I was inspired recently by a friend who was finishing up a year of reading a book a week in 2016, and I honestly wondered if I could do the same. After some reflection, I’ve decided to take on this challenge in 2017, and I’m starting now in 2016’s Advent Season.
I can’t begin fully describe the deep blessing it has been to choose and read The Wounded Healer by the late Father Henri J.M. Nouwen this week. I’ve read many of his books, and I’ve owned this one for a long time, but I hadn’t applied the effort to read it. It is God’s steadfast grace that Father Nouwen is spending this time with me this week. This is most definitely not just going to be a new year’s resolution, but a gift to myself in 2017.
Father Nouwen has written a guidebook that though several decades old still has these amazing bits of wisdom to instruct and inspire. He focuses on several core values like compassion, presence and hope in ministry. He leads us from an expression of frantic faith based in worry and shame to a living faith in the shadow of our human suffering and joy that affirms our human connection to each other and says to the hurting and confused, “I am here.” He writes, “For a compassionate person nothing human is alien: no joy and no sorrow, no way of living and no way of dying.” Amen.
This is not a book like others of his that I have read in the past; this is a wholly different experience of Father Nouwen’s wisdom and gift. I recall reading his book In The Name of Jesus over and over when Teresa and I were in seminary, but The Wounded Healer strikes a different chord, a more human chord that grounds us firmly in the life of humanity, with all its struggles, failings and beauty. It challenges us to lay aside the formulae of conversion and salvation, the easy words and ritual and habit, and to be fully present, without judgement and recognizing God’s pervading love. “It is not the task of Christian leaders to go around nervously trying to redeem people, to save them at the last minute, to put them on the right track. For we are redeemed once and for all. Christian leaders are called to help others affirm this great news, and to make visible in daily events the fact that behind the dirty curtain of our painful symptoms there is something great to be seen: the face of God in whose image we are shaped.”
I’ve made new year’s resolutions before, and failed. I’ve made new year’s resolutions and succeeded. I make this one with hope and with the joy of God’s blessing on this week’s reading. What will you give to yourself in the coming year? Choose something good, ok?