From The Way of the Heart
“What becomes visible here is that solitude molds self-righteous people into gentle, caring, forgiving persons who are so deeply convinced of their own great sinfulness and so fully aware of God’s even greater mercy that their life itself becomes ministry. In such a ministry there is hardly any difference left between doing and being. When we are filled with God’s merciful presence, we can do nothing other than minister because our whole being witnesses to the light that has come into the darkness...The compassionate person is so aware of the suffering of others that it is not even possible for him or her to dwell on their sins...Here indeed is ministry in its purest form, a compassionate ministry born of solitude. Thus in and through solitude we do not move away from people. On the contrary, we move closer to them through compassionate ministry.” Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart
I pray to be molded into the gentle, caring, forgiving person that Henri writes about here. I know that I am far from this. Many days (most, if I am being honest), I get so caught up in myself and in doing and in the busy-ness of the world around me, that I do not seek the solitude necessary to be molded in the way that Henri writes about.
I am writing today from Paris, France. I have spent the last three days, by myself, exploring. I have sat on the train and at cafes, observing the people around me. I toured churches and museums. I spent time with paintings and stained glass and history and holiness. And I have done this by myself. It is a transition time, if you will.
See, I have been given a gift for which I cannot even begin to express my gratitude. I am headed to Trosly, for an 11-day retreat led by Jean Vanier. I will be where the first L'Arche community was founded. I will be with the man who has shaped so much of how I see the world. I will be with other people who have chosen L’Arche. And I will be silent, as it is a silent retreat.
So this time in Paris has been my transition to the retreat. I have tried to use this time where I am not in state of constant communication and connection with others (this is aided by the fact that I actually can't talk to the people around me--because I don't speak French--and that I don't have a phone that works overseas) to prepare myself for the silence and solitude of the retreat. I have tried to transition my heart and mind to a space that is ready to receive what God has to share with me. And I have not been entirely successful at it, but I am certainly trying.
Part of the solitude that Henri writes about is creating space from the things that tie us so tightly to the world. In order to be molded from self-righteous into gentle, there has to be space to listen and respond to God. To be the type of compassionate person that Henri writes about, I know that I need to create more space for God. In L’Arche, I am lucky enough to be loved by core members and assistants who know and live this compassionate ministry so beautifully. I witness their ability to create space for God through solitude, which, in turn, creates space for truly loving others.
Lent is a time for creating space for God. I pray for the space to enter in and through solitude to a more compassionate ministry. During this retreat, know that I will be praying for the L’Arche Chicago and all those who are connected to and hold it in some way.