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The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward…
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The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life

by Henri J. M. Nouwen

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Excerpts gathered April, 2007:

The story of Jesus’ temptations is described by Nouwen as: “…the temptation to be relevant, the temptation to be spectacular, and the temptation to be powerful.”

Turning stones into bread – “the temptation to be relevant, to do something that is needed and can be appreciated by people—to make productivity the basis of our ministry.”
“This temptation touches us at the center of our identity.”
“…requires being willing to detach oneself constantly from any need to be relevant, and to trust ever more deeply the Word of God. Thus, we do not resist the temptation to be relevant by doing irrelevant things but by clinging to the Word of God who is the source of all relevancy.”

Throw yourself down and the angels will save you – the temptation to be spectacular. “It is the temptation to force God to respond to the unusual, the sensation, the extraordinary…”
“We act as if visibility and notoriety were the main criteria of the value of what we are doing.”
“It is important to remember that our hunger for the spectacular—like our desire to be relevant—has very much to do with our search for selfhood. … Who am I when nobody pays attention, says thanks, or recognize my work?”
“Sadly, this hunger is never satisfied. The more praise we receive, the more we desire. The hunger for human acceptance is like a bottomless barrel.”

“Our true challenge is to return to the center, to the heart, and to find there the gentle voice that speaks to us and affirms us in a way no human voice ever could. The basis of all ministry is the experience of God’s unlimited and unlimiting acceptance of us as beloved children, an acceptance so full, so total, and all-embracing, that it sets us free from our compulsion to be seen, praised, and admired and frees us for Christ, who leads us on the road of services.

A discipline of solitude, silence, and prayer is demanded, but will not reward us with the recognition of others…but the enlightenment allows us to be free and uninhibited witnesses of God within us.

The devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms and their splendor – “I will give you all of these, if you fall at my feet and worship me” (Mt 4:8-9) – the temptation to be powerful.

“…we make ourselves believe that striving for power and wanting to be of service are, for all practical purposes, the same thing. …power can take many forms: money, connections, fame, intellectual ability, skills. These are all ways to get some sense of security and control…”

“Despite our experience that power does not give us the sense of security we desire, but instead reveals our own weaknesses and limitations, we continue to make ourselves believe that more power will eventually fulfill our needs. …a spiral of increasing desire for power which parallels a spiral of increasing feelings of weakness.”

“The true challenge is to make service to our neighbor the manifestation and celebration of our total and undivided service to God. Only when all of our service finds its source and goal in God can we be free from the desire for power and proceed to serve our neighbors for their sake and not our own.”

Disciplines of Spiritual Formation

“Our vocation as Christians is to follow Jesus on his downward path and to become witnesses to God’s compassion in the concrete situation of our time and place. Our temptation is to let needs for success, visibility, and influence dominate our thoughts, words, and actions to such an extent that we are gripped in the destructive spiral of upward mobility and thus lose our vocation. … ‘How do we conform our minds and hearts to the mind and heart of the self-emptying Christ?’”

The discipline of the church is a commitment to remaining in touch with the story of God; to have our understanding enlightened by the story. It is the mystery of the Christ-event that is celebrated, represented, and made visible by the liturgy.

The discipline of the word – “meditation is the growing inner availability to the word so that the Word can guide us, can open us, can remove our fears, and come to dwell in us. True meditation is thus letting the Word become flesh in us. It is through this incarnation of the Word in us that we enter eternal life.”

The discipline of the heart. “Entering into the solitude of our closet and standing there in the presence of our God with nothing but our own nakedness, vulnerability, and sinfulness, requires an intense commitment to the spiritual life. Personal prayer is not rewarded by acclaim, does not translate into helpful projects, and only rarely leads to the inner experience of peace and joy.”

“…we need a pure heart, a heart free from the ‘oughts’ and ‘musts’ of our world.”
“…by facing God alone we are also facing our own inner chaos.”
“…this falling away from our old support systems that enables us to cry out.”

“In the solitude of our heart we can listen to our questions and—as the German poet Rilke says so beautifully—gradually grow, without even noticing it, into the answer.”

“…we will be freer to be with others in their pain and to discover with them the presence of the healing God in our midst. Thus, the discipline of the heart leads us on the path of compassion; that is, the downward path, which is the narrow road that leads to life (Mt 7:13)” ( )
  lgaikwad | Mar 29, 2007 |
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