The path of descent involves letting go of our self-image, our titles, our public image. I think this is one of the many meanings of the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). What is at stake here is not just false images of God (which mostly serve our purposes), but also comfortable images of ourselves. That’s probably what the saints meant when they said we have to move to the place of faith, to the place of self-forgetfulness, of nothingness, which ironically is the place of abundance!
The German Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart (c. 1260—c. 1328) said in essence that the spiritual life has more to do with subtraction than with addition. But in the capitalistic West, we keep trying to climb higher up the ladder of spiritual success. Some Buddhists call it spiritual materialism or spiritual consumerism. We’ve turned the Gospel into a matter of addition instead of subtraction. When we are so full of ourselves, we have no room—and no need—for God or others, or otherness in general.
— Richard Rohr adapted from Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go
Where is God?
It’s as if what is unbreakable—
the very pulse of life—waits for
everything else to be torn away,
and then in the bareness that
only silence and suffering and
great love can expose, it dares
to speak through us and to us.
It seems to say, if you want to last,
hold on to nothing. If you want
to know love, let in everything.
If you want to feel the presence
of everything, stop counting the
things that break along the way.
— Mark Nepo from Reduced to Joy
A Christmas Prayer
O Lord, how hard it is to accept your way. You come to me as a small, powerless child born away from home. You live for me as a stranger in your own land. You die for me as a criminal outside the walls of the city, rejected by your own people, misunderstood by your friends, and feeling abandoned by your God.
As I prepare to celebrate your birth, I am trying to feel loved, accepted, and at home in this world, and I am trying to overcome the feelings of alienation and separation which continue to assail me. But I wonder now if my deep sense of homelessness does not bring me closer to you than my occasional feelings of belonging. Where do I truly celebrate your birth: in a cozy home or in an unfamiliar house, among welcoming friends or among unknown strangers, with feelings of well-being or with feelings of loneliness?
I do not have to run away from those experiences that are closest to yours. Just as you do not belong to this world, so I do not belong to this world. Every time I feel this way I have an occasion to be grateful and to embrace you better and taste more fully your joy and peace.
Come, Lord Jesus, and be with me where I feel poorest. I trust that this is the place where you will find your manger and bring your light. Come, Lord Jesus, come.
—Henri Nouwen from The Road To Daybreak
- The True Self
- The Art Of Letting Go
- Courageous Prayer
- Blessing When the World Is Ending
- We Were Made For These Times
- Everything Has Its Wonders, Even Darkness And Silence
- The Gift of Uncertainty
- The Changes We Dread Most May Contain Our Salvation
- Why God Makes Us Wait