July 2007


One of the most beautiful things that can happen in a human life is that parents become brothers and sisters for their children, that children become fathers and mothers for their parents, that brothers and sisters become friends and that fatherhood, motherhood, brotherhood, and sisterhood are deeply shared by all the members of the family at different times and on different occasions.But this cannot happen without leaving. Only to the degree that we have broken the ties that keep us captives to an imperfect love can we be free to love those we have left as father, mother, brother, or sister and receive their love in the same way. This is what Jesus means when he says: “In truth I tell you, there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, who will not receive a hundred times as much houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land–and persecutions too–now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30).

The great mystery of leaving father and mother is, indeed, that their limited love will multiply and manifest itself wherever we go, because only insofar as we leave, can the love we clung to reveal its true source.

Nouwen interprets leaving family in terms of emotional ties, especially ties that bind us to family and inhibit our emotional and spiritual growth. This is one way of looking at things, and I think a valid interpretation, but perhaps not the only interpretation. Sometimes the only way to leave emotionally is to leave physically, at least for a season. At times, maybe oftentimes, the physical leaving is more easily accomplished than the emotional leaving, which may take a lifetime for some.

Henri Nouwen, Here and Now (New York: Crossroad, 1994), 116.

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No one runs untested code on a network server, for the code may crash and take down the server. Likewise, no one puts old format data files into new databases. The new database will be corrupted, and the data will be lost. No, you put new-format data into new databases (Matt 9:14-17).

(excerpted from Parables for Modern Academia by Deborah and Loren Haarsma)

According to Henri Nouwen,

Traveling is seldom good for the spiritual life. Especially traveling alone. Airplanes, airports, buses and bus terminals, trains and railroad stations filled with people moving here and there, cluttered with magazines, books, and useless objects–it’s all too much, too sensual and distracting to keep our hearts and minds focused on God. When I travel alone I eat too much, drink too much, and look around too much. Meanwhile, I let my mind wander to unhealthy, imaginary places and allow my heart to drift along with confusing emotions and feelings.

I concur with Nouwen, and would like to add that vacations too can be distracting for the spiritual life. Much depends on the type of break we have, whether it is to secluded spots in nature or to busy entertainment. Rest is part of the spiritual life, and a Christian ought to be known by the way she rests. There is a world of difference between rest and retreat compared to a holiday jam-packed with activities and entertainment. Often one needs a rest after the latter type of vacation.

Notes

Henri Nouwen, Here and Now (New York: Crossroad, 1994), 85.

We just celebrated our son’s eighth birthday. Instead of a gift, he asked friends to bring two dollars, one for him and one for charity. One friend did that; the others brought two dollars and a gift. No, my son did not complain. Ten days later, I was spending special time with my five year old daughter. It was time to do whatever she wanted to do–only together. The activity? Colouring. In the midst of colouring, she looked at me and said, “Dad, if you can’t think of a present for my birthday, just sing me a song.” Just sing me a song–such simple joy. No wonder Jesus said we need to be like little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Dear God, please fill my heart with joyous song so I can sing to my daughter.