The daily devotional from Henri Nouwen:
God is a god of abundance, not a god of scarcity. Jesus reveals to us God’s abundance when he offers so much bread to the people that there are twelve large baskets with leftover scraps (see John 6:5-15), and when he makes his disciples catch so many fish that their boat nearly sinks (Luke 5:1-7). God doesn’t give us just enough. God gives us more than enough: more bread and fish than we can eat, more love than we dared to ask for.
God is a generous giver, but we can only see and enjoy God’s generosity when we love God with all of our hearts, minds, and strength. As long as we say, “I will love you, God, but first show me your generosity,” we will remain distant from God and unable to experience what God truly wants to give us, which is life and life in abundance.
On September 14, 2012, about three and a half years ago, I began my spiritual journal. I had decided to commit myself to a morning spiritual discipline of prayer, writing, study and contemplation. It was wonderful. I was going through a long and extended crisis in my life, brought about in part by the increasing hopelessness of unemployment, the seeming loss of identity through work, and I set out deliberatively to find God in this darkness. While I always felt, as far back as I can remember, a sense of quiet communion with God, I now wanted desperately to know the reality of God in the whole of my being—my mind, heart, body and soul. I was tired of having a ritualistic and even intellectual faith, of merely knowing the “truth” of God without truly experiencing it in my innermost being and consciousness.
Interesting, I was inspired to begin my journal with a quote from Abraham Lincoln, not in admiration of his greatness as among the few and privileged individuals that too often distract and haunt us by their insistent imagery but for his understanding and sharing of my place of humility and surrender.
I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day.
In these words, I found resonance with my own deep connection to God. I recognized that I had struggled the past ten years with my inability to make a full commitment to God, to Christ—really, to anything. I was now ready, I wrote, to completely surrender to Christ, to fully trust that this is what is missing in my life, and that this is how to free and release what is most sacred in me. This is the way to living an abundant life, and of being a blessing to others. I have known intellectually that I withdrew from a frightening and unsafe world as a child due to trauma, as a natural coping strategy for survival of my spiritual “true” self. I was always confident that this self was my unique birthright, my poetic sensibility, my soul. I like all children beloved by God who experience in their early life the violence of unrestrained egoism of the world was gifted with a prophetic voice of hope in response, a “little” voice to add to the multitudes of true and beautiful witnesses that sing the overflowing grace of God. My divine sensibility was to have great empathy for those in pain, to be a compassionate witness, and to be very aware of and sensitive to the great variety of forms of violence, judgment, and power over others. I found myself especially aware of and fascinated by the problem of the harm that the good do but do not see. Yet as an adult I felt deep shame that I did not live this true self. I had let it wither for so deeply buried within had it become. Indeed it seemed to now mock me as a grinning false persona—living in the world kindly with great humor, rejoicing in goodness and love, but only halfway, never fully engaged, never fully present in the moment.
Interestingly again, although I had Lincoln’s quote as the first entry in my journal, it was not until a month later, October 18th, when I first went down upon my knees in prayer during my morning spiritual practice. This was the first time I had done so as an adult except with my children in nightly prayers. Wondrously, I simply gave up seeking God through the effort of my spiritual practice, and surrendered to God. This was the moment of my conversion. I suddenly felt the desire to cry out to God, “I cannot do it alone. I am tired of waiting.” In my mind, having been stripped bare by a career and health crisis, I intended by this cry to mean waiting for the next job. But I heard, and this is the very voice of the Holy Spirit, a completely different and unexpected response. I heard that I had been putting my life on hold my entire life and that I didn’t have to anymore. It is all right here, and I looked to the Bible open before me and it came to life for me. And I heard, you don’t have to wait, you can live fully, here and now. You can be engaged completely with your wife and sons. I felt an overwhelming sense of deep peace and joy. I later extended this conviction of greater engagement to my friends, my church, and my community, an ever widening circle of living in God’s grace. I shared this moment publicly in my church as a “minute for witness:”
One morning, I called out to God. I had never done this before. I actually went down on my knees for the first time as an adult (other than praying with my own children). I cried out to God, I cannot do this alone. I cannot live my life on my own strength. I was tired of putting my life on hold, waiting for a new position at work to bolster my identity and confidence. Then it hit me. I had been putting my life on hold for most, if not all, of my life. And that I didn’t need to do that anymore. A new abundant life could begin right now, right here.
In this very moment, Christ came to me and I came to Christ!
I found what I had had been looking for. Immediately I felt a sense of profound inner peace and joy. I now have a real, living faith and a growing sense of God’s love for me and my family. There are still going to be ups and downs, even troubles. But now I am choosing to abide in this peace, with Christ at the center of my life.
My past sense of homelessness has been replaced with a growing awareness that I am home. I’m rejoicing in being at home in this church. I’m thankful to be at home together with you. And I join you in wanting to embrace Christ’s call to share this Spirit of peace and reconciliation with a homesick world.
In our humility, as taught by Jesus and Paul, and that the truly great like Lincoln know, when we go down on our knees, to the very bottom of our soul, we are reawakened to the simple joy of the gift of life from God. We are grateful for the little joys and blessings in our life. Empty of the delusions and distractions of the ego, we are surprised by this spirituality within us, a comfort and deep abiding peace that we are loved by God. In this way, we rediscover the abundant life and love that God gives through our relationship with him.
Yet human nature is informed over the millennia of evolution by the deeply embedded experience of fear of scarcity and seeing the world as stingy in its goods. This is the driving concern of the evolutionary forces of egoism, kinship and tribalism. We live in constant fear that we will not have enough and therefore we constantly strive to hold tightly to what we do possess—our ego identity as outwardly successful, our job, our home, our family, our health, out tribe. This is very understandable but it can lead us away from the real joy of the holy Scripture, the original blessedness of all creation as good, of all creation incarnate of God as written in the book of Genesis and of all humanity incarnate of God as revealed by Christ. This anxiety due to our human fear of scarcity, this tight possession of God as most manifest through rare and fragile prosperity, is especially true in times of suffering and loss. For having a superficial understanding of God’s favor, we feel forsaken and abandoned when going through the valley of the shadow of death. This fear of scarcity is why our deepest human desire is to be self-sufficient, to be successful and even wealthy. We strive unconsciously to compare ourselves against the wealthy, the strong, the gifted, and the beautiful; these are the idols of abundance of God’s favor, the truly blessed of God that seem to have transcended the enslavement of scarcity and suffering. These alone have God’s grace. This is what we desperately want for ourselves, our children and family, and our friends. And if we persevere, live in these idols’ image of God, we may prosper like them, flourish with them, be like them, be graced by them. We have tragically, unconsciously, limited God’s grace to this human measure and striving, remaking God in our own human image and likeness.
But Jesus comes to the poor and the despised not so much to turn this world upside down, merely having the poor change places with the rich, lifting the bottom to the top, and moving the top to the bottom. For this is no spiritual revolution at all. It leaves the world essentially unchanged, only reversing the direction of man’s hierarchy and oppression and exclusion, and actually reinforcing the values of envy, pride, arrogance, greed, lust, and anger that lead to injustice, oppression and war. No, the paradox and mystery of Christ is far greater than this. Christ came to utterly deconstruct and astonish the world, to transcend this entire mindset of scarcity and fear. To tear up its very roots that are so deeply embedded in human nature and society, and to amaze the world by revealing our true holy nature, one of love and peace, not competition and comparison in the Hobbesian “war of all against all.” Our innermost, emerging being is one of courage, not fear, hope, not despair, faith, not doubt, where everyone can flourish in the abundance of God, not just the few and privileged. Indeed it is those who are least sufficient in the world of man—those at the margins of society, those who do not prosper either by ability or desire or injustice in the material world of man—who are chosen by God, who are most likely to yearn for Christ, to surrender themselves in their humility and poverty in spirit. These least of us are often marked by their greatest desire to follow God’s will and their yearning for spiritual transformation. These least are given the kingdom of heaven here and now by God, as Christ proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount. They have broken through the prison of scarcity, of fear, of envy of those who appear according to the worldly values of man to be most blessed. These poor in spirit who have come joyously to Christ have discovered their essential unity with God, with creation, with humanity, here and now, and forever. These know the overflowing abundance and goodness of God and God’s creation. This is why St. Francis embraced poverty as the way to live the Sermon on the Mount taught by Jesus, this is the alternative Franciscan way to simply follow Christ. In embracing worldly poverty, Francis enjoyed unending spiritual abundance, love and joy.
In our solidarity with the poor, with Christ, we too can know this abundant life, regardless of our condition or circumstance, rich or poor, able or disabled, at home or homeless. And this is the joy of the Gospel seen so beautifully in Pope Francis.