In the Name of Jesus (Henri J. M. Nouwen) Part 1

Dr. Sachi Nakamura (Christian Books Translator, JCFN Board member, Spiritual Director) 

 

Starting this month, I would like to share from the book “In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership” by Henri Nouwen in three parts.

Henri Nouwen wrote many books and was a Dutch Catholic priest. He also taught pastoral theology at Yale Divinity School, and was appointed at the Harvard Divinity School as Professor of Divinity and Horace De Y. Lentz Lecturer. After two years at Harvard, he resigned the position as he was not able to enjoy its ambitious and competitive environment. He then accepted an invitation to become a priest for one of L’Arche Communities, an international movement of communities to welcome mentally handicapped people, in Toronto, Canada. He chose the path to live with people with disabilities.

Nouwen was a well-known, very popular professor at Yale and Harvard. But for the people in the L’Arche Communities, he was nobody. He started living among the people who did not know anything about his title or accomplishments, or even who did not care anything like that at all.  The book “In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership” was written based on what Nouwen reflected on the Christian Leadership in the future through his experience in the community.

This book consists of the following three parts.

[I] From Relevance to Prayer
  The Temptation: To Be Relevant
  The Question: “Do You Love Me?”
  The Discipline: Contemplative Prayer

[II]From Popularity to Ministry
  The Temptation: To Be Spectacular
  The Task: “Feed My Sheep”
  The Discipline: Confession and Forgiveness

[III]From Leading to Being Led
  The Temptation: To Be Powerful
  The Challenge: “Somebody Else Will Take You”
  The Discipline: Theological Reflection

In the Chapter 1, “From Relevance to Prayer”, Nouwen tells us that a new Christian Leadership is not to claim and offer “what we do or accomplish.” Rather, as the one who is loved, chosen, and redeemed by God, it is a leadership to proclaim God’s love by offering its vulnerability.

 

Nouwen talks of “contemplative prayer” as the discipline needed for such a Christian Leadership. He even says, “We have to be mystics.” Contemplative prayer is not a kind of prayer to bring our petition to God, but a kind of prayer to keep us safe in the presence of God. It does not require many words. It is a prayer that helps you taste the love of God. Contemplative prayer keep us in the love of God who keeps asking “Do you love me?” and it helps us rooted there. That makes possible for us to dwell in God’s presence.

He writes,

“It is not enough for the priests and ministers of the future to be moral people, well trained, eager to help their fellow humans, and able to respond creatively to the burning issues of their time. All of that is very valuable and important, but it is not the heart of Christian leadership. The central question is, Are the leaders of the future truly men and women of God, people with an ardent desire to dwell in God’s presence, to listen to God’s voice, to look at God’s beauty, to touch God’s incarnate Word and to taste fully God’s infinite goodness?” 

 

Nouwen continues to explain our need of contemplative prayer. “The original meaning of the word ‘theology’ was ‘union with God in prayer.’”

 

Nouwen says, “It is of vital importance to reclaim the mystical aspect of theology so that every word spoken, every word of advice given, and every strategy developed can come from the heart that knows God”, “the incarnate Word, Jesus” intimately.

 

Perhaps you might remember your own experience. When being asked for an advice, you might have responded based on your own knowledge or experience. Your urge to appeal that your knowledge or experience is relevant to the burning issue is rooted in the temptation. But if you sincerely listen to God in prayer, the Spirit will give you wisdom and words, flexibly, deeply, and timely to the situation. God would not lead you with simple solutions. The longer you have been in a leadership role, the harder to refrain from finding answers from what you have already obtained. But please remember to listen to the One who gives us the living water. You might be provided with something you had never expected. You might be able to unexpectedly touch the heart or the situation of the one you would like to help. There is no formula in this. Just rely on God’s heart. The Spirit will lead you.

Lent

Dr. Sachi Nakamura(JCFN Board member, Christian books translator, Spiritual Director)

 

Hi everyone. The Lenten season started March 6 this year. How are you spending days in this Lent? As many Reformed churches do not emphasize liturgical calendar, some of you might be unfamiliar with the meaning of Lent.

The universally accepted calendar we use today is called Gregorian calendar and finds its origin in Julian calendar used in the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire first adapted a calendar starting on January 1st. Meanwhile, the liturgical calendar starts at the beginning of the Advent. Also in this calendar, a year is divided into seasons of Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, according to the life of Jesus and works of the Church. Acknowledging the seasons on the liturgical calendar in our daily life, we are reminded that we are living in Kairos (time of God) as God’s people.

 

Now, Lent is the forty days (without counting Sundays) before Easter. It is the season for us to return to God, the season to reflect and repent, and the season to rededicate ourselves through prayers, Scriptures, and fasting. Traditionally, inspired by the forty days of Wilderness experience of Jesus, people have given up some food or activities.

 

Some people say that the purpose of fasting and giving up in Lent is not to create pains and suffering to ourselves but to create a room for a better nourishment. For instance, by restricting food, we gain deeper insight from the Scriptures; by restricting our regular activities, we gain time for prayers. Historically, some people donated for the poor by saving money for their meat and/or wine. Several years ago while going through a trying time, I gave up “worrying” during the Lent and tried to give thanks to God instead of worrying. There is no instructions in Bible about how to spend Lent. So we can seek for God’s guidance in prayer to find a way to spend Lenten season.  Isn’t it awesome that we are given opportunities to rededicate ourselves to the Lord, day by day, season by season, as often as possible?

 

About half of Lenten Season is past this year. But there are still three more weeks before Easter. If you have not thought about Lent but now you started feeling led, may I encourage you to spend the next three weeks in prayer and reflection, thinking of Jesus’ Passion on the cross for our sins, examining to see if you find an area of life where you are led to return to the Lord?

Welcoming Prayer

Dr. Sachi Nakamura (Christian books translator, JCFN board member, Spiritual Director)

We all have moments of going about with our daily life and suddenly having waves of anxiousness, fear, anger, annoyance, hopelessness and other unpleasant emotions sweep over us. Something from our everyday life may trigger those intense feelings in us. In those moments, our tendency is to into fight-or-flight mode and react emotionally rather than to respond prayerfully. We are also prone to feeling bogged down and unable to break free from those negative feelings. The Welcoming Prayer shields us from being swept away by those strong negative emotions. The Welcoming Prayer helps us to place ourselves into God’s presence and to hand those feelings over to Him who can heal us.  

 

The Welcoming Prayer is ultimately a prayer of letting go. Strong emotions that were mentioned earlier are usually triggered by our unmet or threatened needs, or wishes from deep down in our hearts. It can be a need for safety, security, love, acceptance, respect, control, power, etc. When we start feeling those emotions, the first thing we need to do is to fully embrace them. Only then can we give our feelings and deeper needs over to the One who can truly meet them. Praying the Welcoming Prayer will not guarantee our heightened emotions to instantly disappear. Those feelings may even return over and over. But we can always turn those moments as an opportunities to pray the Welcoming Prayer. We can choose to direct our thoughts to God, who hears our prayers, and let Him lead us from there.

 

 

1.  Feel and sink into what you are experiencing this moment in your body.

Strong emotions can bring about physical reactions in us. Some examples of this would be becoming fidgety, breathing shallow and fast, stiffening of the body, breathing with difficulty or feeling nauseous. Also, our heart may start beating faster, and we may also feel our blood boiling or some numbness or pain in our body. First, become aware of how each part of your body is feeling. Do not suppress or ignore those feelings. Instead, take deep breaths and sink into what you are experiencing in your body. Which part of your body feels stiff? Where are you feeling pain? Where do you feel discomfort? Pay attention to what your body is telling you. What are those sensations trying to convey? How is your physical reaction serving as an indicator of your emotions? What emotion are you feeling right now? Is it anger, annoyance, disappointment, hopelessness, sadness, shame, anxiousness….?

 

At other times, we may be aware of feeling angry or annoyed, but unaware of our body’s reaction to those emotions. Pay close attention to your physical senses. Our bodies often react even when we are unaware of our own emotions. Our bodies can be honest indicators of our emotions before we realize them. Do not try to deny or fight back your physical senses nor your emotions that are triggering them. Take them in as they are. There is no need to become masochistic or to indulge in negative emotions. You don’t have to think that “I should not be feeling this way,” or analyze and judge whether what you are feeling is good or bad. Simply acknowledge what you are feeling and experiencing in your heart and body. When you embrace your physical sensations as they are, you are distinguishing them from the strong emotions that are causing them. By creating a separation between your physical self and your emotions, you can safeguard yourself from being taken over by your emotions. No matter how strong of a negative emotion you have, it will only be a part of you and not define who you are.

 

2. Welcome what you are experiencing.

Literally say out loud, “Welcome, Fear (anger, anxiousness, sadness, disappointment, irritation, etc.).” A small voice will do. If you don’t want to say it out loud, you can say it in your heart. Regard your emotion as you would a dear friend or a loved one, and embrace it with open arms.  Tell him how glad you are to see him. I personally like to visualize the character of Medama Oyaji (a tiny goblin with an eyeball-head from a Japanese cartoon Gegege No Kitaro) approaching me, wearing a headband with names of negative emotions, such as anger or sadness, on his forehead. I hug him saying, “Welcome! I’m so glad you came.” Although the image of this goblin is helpful to me, you certainly don’t have to do exactly as I do. Whatever character that personifies your emotion will work. You may even want to visualize your emotion as a puppy or a little child clinging to you for attention. You may also picture yourself as being surrounded by several puppies that are trying to jump into your arms. Welcome each and every one of them. The important thing is to personally and specifically welcome all the negative emotions that you tend to reject. Mary Mrozowski, who came up with this prayer, explained this “welcome” furthermore as “being hospitable.”

At other times, we may be aware of feeling angry or annoyed, but unaware of our body’s reaction to those emotions. Pay close attention to your physical senses. Our bodies often react even when we are unaware of our own emotions. Our bodies can be honest indicators of our emotions before we realize them. Do not try to deny or fight back your physical senses nor your emotions that are triggering them. Take them in as they are. There is no need to become masochistic or to indulge in negative emotions. You don’t have to think that “I should not be feeling this way,” or analyze and judge whether what you are feeling is good or bad. Simply acknowledge what you are feeling and experiencing in your heart and body. When you embrace your physical sensations as they are, you are distinguishing them from the strong emotions that are causing them. By creating a separation between your physical self and your emotions, you can safeguard yourself from being taken over by your emotions. No matter how strong of a negative emotion you have, it will only be a part of you and not define who you are.

 

However, please remember that you are only welcoming your emotions and not their cause or the origin (such as illness, disaster, bullying, poverty, social structure, packed schedule, etc.). Also, welcoming negative emotions does not mean dwelling in them. You are only offering hospitality to them, rather than showing hostility to or avoiding them. And as you experience those emotions, be mindful of God’s presence with you. As you embrace your goblin, Jesus is also with you. As you embrace the goblin, Jesus will gently draw you closer to him. The reason why the goblin appeared in the first place is because there was an unmet need in you. Maybe you were trying to fill that need by your own power, or by the people and environment around you without even realizing it. Once you are done cuddling with the goblin, introduce him to Jesus.

 

3. Release all the emotions you have acknowledged, along with your desire to control or change them over to God.


Next, let go by praying, “God, I let go of my fear (anger, anxiousness, sadness, disappointment, irritation. etc.) to you.” Maybe you can visualize handing over the goblin from your arms into the arms of Jesus. Then continue praying in this way, “I also let go of the root of those emotions (such as my desire for control, acceptance, affirmation, love, safety and security).” Pray this with faith and confidence that the Lord alone is good, and that only He is able to satisfy, heal, comfort, encourage, help and support me.

 

The Welcoming Prayer 

Welcome, welcome, welcome.

I welcome everything that comes to me today

because I know it’s for my healing.

I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons,

situations, and conditions.

I let go of my desire for power and control.

I let go of my desire for affection, esteem,

approval and pleasure.

I let go of my desire for survival and security.

I let go of my desire to change any situation,

condition, person or myself.

I open to the love and presence of God and

God’s action within. Amen.

(Mary Mrozowski)

 

 

 

 

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