Sunday, January 20, 2013

Part of a Greater Story

I wanted to share with you some more highlights that impacted me this morning from the chapter "From Sorrow to Joy" in Henri Nouwen’s Spiritual Formation:

If the first step on the journey from sorrow to joy is to face and mourn your losses, the second step is this: Connect your suffering with that of the larger world. See your losses in light of the suffering of others.

...healing begins with taking your pain out of its diabolic isolation and seeing that whatever we suffer, we suffer in communion with all of humanity, and, yes, all of creation. In so doing, we become participants in the great battle against the powers of darkness. Our little lives participate in something much larger and universal...

Community and solidarity are at the heart of the movement from sorrow to joy. When you begin to feel the pain of your life in relation to other people’s pain, you can face it together. This is where the word compassion comes from (com-passion = passion, to suffer, to suffer with, to suffer with other persons); that’s where the word patience comes from (patience = patior, “to suffer”). To be patient is to experience the pain of your life. And when you experience it with somebody else, you can be compassionate. This is how the healing begins. Not by wonderful answers, not by “do this or do that.” It starts by experiencing the powerlessness of not-knowing-what-to-do together.

That is why it’s so important that we grow in compassion. As we feel and live the pain of our own losses, our grieving hearts open to a wider world of suffering and loss—to a world of prisoners, refugees, AIDS patients, starving children, and the countless human beings living in constant fear. Then the pain of our life connects us with the moaning and groaning of a suffering humanity. The spiritual question is whether you can live your pain in solidarity with other people who also suffer.

Can you say, “Yes, this is part of being human, and I share it with thousands and millions of people and with people who are born before me, with people who lived long before me, and with people who will live long after me”? Can you say, “Somehow I am a part of the great story of God’s salvation. And I want to connect with the long struggle of humanity. I want to live my suffering— not isolated, but connected with the great human drama of love where sorrow and joy are experienced together”?

I invite you to live consciously connected to this great struggle of existence and faith in God’s love and deliverance. If you have a friend who is in pain or who has lost someone, can you just listen and say, “I love you and will be with you, I want to hear how hard it is. I don’t know what to say to you, I don’t know what to do about it, but I do want to be with you, and walk with you. I am not afraid. I am not going to say something cheery about the bad and that there is something better beyond. I just want to be here with you now and say: Yes! You have lost something, someone, and it hurts like hell, and you are not alone”?

If your family or community is suffering, I want you to feel the pain together and find the joy hidden in the midst of the pain. I invite you to be together in the struggle. The way we let go of our losses and sorrows is by connecting our personal pain to the great suffering of humanity, by understanding our own grief and loss as part of the larger picture of the world. For we are not the only ones who suffer in the world. Nor are we alone.

This chapter also includes a sermon Nouwen gave called "On the Road to Emmaus," which takes an in-depth look at the deep struggles of the two disciples in Luke 24 and how the Stranger addressed them:

The loss, the grief, the guilt, the fear, the glimpses of hope, and the many unanswered questions that battled for attention in their restless minds— all of these were lifted up by this stranger and placed in the context of a story much larger than their own. What had seemed so confusing began to offer new horizons; what had seemed so oppressive began to feel like a coming liberation; what had seemed so extremely sad began to take on the quality of joy! As he talked to them, they gradually came to know that their little lives weren’t as little as they had thought, but part of a great mystery that not only embraced many generations, but stretched itself out from eternity to eternity.

The stranger didn’t say that there was no reason for sadness, but that their sadness was part of a larger sadness in which joy was hidden. The stranger didn’t say that the death they were mourning wasn’t real, but that it was a death that inaugurated new life— real life. The stranger didn’t say that they hadn’t lost a friend who had given them courage and hope, but that this loss would create the way to a new relationship far beyond any friendship they had ever experienced. Never did the stranger deny what they told him. Rather, he affirmed it as part of a much larger event in which they were allowed to play a unique role.

As they listened to the stranger, something changed within the two sad travelers. Not only did they sense a new hope and a new joy touching their innermost being, but their walk became more determined and purposeful. The stranger had given them a new sense of direction. And their hearts started to burn.

If you want to discover this truth in your heart, you have to see your life as a little part of a greater story. You have to see that your life now is part of what others throughout history have lived before you, and will live after you. That what you are experiencing now, in the loss of your friends, your family, your expectations of Jesus, is something that is part of an enormously large story of losses past, present, and future. And that new life and greater joy will come.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. (2010-07-09). Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit (Kindle Locations 940-942, 948-950, 955-976, 1020-1036). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

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