henri nouwen: hiddenness, a place of purification

One of the reasons that hiddenness is such an important aspect of the spiritual life is that it keeps us focused on God. In hiddenness, we do not receive human acclamation, admiration, support, or encouragement. In hiddenness, we have to go to God with our sorrows and joys and trust that God will give us what we most need.

In our society, we are inclined to avoid hiddenness. We want to be seen and acknowledged. We want to be useful to others and influence the course of events. But as we become visible and popular, we quickly grow dependent on people and their responses and easily lose touch with God, the true source of our being. Hiddenness is the place of purification. In hiddenness, we find our true selves.

henri nouwen: hiddenness, a place of intimacy

Hiddenness is an essential quality of the spiritual life. Solitude, silence, ordinary tasks, being with people without great agendas, sleeping, eating, working, playing … all of that without being different from others, that is the life that Jesus lived and the life he asks us to live. It is in hiddenness that we, like Jesus, can increase “in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with people” (Luke 2:51). It is in hiddenness that we can find a true intimacy with God and a true love for people.

Even during his active ministry, Jesus continued to return to hidden places to be alone with God. If we don’t have a hidden life with God, our public life for God cannot bear fruit.

henri nouwen: the hidden life of jesus

The largest part of Jesus’ life was hidden. Jesus lived with his parents in Nazareth, “under their authority” (Luke 2:51), and there “increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with people” (Luke 2:52). When we think about Jesus we mostly think about his words and miracles, his passion, death, and resurrection, but we should never forget that before all of that Jesus lived a simple, hidden life in a small town, far away from all the great people, great cities, and great events. Jesus’ hidden life is very important for our own spiritual journeys. If we want to follow Jesus by words and deeds in the service of his Kingdom, we must first of all strive to follow Jesus in his simple, unspectacular, and very ordinary hidden life.

henri nouwen: trusting in the fruits

We belong to a generation that wants to see the results of our work. We want to be productive and see with our own eyes what we have made. But that is not the way of God’s Kingdom. Often our witness for God does not lead to tangible results. Jesus himself died as a failure on a cross. There was no success there to be proud of. Still, the fruitfulness of Jesus’ life is beyond any human measure. As faithful witnesses of Jesus we have to trust that our lives too will be fruitful, even though we cannot see their fruit. The fruit of our lives may be visible only to those who live after us.

What is important is how well we love. God will make our love fruitful, whether we see that fruitfulness or not.

henri nouwen: burning with love

Often we are preoccupied with the question “How can we be witnesses in the Name of Jesus? What are we supposed to say or do to make people accept the love that God offers them?” These questions are expressions more of our fear than of our love. Jesus shows us the way of being witnesses. He was so full of God’s love, so connected with God’s will, so burning with zeal for God’s Kingdom, that he couldn’t do other than witness. Wherever he went and whomever he met, a power went out from him that healed everyone who touched him. (See Luke 6:19.)

If we want to be witnesses like Jesus, our only concern should be to be as alive with the love of God as Jesus was.

henri nouwen: being living signs of love

Jesus’ whole life was a witness to his Father’s love, and Jesus calls his followers to carry on that witness in his Name. We, as followers of Jesus, are sent into this world to be visible signs of God’s unconditional love. Thus we are not first of all judged by what we say but by what we live. When people say of us: “See how they love one another,” they catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God that Jesus announced and are drawn to it as by a magnet.

In a world so torn apart by rivalry, anger, and hatred, we have the privileged vocation to be living signs of a love that can bridge all divisions and heal all wounds.

henri nouwen: being unconditional witnesses

Good news becomes bad news when it is announced without peace and joy. Anyone who proclaims the forgiving and healing love of Jesus with a bitter heart is a false witness. Jesus is the savior of the world. We are not. We are called to witness, always with our lives and sometimes with our words, to the great things God has done for us. But this witness must come from a heart that is willing to give without getting anything in return.

The more we trust in God’s unconditional love for us, the more able we will be to proclaim the love of Jesus without any inner or outer conditions.