that you and I have to hear in the midst of all the shouting of other voices. That’s why we need solitude for, to listen to the voice who calls us the beloved. And you and I have to believe in that voice. You and I have to believe that you and I are the beloved sons and daughters of God. That you have been loved before your father and mother, brother, sister, church or anyone loved you and wounded you. Because no human being can love another human being without wounding that person too. Have you ever thought of that? Have you ever realized that your pain comes from the people who love you, your mother, your father, your teachers, your church, you priest, your minister? Have you ever realized that the human people who love always wound each other? But there is a voice that says, ‘I have loved you.’ There’s an everlasting love before you were born and I will love you after you have died. I have loved you with an everlasting love and you are my beloved. And if you can hear that voice somewhere, somehow, you are free person. That’s the freedom of the children of God. That’s the freedom of Jesus who believed all the way until to the cross that he was the beloved child of God. And he cried out, ‘God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ And then he said, ‘Father into your hands I commend my spirit.’ You are my father and I am your beloved child. And you have to be able to say that and believe that. That somewhere there is a God who says that to you and who holds you and says, I don’t have to hear that whole story of what you did, Mr. Picks. I don’t have to hear all the terrible things that you did. I’m just happy you’re home. You are my beloved child. I’ve loved you from all eternity. Welcome. And I will touch you and will embrace you. And I have embraced you from all eternity. And when Rembrandt painted this picture called The Return of the Prodigal Son, he painted it in a remarkable way. One of the hands is a woman’s hand and the other hand is a man’s hand.
I love you as a motherly love. I love you as a fatherly love. I stroke you and I hold you. You understand? And that you, somewhere, have to know that you are embraced that way – by your father who receives you. As a mother births and says, under my wings, you will find refuge. And to realize that you are the beloved child of God, that’s the mystery of your solitude. To not only cry and feel your pain and embrace your pain, but to trust. And in the midst of that, there is that voice that says, ‘You’re my beloved. You’re my beloved daughter. You’re my beloved son from all eternity.’ And all the love that comes from your father and your mother and your brother and your sister are only a reflection or a refraction of that first love that was there even before you were born.
And you know what life is all about? I shouldn’t say that. That sounds like I know. But you know, one way of talking about it is life is a short opportunity to say, ‘I love you too.’ God says, ‘I’ve loved you from all eternity. I sent you in this world.’ And, ‘Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?’ But you know I love you. Yes, but you know, I’m full of pain. Yes, but I love you, I love you. And so that’s what solitude is about. And if we dare to create some of that solitude in our life, then we start building a sacred center for God.
Community. Community means solitude creating solitude. Solitude creating solitude. The God in you saying, I create the God in you.’ It’s God speaking to God. It is heart speaking to heart. It’s Spirit speaking to spirit. When you’re lonely and there’s another lonely person and you say, ‘Please take my loneliness away. You’re quite compatible,’ very soon you have what you call friction. It hurts because I want something from you that you cannot give. I want you to take my solitude away my loneliness away, sorry. But if God is within you and you meet someone within whom God is living also, you can build community. You can build a home.
That’s what L’Arche is all about. That’s what marriage is about. That’s what friendship is about. That’s what congregations are about – to build a home. And sometimes you’re very close and sometimes you’re not. But you keep pointing beyond yourself to the one who lives within you. Solitude creating solitude. That’s what community is about. It’s not loneliness getting involved with loneliness. It’s solitude creating solitude. And I want to say two things about community. Solitude, I said, was a place of mourning and a place of dancing. Community is a place of forgiveness and a place of celebration. Community is always a place of forgiveness. Always. Agree?
It’s a place of forgiveness, always again and again and again. Why? Well, because somebody says community is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives. You know, when Jesus was calling the disciples, the last disciple was said, his name is Judas. And he’s the one who would hand Jesus over to suffering. That’s really what it says. It doesn’t say betray. It says, hand him over to suffering, who hands him over. And you know, that’s what we do to each other all the time. We hand each other over to suffering. There’s always someone there, it might be your father, your mother, your sister, your brother, your friend, your spouse, your pastor, your Bishop. It doesn’t matter. There’s always someone who hands you over to suffering. And you also hand other people over to suffering. A lot of people say, you are my hair shirt. You are my difficulty.
I always thought that everybody else was making it hard on me until I found out that everybody saw that I made it hard on them and that I need as much to be forgiven as to forgive. But what I really want you to hear is that community is the place where we always have to forgive one another over and over and over and over again. And for what? For what? For, what do I have to forgive you? I have to forgive you for not being God. For not being able to give me all I want.
See, I have a heart that is created by God that wants perfect love. You know, right? I have a heart that yearns for perfect love and every human person I bump into is disappointing me. Every human being somewhere is not able to give me all my heart’s desire. And I’m constantly disappointed. I’m constantly disillusioned. And not because the other person is that bad or wrong. But because somewhere, my desire for love is much greater than the other person can offer me. And you know what happens when I force people to love me perfectly? Love me. Love me. You can see before you know, I’m becoming violent. I want something from you that you cannot give.
And when I force you to love me perfectly, you say, please hold off. You know, I can’t do that for you. I can’t be that for you. I can’t be all for you. I can give you a little bit, but I cannot give you unconditional love because I have needs too. I am broken too. I have my own weaknesses too. And somewhere I’m not able to be for you all that your heart desires. And please forgive me for not being God, for not being the solution of all your struggles and pains. I realize if you look at it that way, you see how much forgiving we have to do. And before you have had breakfast you have already have 20 or 30 chances to forgive, because your mind is already saying, ‘I’m having to see this person and don’t really like to see her. She’s so awful. And then, I have to do this next week and I don’t really want to do it. And she’s going to probably not do what I hoped she would do or he’s not going do.’ And whatever, you know, your whole mind is already filled with little accusations that people aren’t doing or being what you want them to be. And somewhere you have to say, ‘I forgive you’ and you have to say to others, ‘Please forgive me for not being able to give you what your heart desires.’ And often you will discover that people want something from you that you wish you could give, but you can’t. You see in front of you a person who is really lonely, who is really in anguish and you so much wish that you could take it all away. And you can’t. And you discover that you only have a limited love to give and that you are a limited person and you have also your needs and you cannot just always fulfill the needs of others. And you have to say, ‘Please forgive me for not being what only God can be.’ And that’s the struggle. And that’s a real daily struggle that we have to forgive one another.
But I want to tell you that if you can do that, or at least if you can keep thinking about that call within you to forgive and ask for forgiveness, then community becomes the place of celebration. It becomes the place where we discover each other’s gifts and can lift them up. To celebrate means to lift up each other’s gift and say, ‘Look, this is beautiful. It’s not everything. It’s beautiful. It’s not heaven, but it is beautiful. You are beautiful. You have something that I want to see from you. It’s a gift that you carry with you, and I want to lift it up and I want to be grateful for that gift.’ That’s what community is about – to lift up each other’s gift and recognize that these gifts are a limited reflection of God’s unconditional love. That they are a refraction of God’s love. That the people you meet are in fact sent to you to give you a glimpse of God’s goodness and love. That you are not just an interesting character, but that you are a person.
You know, the word ‘person’? ‘Per’ means ‘through’ and ‘son’ comes from the Latin sonare. It means a person is someone who is sounding through a love larger than he can hold or she can hold; is sounding through a truth that is bigger than you can express in words. It’s sounding through a beauty that is more than you yourself can hold. Persons are people who sound through to each other a love that is unconditional, a beauty that has no boundaries, a truth that is greater than any human words can express. And to be community means to give and receive each other’s gifts.
That’s what builds community: to receive the gift of another person. You know, I grow when I realize that somebody else received my gift. And in fact, I only discovered that I have a gift when there was somebody to receive it. Huh? If you give a gift to somebody’s birthday and you give him a watch for his birthday and he never wears it. Or you didn’t think that you gave a nice gift. And that is true in a deeper sense that someone who receives your gift – your gift of welcome your gift of forgiveness, your gift of joy, your gift of humor, your gift of a smile, your gift of a nice personality, whatever it is – and somebody receives it, then you say, ‘Well, I discover my beauty in the eyes of the receiver.’
And so community is that we give and receive gifts to each other. And I want to say something very simple about this. I hope you’ll remember. In the Christian community, you all are leaders from the point of view of your gifts, and you all are followers from the point of view of other people’s gifts. You understand? It’s not like somebody has all the gifts and the rest is only there to receive it. The Christian community is a community where we all are leaders because we have gifts to give. And we all are followers because others have gifts to give to us that we need. And in that mutuality of giving and receiving there’s a community. There’s never a community when all the gifts are in one person’s hands and all the rest, I guess, followers.
I hope that that’s really important for you to remember, that community is a place of forgiveness. And as we forgive each other, we discover each other’s gifts as ways to build the body together. And in L’Arche – that’s what L’Arche is about – to say, yes, people cannot speak. Yes, people cannot walk. Yes, people have no ability to express themselves. But they have a gift to give. L’Arche is built on the idea that people who are marginal in the eyes of society have an enormous gift to offer. An enormous gift to offer. And that to be an assistant at L’Arche means to be someone who is willing to receive these gifts and make them visible to the larger community. That’s what we are about. And that’s what all community is about.
And that precisely our gifts are often hidden in our poverty. Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the poor.’ It doesn’t say blessed who care for the poor. Blessed are the poor. Your gift is often hidden precisely where you’re vulnerable. Where you’re wounded. When you’re weak you have a gift to give and a gift to receive. That’s what community is about.
Care means two things. And I want to talk about this for a moment. Care is a place of compassion and is the place of fruitfulness. To care for people means first of all, to be willing to be there with them. Com-passion. ‘Com’ means ‘with’. ‘Passion’ means ‘suffering’. A compassionate person is someone who is willing to be with those who suffer, even when they’re not able to fix it or to change it or to cure it.
You know, we live in a world that is competitive. The word for this world is ‘competition’, not ‘compassion’. And what we say is this: ‘My joy is when I am different from other people. What is the difference I make?’ That’s the question. You know what it is? Gold, silver bronze. Olympics. You know, what is the difference between gold and silver? It’s a half a second. You say, ‘I am the gold. And you’re only the silver. You’re only the bronze. What’s the big deal? But that’s how we live our life. We want to be on that middle piece. We always wanted to be a little bit better, smarter. And we say the joy of my life is that I’m not like you. You know what? This is the story about the Pharisees. ‘I’m not like them. Oh Lord, thank you that I’m not like these people there. I am better. I am holier. I am wiser. I am pure. I am generous, more generous. I’m better than them. And therefore, I feel good about myself.
The joy that the world suggests to us is the joy of being different. Of winning in the competition of life. And Jesus says the opposite. Jesus says the joy is not in competition, but in compassion. The joy is not where you are different from other people, but where you are like other people, where you are member of the human race and you can say, wow.
And the second quality of care is the hardest thing for me to say tonight. But I will say it and I hope you can hear it. It is to claim your fruitfulness and help other people to claim theirs. Okay, let me say that again. To care is to claim your fruitfulness and to help other people to claim theirs.
Now Jesus asks you and me to be fruitful – not successful, not productive. Fruitful. Andd to be fruitful is something very, very different from being successful or from being productive. What is the difference? What is the difference between successfulness and fruitfulness? Success comes out of strength, out of power. I do this, I do this. I can do it. And look, I have success. There’s a product. If you do it again, there’s another product. If do it again, another product. And finally I’m very productive because I’m strong. Fruitfulness comes out of weakness, out of vulnerability.
When a man and a woman come together in total vulnerability, a child is born. You know that? When people come together in an AA group or 12 Step group and they share their brokenness, the community is built. When you come together and say to your sister and brother, ‘I don’t know exactly what to do, but I’d just you to know that I’m here. And I’d like you to realize where I’m in pain.’ You say, ‘Thank you brother. Thank you, sister.’ And you realize there is peace. And there is the fruit of that sharing is joy. It’s peace.
And what I want you to realize is that the losses and the pains and the suffering of your life are there so that you can be fruitful. God has looked down upon your humility. He has looked down on your littleness and he lifted you up and all generations will call you blessed if you live in the Spirit of God. I mean, that is the reason that you can stand on your toes. That is why you can walk through life with your head straight up and say, yes, I’m confident that my life will bear fruit. And whether I live 20 years or 40 years or 80 years or a hundred years, the importance is that I bear fruit. That’s what sanctity is all about. Sanctity means simply that you have lived a life that allows you to keep sending the spirit from generation to generation to generation.
That’s where people who have lived holy lives are still with us and keep reminding us of God’s love. And we are encouraged by thinking about these people because they live holy lives. And their death – they might have lived 20 years or 30 years – doesn’t matter. They might have very short lives, but it was a life that continues to bear fruit from generation to generation. And some of them have died hundreds of years ago. And we still think about them in gratitude because they bear fruit. And you and I are called to be saints too, so we can bear fruit.
So I’m going to let you know that if you live that way, you create space for God. That’s where your sacred center is. The God who speaks to you in your solitude. The God who is present when you forgive one another and celebrate life. And a God who heals within you when you touch other people and other people touch you. And when you finally give up your life, surrender it to God and trust, trust that your life will bear fruit.
I want to stop now. I’m going tell you one little story. This little story. And that’s it.
I went to the circus four years ago with my father who was 88 years old. In Germany, went to the circus. I said, ‘Dad, let’s go to the circus.’ And there were lions and there were tigers and there were elephants and there were giraffes and there were clowns. And I was quite bored. But then there were five trapeze artists who are jumping in the air and having this incredible dance in the air. And I said, ‘Dad, now I know what my real vocation was.’ I wanted to be a trapeze artist. And in the intermission I went, I said, ‘I’m not going to look at the lions and the tigers. I’m going to talk to these trapeze artists.’ And I did. And I said, ‘You guys are great.’
And they look at me and said, ‘Well, you like to come tomorrow to our practice session?’ And I did. And then he said, ‘You want to come for dinner in our caravan?’ And I did. And then he said, ‘You want to travel with us for a week?’ And I did. ‘And you want to have your own caravan and join us?’ And I did. And I became a close friend of him. And I travelled all over Germany in my vacation with these trapeze artists. And they got three flyers and two catchers. And they are called the Flying Rodleighs because the leader is Rodleigh. And one day I was sitting in the caravan and Rodleigh says, ‘Henri,’ he says. ‘Henri, let me tell you something. I am the flyer and I make all these triples, you know, triples. And I go, here’s the pedestal. I go off the pedestal on my bar and I let go of the bar and everybody applauds. But you know the real hero – who is the real hero? The catcher. And the catcher was on a flying catch bar. He would go back and forth. And here he came and pulled him right up into the cupola of the circus. And he said, ‘Henri, the greatest temptation for me is to try to catch the catcher. If I go there and I say, ‘Oh, where are you? Then we will break each other’s wrists. But I have to make my triple and go down this way, eyes closed, knowing that the catcher will be there. Pull me right up into the cupola of the circus. Up. And I know that I have to trust the catcher. And dear friends, we are called to do a lot of flying. And you and I are called to do a lot of triples, a lot of jumps, taking a lot of risks. But finally, you have to say, ‘Lord into your hands I commend my spirit and trust. And well it really comes down to it, He will be there and pull you right up. So thank you so much for listening.
Karen: Thank you for listening to today’s podcast. Henri has challenged us to find our sacred center where we will hear God’s voice. Henri constantly reminds us that we are called to be fruitful. This talk gives us the guidelines to help make that happen in our daily lives. I hope this will be a good and empowering resource in your life. As you enter this new year, Henri Nouwen remains fruitful in all our lives, through his writing and preaching. For more resources related to today’s podcast, click on the links on the podcast page of our website. There you’ll also find a link to this talk on our YouTube channel and can see Henri Nouwen in action. If you enjoyed this podcast, please let us know, give us a thumbs up or a good review and share it with others from all of us at the Henri now in society and the Henri. Now in legacy trust, I want to wish you a very happy new year. Thank you so much for supporting the work of the Henri Nouwen Society. And thanks for listening until next time.
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