Category Archives: Listenings

Listenings: Journey Inward, Journey Outward

Every tradition in Christianity has a way of describing the simultaneity of the spiritual life.  The Catholic/Orthodox traditions speak of the life of piety and mercy. The Anglican/Wesleyan traditions speak of the life of personal and social holiness. The Reformed … Continue reading

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Listenings: Ultimate Formation

The ultimate movement in spiritual formation is the movement from denying to befriending death.  Until we can do this we may believe in heaven, but all our spiritual energy will be thrown into extending our life on earth. Strangely, it … Continue reading

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Listenings: Widening the Circle

Nouwen ends the movement from exclusion to inclusion with a section entitled, “Widening the Circle.”  It is very important to embrace what he says. Nouwen draws on his psychological training to enrich his theological point that our ability to become … Continue reading

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Listenings: Finding Our True Home

Nouwen uses his own journey into integration to illustrate the fact that it is a challenging (even scary) experience that unfolds unevenly over an extended period of time and includes ever area of life (pp 90-94). It is an experience … Continue reading

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Listenings: Expanding the Circumference

When I discovered that the word salvation means “wholeness,” my eyes were open to a new way of viewing Jesus’ words and works.  I saw that he was essentially about taking life fragments (of whatever kind) and putting them back … Continue reading

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Listenings: A Time for Review

When posts follow a theme for some length of time, it is easy to lose sight of the “grand view.”  Before we move into the third phase of the book, let’s remember where we are. Nouwen viewed the spiritual as … Continue reading

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Listenings: Recurring Formation

(Note:  I am not content to leave meditations on Henri Nouwen’s book unfinished.   But rather than writing them on a set day of the week, I will simply add the “Listening” posts from time to time.  You can trace the … Continue reading

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Listenings: Sign of Our Deliverance

Gratitude is the sign that our resentments no longer rule us.  Gratitude is not just an occasional “thanks be to God” (p. 63), it is a disposition of the heart that celebrates our liberation from death-dealing elements in our lives.  … Continue reading

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Listenings: Our Universal Challenge

As we resume the weekly “Listenings” posting, we return to Nouwen’s book, ‘Spiritual Formation’ (HarperOne, 2010), and we pick up our exploration of it in the midst of his call for us to move from resentment to gratitude.  Nouwen defines … Continue reading

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Listenings: Resumes on October 14

Some of you have asked if the “Listenings” category is going to resume.  You are remembering that it is this category which contains the basic postings about attentive spiritual formation, the heart of Oboedire. The answer is, “Yes.”  We will … Continue reading

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Listenings: From Resentment…

Nouwen defines resentment as “cold, agonizing anger” (p. 59)–the feeling that arises in us when we feel that we have been let down or failed to have received what we think we should have. Resentment impedes spiritual formation because it … Continue reading

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Listenings: Moving from Resentment to Gratitude

One of the reasons I hope you have a copy of Nouwen’s book, Spiritual Formation (Harper Collins) in hand as you read these blogs is so that you can follow the larger journey which can get lost in the weekly … Continue reading

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Listenings: Walking Together (3)

When Jesus walks with us on the journey from sorrow to joy, he also gives us insight. The insight he provided the couple on the road came through a connection of their current experience with scripture.  He put everything in … Continue reading

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Listenings: Walking Together (2)

When Jesus walks with us on the journey from sorrow to joy, he not only enters into our suffering, he moves us from what Nouwen describes as “foolishness.” Nouwen rightly points out that to be called “foolish” is a hard … Continue reading

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Listenings: Walking Together (1)

Nouwen calls the third step in the journey from sorrow to joy “discovering the one who walks beside you” (p. 46). The great mistake in too much contemporary formation is a spiritual expression of “rugged individualism.”  The way of true … Continue reading

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Listenings: Universalizing Our Pain

Nouwen’s second step on the journey from sorrow to joy is to universalize our pain. Unless we do this, our pains will become our fixations. Have you ever met a person who immediately begins to talk about their sufferings, losses, … Continue reading

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Listenings: Mourning Our Losses

The first step in the journey from sorrow to joy is to mourn our losses (pp. 41-43). To “mourn” a loss is to bring it out in the open, not leave it in hiding.  Things left hidden only make matters … Continue reading

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Listenings: Moving from Sorrow to Joy

The movement from sorrow to joy is the way Henri Nouwen describes the essence of spiritual formation in midlife. With the movement into transparency (openness) in the first movement of our formation, we see that our lives are not what … Continue reading

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Listenings: A Transition Point

If you are following along in our focal text (Nouwen’s Spiritual Formation), you will know that we have come to the end of his first phase of formation:  “Early Movements.” You may want to go back in the archives of … Continue reading

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Listenings: Dealing With Distractions

Nouwen concludes his exploration of prayer by facing something that happens to all of us when we pray—distractions (pp. 26-28).  He puts it simply, “While we are trying to be with God, we are busy thinking about all the plans … Continue reading

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Listenings: Just Be With Jesus

Nouwen asks the question we all have asked at one time or another, “What do you do once you have set aside a time and a place to be alone with God?” (p. 25). His answer is four words:  “Just … Continue reading

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Listenings: Finding Our Time and Place

Nouwen addresses the practicalities associated with prayer:  time and place (p. 25).  Our commitment to prayer must be expressed at specific hours of the day and in particular locations. I agree with Nouwen that we pray best as we establish … Continue reading

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Listenings: Practicing the Present Moment

Nouwen writes that prayer is “practicing the present moment” (p. 23).  He connects his statement to the devotional classic by Jean-Pierre de Caussade, The Sacrament of the Present Moment. Prayer concentrates our attentiveness upon the present moment precisely because that … Continue reading

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Listenings: Moving from the Mind Into the Heart

Today we look at the journey which prayer creates—what Nouwen calls (as do many others) “descending from the mind into the heart” (p. 22). Admittedly, we are entering one of the most challenging aspects of prayer, and surely not one … Continue reading

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Listenings: Being Alone With God

As we continue looking at Henri Nouwen’s description of prayer, we must remember that he wrote as a Roman Catholic priest—that is, as someone who was daily immersed in multiple services where public prayer was the norm.  If we fail … Continue reading

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Listenings: Prayer is Wasting Time With God

As far as Nouwen is concerned, no word destroys the spiritual life more than the word “useful.” Is it useful?  That’s the question asked by a utilitarianism that ascribes value only to those things that “produce results.”  And because we … Continue reading

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Listenings: Prayer is Creating Space for God

Prayer can be described in a wide variety of ways.  Nouwen addresses a number of views as he moves into the chapter. First, he says that prayer is creating space for God (p. 18). Life in the fallen world is … Continue reading

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Listenings: Spiritual Formation is….

The second chapter begins with a powerful statement by Nouwen regarding the nature of spiritual formation.  I want to use it as the focus for today’s post…. Spiritual formation is a call to discipleship, a call to follow Jesus radically … Continue reading

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Listenings: A Time for Review

I realize that not everyone who follows Oboedire has the various texts in hand as we move through them on different days.  I know that will be the case for some of you as we spend our Mondays on Nouwen’s … Continue reading

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Listenings: Transformed for Mission

Nouwen ends Chapter One with the reminder that the “transparency” and “transformation” which we receive in contemplative prayer is intended not only to shape us into greater conformity to Christ, but also send us into the world to make him … Continue reading

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Listenings: Human Transformation

A look at Nouwen’s comments on nature and time reveals that he understands spiritual formation within the larger context of transformation.  God is in the process of “converting” all of life, and spiritual formation is the way he describes the … Continue reading

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Listenings: The Sacredness of Time

Nouwen turns next to the contemplation of time (pp. 8-10). When I read his words, I was reminded of a visit I had recently with a pastor who said to me, “I can get people to write a check quicker … Continue reading

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Listenings: All Nature Sings

In exploring the movement from opaqueness to transparency, Nouwen turns from a general consideration of contemplative prayer to the role the natural order plays in helping us develop a “clear vision of the nature of things” (p. 6). Quoting John … Continue reading

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Listenings: Contemplative Prayer

The means to our spiritual formation is contemplative prayer.  Because we caricature the word contemplative to mean someone who is so heavenly minded, they’re no earthly good, we move away from the very kind of prayer which can lead us … Continue reading

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Listenings: “Not Knowing”

The emptying/filling experience we looked at last week is not an easy thing for us, in a time when mastering and controlling are the usual marks of expertise. Nouwen addresses this paradox in an excellent way (pp. 4-5), showing that … Continue reading

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Listenings: Journeying “From”—“To”

Spiritual formation invites us on a journey:  “from”—–“to.” Nouwen takes one of those metaphors—emptying/filling—and uses it to talk further about abandonment. There are other images that convey the same message:  dying/rising, darkness/light, death/life—-“from”/”to.” Notice that every image begins in renunciation … Continue reading

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Listenings: Being Mastered, Not Mastering

I have worked professionally in theological education for thirty years.  I believe in an educated clergy. But if I could change one thing, I would re-name the seminal degree.  We call it the “Master of Divinity.”  I know why it’s … Continue reading

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Listenings: Emptying Before Filling

Henri Nouwen puts forth “emptiness” as the first step in the early movement of spiritual formation.  Using the memorable story of the empty tea cup, he says that the primary blockage to our formation is the simple fact that we … Continue reading

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Listenings: Early Movements

Every important dimension of our life begins with an unstrained simplicity—an easiness, if you will.  Take mathematics.  No one chastises us on our first day at school for not knowing how to do Algebra.  In fact, no one even criticizes … Continue reading

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Listenings: Movements of the Heart

If spiritual formation is “the way of the heart,” then the image of a journey is an appropriate one.  It is the image Nouwen employs, using the word “movements” to describe the early, midlife, and mature dimensions of that journey.  … Continue reading

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Listenings: A Few Common Elements: Freedom

Nouwen’s final element in his list of a few common elements is freedom (pp. xxviii-xxix). He uses the word (as with the others) to describe the larger reality he calls “the way of the heart.”  He wrote an entire book … Continue reading

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Listenings: A Few Common Elements: Service

Living together brings us close enough to each other that we can see how to serve the needs of others.  To live in loving community is to live in a caring community.  So, Nouwen includes service as the next feature … Continue reading

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Listenings: A Few Common Elements: Community

“Spiritual formation requires taking not only the inward journey to the heart, but also the outward journey to community and ministry” (p. xxvi). The older I get, the more convinced I am that the spiritual life only makes sense and is … Continue reading

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Listenings: A Few Common Elements: Silence

Studies have actually been done on the “noise pollution” which invades every day of our lives.  In some cases, the way we receive sounds actually damages our auditory system.  But beyond that, we are subjected to “too many voices” calling … Continue reading

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Listenings: A Few Common Elements: Lectio Divina

The spiritual life moves back-and-forth between the subjective and the objective.  Without the objective, the subjective becomes subjectivism.  We must have the objective dimension in our formation.  The Christian tradition refers to this as lectio divina. We will say more … Continue reading

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Listenings: A Few Common Elements: Reflection

There are so many churches (denominational and non-denominational) and so many “schools” of spirituality (e.g. Benedictine, Reformed, Wesleyan) that we may have the idea that spiritual formation is like walking through a maze, or a circus “fun house” where the … Continue reading

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Listenings: The Critical Role of the Church

In last week’s posting, we implied the role of the church in spiritual formation.  Today, we follow Nouwen into a concrete emphasis upon it. He says the role of the church is critical precisely because “it is painful to realize … Continue reading

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Listenings: Inherent Danger

After noting the necessity of the “inward journey to the heart,” Nouwen immediately speaks of the dangers inherent in the journey. Consequently, we must not make the journey by ourselves.  That is, we must not be left alone to try … Continue reading

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Followership: This Sums It Up

Our invitation to walk “on the way,” is not to look down and focus our attention on the path; it is to step onto the road and follow the Person.  Sweet sums this up beautifully in the following passage… “Following … Continue reading

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Listenings: The Essence of It All

We are finding the richness of the opening pages of Nouwen’s book.  We are in no hurry to move on.  In fact, this week, I just want to post what I believe is a key sentence in the book, and … Continue reading

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