At the instigation of one of my readers (thank you, Spencer) I have begun reading Befriending Life: Encounters with Henri Nouwen, a collection of reminiscences celebrating Nouwen's life and works.
This morning I read the second piece in the book, "God's Restless Servant," by an Episcopal priest named Bob Massey. Massey's depiction of Nouwen, with whom he was friends for some 18 years, is a lively and very believable mix of positive and negative traits, all described with much empathy and love.
And then, when I then sat down at my computer, I found this morning's post from the Spirituality and Practice e-course, "Practicing Spirituality with Richard Rohr," which was about Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement. Rohr has this to say about Day, which could apply equally to Nouwen, I think -- and to Rohr himself:
"Those with inner authority draw life from within because there is a life within -- not just laws, principles, duties, or fears, but life. And they know what wisdom has taught them: You can only build on life. Ordinarily they do not attribute this life to themselves. They are insistent that the life is gift. They are anxious to give it away and call others into it since they know it cannot be earned, diminished, or hoarded. It is not theirs. They do not possess it as much as it possesses them."
I wonder if what lies beneath that last sentence may be the heart of the challenges that Nouwen faced in his personal life. We know that old hymn that goes, "They're all of them saints of God and I mean, God helping, to be one, too." Perhaps all of us really are saints, we all have that life within us. But to honor it, to listen to it, to be led by it, can also mean to be possessed by it -- which means that the all too human social urges -- to be normal, to fit in, to reach out -- may be increasingly at odds with the intense drive to give expression to the life within.
Perhaps the more strongly we are possessed by that life, that light within us, the more the darkness within us will be illumined as well, simply by the intensity of the contrast. At which point I hear another hymn, this one of reassurance: "In Him there is no darkness at all/ the night and the day are both alike/ the Lamb is the light of the city of God/ shine in my heart, Lord Jesus."
To entrust our lives to that inner light is not an easy choice; it may leave some of the darker aspects of our personalities more exposed. But we can be reassured that God's greater light of love will always be there to soften the contrasts within us; that even as our own internal luminescence waxes and wanes, God's greater light will bathe both dark and light with love.