The Healing Power of Presence, A Visit with Henri Nouwen
When Henri Nouwen visited Shalem, Lin Ludy recorded the discussion, which we think offers timely thoughts on healing presence and joy during this holy season.
After Shalem’s Friday morning meditation on healing, Henri Nouwen joined in the discussion. Here are some things he shared:
Our presence becomes truly healing when we trust in that presence. Sometimes we have to reassure people that their presence is important—and healing. It’s good to pray for others and for others to pray for me. I can’t pray for myself. There is enormous healing for each other, and we don’t have to do anything.
When someone comes to us in pain, something in us wants to reassure the other and to move away from the pain. We’re both trying to avoid the problem when we need to be present to the reality together. Real healing is overcoming this mutual avoidance and being together where it hurts. God came to share our pain, and healing takes place in the sharing—at that place with each other. In spiritual life, there is no sharp distinction between joy and pain. In Gethsemane, joy is born in the pain of surrender to God’s will.
Trust becomes possible when someone stays with us in the pain—it leads us right into the center of the mystery of God—where we put up the cross as a sign of hope and the suffering Christ as a source of joy. Right in the experience, joy breaks open.
When we look at Christ, we see him as one who has suffered all human suffering; all human suffering has flowed through him. On the cross, all history is concentrated there and all evil is overcome there. People are saved by that knowledge, when they realize spiritually that suffering is suffered by God, embraced by God, and overcome.
When asked what to say to people who wonder why God does this, allows suffering, Nouwen explained:
I don’t say anything. The question really means there is deep personal suffering. Allow the question to be there. By our own solidarity with the question, we reveal the solidarity of God with that suffering. God experiences with us our own struggle and loves us more than just taking it away. If we understand the solidarity of God (who did not cling to power but gave it up, who did not cling to the ability to solve everyone’s problems), that is to have the mind of Jesus Christ.
Be present to each other and experience in the depths the gift of life! Christ didn’t fall into solutions or solving problems; that’s the temptation of the desert. That’s our temptation: to solve people’s problems; to cure, not care. To care means being where the suffering is. It’s a way of living together so the mystery of life is revealed.
Be vulnerable together, suffer together, celebrate together. Yes, we are weak, but our weakness is the Lord’s weakness. We confess our brokenness and confusion and, in the midst of that, we see God’s face and we praise. Then we can speak of hope and joy.
Recorded by Lin Ludy