Rabbits (says Mr. Lockley) are like human beings in many ways. One of these is certainly their staunch ability to withstand disaster and to let the stream of their life carry them along, past reaches of terror and loss. They have a certain quality which it would not be accurate to describe as callousness or indifference. It is, rather, a blessedly circumscribed imagination and an intuitive feeling that Life is Now.
– Richard Adams, Watership Down
Never do I pick up a book written by Henri Nouwen without being refreshed and challenged. Mostly, refreshed. A few weeks back at a library book sale, we ran across a fine copy of Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World. It is a small book, written in a personal tone to a friend of Nouwen’s, a secular Jewish man who asked him to write a spiritual book for him and his secular friends. The result reads well, not just for secular Manhattanites, but also for seasoned believers. In fact, while no doubt this book would speak with sensitivity and boldness to non-believers, I am personally finding it does just the same for me. Spiritual truth does not fit only one audience, though perhaps different audiences ingest spiritual truth in different ways.
Among other things, Nouwen was known for leaving a prestigious career in academia to minister at Daybreak, a home for the handicapped. He tells a story of Helen, who when she came to Daybreak did not open up to Nouwen or the rest of the community. It took time for her to come out of her shell, and this is how Nouwen describes it.
I now realize that I had to be in touch with my own goodness to discover the unique goodness of Helen. As long as my self-doubts and fears guided me, I couldn’t create the space for Helen to reveal to me her beauty. But once I claimed my own chosenness, I could be with Helen as a person who had much, very much, to offer me. It is impossible to compete for God’s love. God’s love is a love that includes all people –– each one in his or her uniqueness. It is only when we have claimed our own place in God’s love that we can experience this all-embracing, non-competing love and feel safe, not only with God, but also with all our brothers and sisters.
I am drawn to the idea of creating space where others can flourish. Nouwen created space for Helen to reveal her beauty. Her beauty was already there. This is indeed the circumstance we too often find ourselves in. We are in the presence of another person who has so much to offer but no space in which to let it out. How wonderful to be a space maker! A person who creates (I might prefer to say, “co-creates”) the space in which others flourish.
Were we to grow less distracted by our consumerism and consumption, and to spend more time with friends and family, or work with people we want to help, or learn something we have always wanted to be able to do, wouldn’t that make up for missing yet another sale at the mall? The pursuit of national wealth through trade of increasingly useless things has for a few decades kept us in more clothes than we need, but has nothing to do with the pursuit of happiness. And it simply no longer works.
Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley, The Responsible Company