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.

Examen

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

Daily Examen is a method of prayer taught and practiced by Ignacio de Loyola (St. Ignatius), Jesuits. It is a Spiritual Training to be able to tell the move and the guidance of the Spirit by reflecting the past 24 hours, paying attention to the Presence of God during that period, marked by His love.

Paul taught us to walk by the Spirit, led by the Spirit, and live by the Spirit. (Galatians 5) He also said “Do not suppress the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19)  Jesus also said, “Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says. (John 7:38)

We hope to always remain in the flow of the living water and to walk by the Spirit’s leading. But in our actual life, we often step out of the flow of the living water and live a life led by the desire of the flesh. Meanwhile, if we look back, we can tell of many moments when the Spirit helped us, or guided us.

In Daily Examen, we look back a day and consciously examine when we were led by the Spirit, walked with the Spirit, suppressed the Spirit and walked by the desire of the flesh. While doing this, you do not have to go over or analyze every detail of the day. Not only paying attention to obviously important incidents but also you should take note of things that came to your mind, no matter minute they may seem to you. Ask the Spirit to show you everything you ought to know. You might find an unexpected God’s blessing hidden in a detail that you had thought unimportant.

 

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Here are the basic steps of this exercise.

 

1) Be aware of God’s Presence and give thanks.

Take a few deep breaths. Quiet your mind and heart in front of the Lord. Be aware of God’s Presence, His willingness to be with us. Recognize everything—this day, life, salvation—is gift from God and give thanks.

 

2) Ask the Spirit to guide this process

Ask for the blessing that you might be able to look back your day just like the way God is looking at it. Ask also for the blessing that things God wants to show us might come to your mind.

 

3) Look back your day, pay particular attention to the move of your emotions.

By the guidance of the Spirit, with thanksgiving, look back events of the day. What did I say? How did I behave? What was my intention, motivation, and/or emotion at each occasion? What was my reaction to the incidents of today? How did I feel? Joy, concern, excitement, boredom, confidence, irritation, care, anger, relief…?  How was God present to you during the incidents of the day? How God guided you? What was God trying to tell you? How was your reaction, response, or attitude? How did I feel about his Presence or absence? Was I facing toward God or leaving from Him?

 

4) Thanksgiving, Confession, Forgiveness

Come to terms with the power of sins or the power of the blessings that worked within you during the day. It is a good idea to ask the Spirit to show one particularly important incident and focus on it. If you were able to respond to God’s guidance and blessing, give thanks for it. If you realize you were not able to respond to God’s love or calling and sinned or made mistakes, confess them in the Presence and ask for forgiveness.

 

 

5) Pray for tomorrow

Ask God for the blessings and assistances you would need for the following day.

 

The above is one example of this practice of prayer. There are many variations. You could set up the period of reflection for a week, a month, a year, instead of a day.

 

When you look back a day (or for a longer period of time), it is a good idea not to follow the incident in the chronological order but to consider when you felt most thankful, when you felt least thankful, when you were filled with love, when you did not feel love, when you were most alive, when you were most distant from God’s life, when you felt connected with God or others, when you felt disconnected with God or other.

 

Prayers of reflection help us to be sensitive to the moves of God, who works in the flow of your daily life, and to His voice. What a blessing to stop periodically and to look back how you walked with God! This prayer is not to blame you or defeat you. Rather, it will help you to be more thankful by paying closer attention to His Presence in your daily life. This practice also gives us opportunities to repent daily. We hope this exercise of prayer might help you find God’s abundant blessings might flow into your daily life.

 

Reference:Ignatian Spirituality  https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen

Prayer When Your Heart Seems to Be Broken

 Sachi Nakamura (Translator of Christian Books, JCFN Board)

 

It was five years ago in fall. Like every year, a typhoon had just hit Japan and left serious damages in many regions. But the day after the storm passed through, clear blue sky would spread. There were many pictures of beautiful sky posted on Facebook.

Breathless to face crispy clear blue sky, I could not help feeling the heaviness of my heart.

“Heavenly Father, no matter how beautiful the sky after the storm, I cannot be moved by it as we have suffered so much damage and lost so many lives. We have many good and beautiful things in this world. But there also are so many cruel and miserable things. No matter how I try to think about “Whatever is true, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, (Philippians 4:8)”, those things look too small in comparison to too many cruel things in the world. Even when I try to be thankful for a good thing, in face of the magnitude of the misery out there, my heart is prone to be broken.”

Then, our loving Father who is filled with endurance and mercy spoke to me. “At the end of the day, I will restore everything and make everything right. You might feel anything you find good and beautiful in this world seem to be fragmented, too modest, or a mere drop in the bucket. But that is what I am giving you as the foretaste of the coming day so you do not lose hope. Do not doubt by thinking that the good thing would not last long or that would be too modest. Do not let the doubt gnaw at you. Just trust me. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. Jesus has overcome the world.

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This year again, a huge typhoon devastated West Japan. The earthquake of magnitude 6.9 struck Hokkaido the day after. At one time, nearly the whole area of huge Hokkaido lost power. Light was gone from cities and the darkness covered them.

But during that devastation, someone posted this picture on Facebook.

Photo Credit: Gosuke Shibazaki

It is a picture of the star-studded sky someone saw when he looked up sky in the blackout darkness right after the earthquake. What countless stars! Stars are completely filling the sky! These are not the stars which had not existed before the earthquake. These stars were always there. When all the artificial lights are gone, those starts, which had not been seen, revealed in the sky.

“Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10)

This Scripture came to my mind.

Presence, love, mercy, and works of God are always surrounding us and supporting us. Perhaps, as we try to do something on our own power, we might not be able to see God’s sign that surrounds us sometime.

When God said, “Be still, and know”, I thought perhaps God also meant, “Turn off all the lights that you produced on your own. Look up these stars that I have made brilliantly shine. I am always with you.”

We are called to be co-workers of the Lord. Our Lord would not desert us to work hard on our own. He is already with us and working. We just join Him. To do that, I think we have to periodically stop what we are doing, calm our hearts, and look to God who is there. In order not for us to start running on our own.  In order for us to remember that it is the Lord who reigns everything even when we are devastated by facing a huge difficulty, evil, or tragedy.

When you become still in front of the Lord, how about asking yourself with prayer questions like these? “Where can I find God in this situation? How God is working in this? How he is supporting me and guiding me? What does God want me to realize now in this situation? What does He want me to learn?”

You might feel an urge to ask “What should I do, Lord?” but just hold that question at this point. Before asking for what you should do, seek where God is and what he is doing. Listen to what He is telling you in that situation.

Facing a tragedy, people would ask, “Where is God?” This question can be rooted, not in the lack of faith, but in the hope coming from our faith and we could address this question to God. No matter devastating the situation can be, with your conviction that God is always present and working to show his love and care for his creation, humbly admit that you cannot see His present work and ask Him to help you see it. Once, someone said this. When we pray, we should not ask for a “sign,” but rather, ask for “sight.”

When we do that, He would let us see His presence, His Love, the works of His hands. He would let us realize those signs have been already given. Just like the sky filled with stars.

We might be in an extremely unreasonable situation when we feel our heart is broken. Unreasonable situation might not be coming from God. Or perhaps it was part of His plan. Or there are many cases evils prevail in contrary to His will.

The most important thing is to believe that God will redeem, restore and put all things to rights in the end. No matter how bad and grave the problem might be. And He is already working for it. Pray so you can find God who is in the midst of our pain, suffering, and difficulties. Open your eyes. Listen. Open your heart. Perhaps a little sign. Perhaps a big sign like a shift of paradigm. You may be given His Word. You may experience an unexpected encounter. What would God show you when you pray?

Also, let’s pray that He might make as His partner of His works of love that he is engaging in that situation. Finally at this point, you should pray, “What can I do?”

May our faith, patience, peace, and wisdom be increased in His mercy and blessing. At this time, we may be able to match the pace of our being and deeds to what God is doing.

Most often, this process cannot be completed by a one-time prayer. Rather, in many cases, it will be a part of our Spiritual formation process, which lasts long time. You might come up with new questions in prayers. Bring them to God without hesitation. You might be given amazing peace that surpasses your understanding. Immerse yourself in that experience without fear.

You might not feel anything after prayers. We cannot demand answers from God. He tells us whenever He sees right in a way He sees fit. Until then, let’s humble ourselves and keep offering our prayers. If you grow to be impatient, like the author of the psalm, you cry out and say, “Lord, until when?” No matter how we do, He will use this process of prayer to shape us to be like Him. And eventually, through us, He will bless the earth.

Are you in some kind of hardship? In confusion? In difficulty? In suffering or in pain? Please submit your situation to God and look up the sky filled with starts that we saw one more time.

 

“Be still, ant know that I am God.”

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