Henri Nouwen on Prayer as Surrender

Prayer is often considered a weakness, a support system, which is used when we can no longer help ourselves. But this is only true when the God of our prayers is created in our own image and adapted to our own needs and concerns. When, however, prayer makes us reach out to God, not on our own but on his terms, then prayer pulls us away from self-preoccupations, encourages us to leave familiar ground, and challenges us to enter into a new world which cannot be contained within the narrow boundaries of our mind or heart. Prayer, therefore, is a great adventure because the God with whom we enter into a new relationship is greater than we are and defies all our calculations and predictions. The movement from illusion to prayer is hard to make since it leads us from false certainties to true uncertainties, from an easy support system to a risky surrender, and from the many “safe” gods to the God whose love has no limits.

From Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, 126

My Blog: Humility

I’ve often heard people say after getting a compliment that they were humbled. I wonder about that.

A compliment is humbling when it brings you down or back or close to your humanness. A compliment is humbling when it makes you see what you brought to an event and what you didn’t. A compliment is humbling when it helps you see who you really are vs. who you aren’t.

If those pieces aren’t a part of a compliment, it isn’t humbling but congratulatory. Nothing’s wrong with congratulatory words because we need those. We need to be praised, validated, and affirmed. But we also need to call something humbling when it really is.

“I am humbled” is reserved when a person says something that really brings you to your truest nature. Of course, when you come to your truest nature, you may not be pleased. But keep looking. There’s something divine in that soul of yours. There’s the stuff of God there, in my way of seeing the world. Look at your real self, seeing the ugly but looking for the wondrous, too.

Tentativeness + Foolishness


Photo Thanks to Ryan McGuire

There is a person in the world that I avoid. And yet I meet this person often. Each time I see him coming, I shudder just a bit. Because I don’t like this person.

I don’t like what she brings out of me, what he pulls from my depths. This person is the personification of pride and, to be clear, of the arrogant variety. I’ve known over the years that I didn’t like pride. I knew before I knew that pride was a life problem of mine.

I knew this growing up and while growing up because I had surrounded myself with people who had similar psychic needs. I knew that one of my life’s goals was the constant attentiveness to who I am and who I am not.

I knew that one of my existing internal conflicts would be the exacting appraisal of my true identity—my true self—as opposed to, in opposition to, wrestling with and reconciling with my false self.

That kind of wrestling-turned-reconciliation produces tentativeness in me. In other words, it makes me react with less speed. And I’m a person who knows things. I deliberate but when I know something, I work from that knowing. I have a sense of things. I say that with all humility…

There are things that I get, things that I know. And when you’re used to getting things, it’s hard to be tentative because tentativeness is the expression of not knowing. Why be tentative when you don’t need to be?

And then, of course, I meet all the reasons in the world to be humble. I meet all the things in me that stand between who I am and my true self, which is, for the sake of my written review here, humility.

Humility is the negotiation between who I am and who I am not. It’s landing on the side of reality. In a world that frames days based upon fantasy, humility is hard to cultivate. Humility takes work, and in a world where commercials are filled with hype, the work is too hard to be realistic.

Between tentativeness and humility is foolishness. Foolishness is the experience of life between some epistemological rupture, where old ways of knowing fall flat and shatter—leaving you tentative—and a better, more precise expression of your is-ness. Your “I really is humble.”

The bridge between those two is foolishness. And who wants to look like a fool much less be one?

I have a memory of somebody in my upbringing using as a bad name “Boo Boo, the fool.” Nobody wanted to be Boo Boo, the fool. Whoever Boo Boo was, the name alone was a commercial against him.

And yet I’ve started to aspire to be Boo Boo. I’ve started to look forward to the indispensable role foolishness plays in setting me up to be, perfectly, wonderfully, humbly me.

Advent Post #22

“He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” (Luke 1:52)

This is not good news for rulers, at least on the surface. Usually rulers like their thrones. Yet the closer we come to the birth, the entrance, and arrival of Jesus, this is the reality: there is a new ruler. In Jesus is a new king. We have to trade kingdoms.

We have to give up our thrones, the little rickety chairs we’ve set up to compete with the new king. For some people this is an impossible choice. It’s unthinkable that life could be better. Usually people with thrones, with anything like “thrones,” don’t want to surrender them.

We think of wealthy people, powerful people, connected people, and we think that they’ll never want to trade those things. The obvious good of those resources make following the other humble king, questionable, almost unsafe, certainly unfamiliar. But this is the essential question: will you trade what you have for what comes with the new kingdom?

The other thing is that this is everyone’s question. This is a daily question for us who are already following. This is a regular reminder for us who’ve gained citizenship by God’s grace. When we’re at our best, we’re low enough to see every small throne we’ve built for some other king. And we inspect that throne under the gaze of God.

To be clear, this song’s line is a jab to the powerful, to the resourced, and to those who live such stomach-full lives that they can’t relate to a young couple struggling to raise an unexpected baby. This is a line meant to be sang in the ears of those who are so protected by systems and social structures that they undermine the singer’s throat from which it comes. “She can’t sing that and not about us! She’s irresponsible for having done what she did to be in the situation she’s in.” This is a line for them.

But for those whose daily diet is on the mercy of God, we sing these words through our own tears. We sing this line listening for our own thrones, and we pray for God’s ability to unseat those little kings in order to live only for the new, coming One.

May these words be part of our carols this week, a portion of our soul’s language as the year begins, and may be live humbly.