Posts Tagged ‘spiritual discipline’

Living in the U.S., wherever I turn I am inundated by pleas to do more, be more, acquire more. This is not the path I want to follow, and I actively seek companions with whom I can resist those messages. In this light, I am very grateful that Orbis Books has reprinted The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward mobility and the spiritual life. This slender volume is extraordinarily relevant. In less that 100 pages, the late prolific spiritual writer Henri Nouwen shares powerful and challenging advice that gets to the heart of living as a disciple of Jesus. The illustrations, more than a dozen drawings by Vincent Van Gogh, are lovely and are themselves opportunities for further meditation.

Nouwen structures his book around the themes of vocation, temptation, and formation. To what vocation does he refer? The world we live in typically promotes a vocation where success has visible, material attributes. In Nouwen’s description, “Our whole way of living is structured around climbing the ladder of success and making it to the top.” However, the life of Jesus inverted this model. he called for humility and servanthood. The true vocation to which God calls us is to be transformed, to walk this spiritual path.

Jesus was tempted in the Gospels, and likewise we are tempted by worldliness throughout our lives. We become preoccupied with being productive, successful; we hunger for praise, popularity; we crave financial security, control. But we do not need these trappings of worldly power. As Nouwen brilliantly indicates, “we are called to serve not with our power, but with our powerlessness. It is through powerlessness that we can enter into solidarity with our fellow human beings, form a community with the weak, and thus reveal the healing, guiding, and sustaining mercy of God.”

Where can a seeker find support for resisting temptation and staying on the path that Jesus walked? Through spiritual formation—and a willingness to be transformed. Nouwen identifies the church (in the shape of community and liturgical rhythm), regular Bible reading, and personal prayer as the key disciplines. He recognizes that they require a daily and lifelong commitment.

This volume provides both challenge and encouragement and makes a worthwhile read. It would be a beneficial addition to home and church libraries.


A complimentary copy of this book was provided by Orbis Books for review purposes. No fee was received for this review.


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“And she shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth her fruit in her season; her leaf shall not wither; and whatsoever she doeth shall prosper.” —Psalm 1:3, King James Version, with liberties taken on the pronouns

Frequently I have turned my seeking heart to the Book of Psalms in the Hebrew Bible, and even more often they have arisen unbidden into my mind. In my first silent meeting for worship among Friends, the first line from Psalm 42 came to me: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.” Since that first meeting for worship, the line often has come to me as I settle into the silence.  (Usually, except for gender exclusion, I like the KJV.  I find some of the modern translations such the poetic energy out of the Psalms.  However, to say my soul “panteth,” as the KJV would, doesn’t work for me.  Thirsts, definitely; panteth, no.)

After reading Kathleen Norris’s wonderful book The Cloister Walk, I became convinced that at some point each of the Psalms might have something to offer me. Her book explores her time as an oblate (lay practitioner) with a Benedictine order that follows the practice of daily psalm singing. On any given day, who knows which psalm will be chosen. Maybe you are feeling spiritually dry, and the psalmist’s praise makes no sense; maybe you are feeling joyful, and the psalmist’s anger rubs you the wrong way. In the analysis of Kathleen Norris, and in my own subsequent reading, the range of human emotion in the psalms becomes startling.

I have favorite psalms that I turn to over and over, but I hold out hope that others might speak to me one day. My initial challenge with the language of the psalms was the many references to battles and destroying enemies.

Truly I want to love my enemies, and to transform the “enemies” within that are my obstacles to living up to my faith. For me, these enemies are my anger that gets in the way of gentle speech, my impatience that gets in the way of waiting and discerning.  There are other places in the Hebrew Bible where battles are against injustice. But in the Psalms, the battles seem to be about those things that keep one at a distance from God.

The very first psalm, after lifting up hope that those who delight in God will prosper (as cited at the opening of this post), goes on to say that “the way of the ungodly shall perish.”  Could this be suggesting that by delighting in God, delighting in following the requirements of my faith to the best of my ability, those inner obstacles will in fact be transformed?

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