28 May 2019

Henri J.M. Nouwen - Reaching out to our Fellow Human Beings; Creating Space for Strangers

Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen (1932–1996)
Dutch professor, writer, and theologian
(unless otherwise acknowledged, all quotes are by Nouwen)

At home in our own house
In solitude we can pay attention to our inner self. In solitude we can become present to ourselves. Solitude is the climate of hospitality. Once we have found the center of our life in our own heart and have accepted our aloneness, not as a fate but as a vocation, we are able to offer freedom to others.

In solitude we can become present to others by reaching out to them, offering ourselves to help build a community of love. Solitude does not pull us away from our fellow human beings but instead, makes real fellowship possible.

In deep solitude I find the gentleness to truly love my brothers.
The more solitary I am, the more affection I have for them.   
~ Thomas Merton (1915-1968), American writer, theologian, poet

Reaching out
Hospitality is the creation of a free and friendly space where we can reach out to strangers and invite them to become our friends. Although the word stranger suggests someone who belongs to another world than ours, speaks another language, and has different customs, it is important to recognize the stranger in our own familiar circle. When we are able to be good hosts for the strangers in our midst we may also find ways to expand our hospitality to broader horizons.

Listening is an art that must be developed, not a technique that can be applied as a monkey wrench to nuts and bolts. It needs the full and real presence of people to each other. It is indeed one of the highest forms of hospitality.

My friends Nawala, Sasha, and I enjoyed some good sharing while in a forest

The poverty of mind
Someone who is filled with ideas, concepts, opinions, and convictions cannot be a good host. There is no inner space to listen, no openness to discover the gift of the other.

People who articulate not-knowing makes them free to listen to the voice of God in the words of people, in the events of the day, and in books containing life experiences of men and women from other places and other times. In short, learned ignorance makes one able to receive the word from others and the Other with great attention. That is the poverty of mind, demanding a refusal to identify God with any concept, theory, document, or event, and allowing for an ongoing growth of gentleness and receptivity.

Fredrick and I always encourage one another as we discuss deep issues of life

The poverty of heart
When our heart is filled with prejudices, worries, and jealousies, there is little room for a stranger. Real hospitality is not exclusive but inclusive and creates space for a large variety of human experiences.

Having become human, Jesus stayed human.
It was an incredibly humbling process; he didn’t claim special privileges. 
Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death.
   ~ Philippians 2:6-8, Message

Gloria and I often meet for lunch, to encourage one another and to discuss a chapter in the current book we're reading.
On this occasion, I also brought some ashes so we could recognize the beginning of Lent.

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[Note: While at the Cloisters retreat, I read this book of Nouwen's and collected a few of my favorite comments. I then decided to somewhat illustrate them with some of my recent photos. His stuff is always excellent!]

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