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Nouwen knowings

by davesandel on February 17th, 2013

Nouwen knowings

Sunday, February 17, 2013

First Sunday of Lent

Luke 4:1-13

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil …

Thanks to my new (in 1989) boss Don Follis, I read my first book by Henri Nouwen.  Nouwen left Harvard and became a priest-servant in a community of the severely handicapped.  When invited to return to the podium, he brought his mentally disabled friend Adam with him, and they each said a few words.  The book I read then for the first time captured Nouwen’s contribution to the evening.  Simple title:  In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership.

We pattern our experience of Lent on the 40 days of Jesus in the desert.  Nouwen spoke about those days and these temptations.

Jesus’ first temptation was to be relevant, to turn bread into stones.  Nouwen suggests we address that temptation through contemplative prayer.  My friend says, “Shut up and hold on.”  Stop thinking and listen.  Do no thing for once.  Sit with a problem rather than fixing it.  Sit for 20 minutes at a time, and don’t say a word to God as you pray.

The devil goes on with Jesus, and tells him that looking spectacular will earn him favor and get the folks’ attention.   Jesus says no.  He counters with the “true incarnation” expressed through making confession and receiving forgiveness.   As I learn to lead with my woundedness, our joy is made complete.  “When you are weak, I am strong,” God says to Paul (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Finally Satan makes one more offer and tempts Jesus with power.  Nouwen’s words knuckle me: “It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”

To cut out the heart of this temptation, Nouwen proposes “strenuous theological reflection.”  He makes a crucial distinction: “Most Christian leaders today raise psychological or sociological questions even though they frame them in scriptural terms.”  The consequences?  Because we aren’t “all in,” because we have a foot in both camps, we look pale and weak: “pseudo-psychologist, pseudo-sociologist, pseudo-social worker.”  The titles we attain to are “enabler, facilitator, role model, and thus we join the countless men and women who make a living by trying to help their fellow human beings cope with the stress and strain of everyday living.”  Nothing exactly wrong with that, of course.

Except “that has little to do with Christian leadership because the Christian leader thinks, speaks and acts in the name of Jesus, who came to free humanity from the power of death and open the way to eternal life.”

Jesus says no to Satan without blinking, because their “categories” of power are completely different.  The kind of freedom offered by learning to “cope” pales beside the freedom inherent in waiting for and discovering the “presence of God.”

Nouwen acknowledges that “God’s presence is often a hidden presence, a presence that needs to be discovered.  The loud, boisterous noises of the world make us deaf to the soft, gentle, and loving voice of God.  A Christian leader is called to help people hear that voice and so be comforted and consoled.”

Takes one to know one.  So this kind of leadership “requires deep spiritual formation involving the whole person – body, mind and heart.  Everything in our competitive, ambitious world militates against that.”

Nouwen died in 1996, a few years after he spoke.  His words flowed from how he lived his life.  He knows what he is talking about.  “To the degree that such formation is being sought for and realized, there is hope.”  His words are true.

We follow you into the desert for our own forty days, Jesus.  We too are laid out by temptations to become grand ahead of God’s shaping of our grandeur.  So simple to just slow down and let you find me, lay my head on your lap and let you lead.  Show me how and how and how.

Here’s a fine excerpting of Nouwen’s book:

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