In the Name of Jesus (by Henri J. M. Nouwen) Part 2

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

 

We continue from the last month, from the Chapter 2 of the book “In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership” by Henri Nouwen.

For the last article, click HERE.

 

[II] From popularity to ministry 

     The Temptation: To be Spectacular

     The Task: “Feed My Sheep”

     The Discipline: “Confession and Forgiveness”

 

The temptation to be spectacular. How precisely Nouwen describes the trap leaders are prone to be caught! Being spectacular is something like to wow the audience in a show. Spectacular sermon, spectacular insight, spectacular solution, spectacular leadership, spectacular problem-solving capability, and spectacular anything… Nouwen was considered well equipped preacher and priest, who was able to do his own thing because of his “spectacular” career and achievements. But when he went to L’Arche, where the handicapped people and those without handicap live together, he came to see that he had lived most of his life “as a tightrope artist trying to walk on a high, thin cable from one tower to the other, always waiting for the applause…” To be a star or a hero is what our competitive society pursues. However, to be a Biblical leader never means to be a hero.

 

Jesus gave Peter the ministry of “feeding his sheep.” He sent his disciples in pairs. Nouwen explains that this task of “feeding the sheep” cannot be done individually but in community. He also says that this is not only done in community but this is a mutual experience within the community. This ministry becomes possible among the brothers and sisters who belong to the same community, among the vulnerable people who know each other, forgive each other, care each other, and love each other.

 

Isn’t this radically different from the concept of leadership we have today? In general, we consider it important not to mix up the roles of the one who leads with those who are led, the one who instructs with those who are instructed, the one who teaches with the students. Leaders try to protect their position or authority by keeping a safe distance and stays on the top of the echelons. But “we are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life.” That is God’s work. Whether you are called to be a leader or not, we all are “sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for.” Nouwen writes,

 

“The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.”

 

Recently, we often hear the word, servant leadership. Nouwen also talks about it. I have observed that this word has been used to describe a kind of leader who can bring out strength of others, or those who are willing to serve behind the scene. There is nothing wrong with those leaders as they are respectable and not seeking to be heroes. But Nouwen’s definition of a servant leadership is a leadership “in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need their leader.”

 

Nouwen suggests “Confession and Forgiveness” are discipline required for such a leadership. This is a disciple for a leader to overcome the temptation of individual heroism. If you try to hide your vulnerability as a leader, it might lead to hypocrisy or even enhance hidden sins. Or perhaps you could create a barrier between you and your community to whom you are to serve.  But practicing confession, you could shed light to the darkness that exists in you. Receiving forgiveness will take out the dark powers out from you and from the community.  If you have experienced the intimate love which is poured upon the place of confession and forgiveness, you know how this works very well.

All these do not mean priests or ministers must “explicitly bring their own sins or failures in to the pulpit.”  What it means is that leaders are accountable to their communities, need their affection and support, and are called to be, not as invisible heroes, but as vulnerable and wounded individuals. The leaders are called to minister with their whole being, including their vulnerability and wounds, without hiding them. The practice of “Confession and Forgiveness” will free the leaders from unhealthy idealisms or pressure to be “spectacular.” As a result, spectacular work of God will reveal, no matter subtle or hard to be recognized in human eyes.

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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