Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time. Their leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus and they need to find there the source for their words, advice and guidance. Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to listen again and again to the voice of love and to find there the wisdom and courage to address whatever issue presents itself to them.
Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because before we know it our sense of self is caught up in opinion on a given subject. But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative.
– Henri Nouwen
Tiny, less than three weeks old, she nestled in the crook of my arm. A satiny pink bow circled her downy head and dark blue eyes gazed up at me as I touched a bottle to her eager lips. She gulped hungrily and I feared she would drown in her own desire. Her tongue fluttered on the bottle’s nipple, sending a vibration up into my hand. She drank and paused, eyes rolling back into sleep, then woke and drank again. I burped her on my shoulder and in my lap, holding her chin with one hand and patting her soft, round back with the other. Finally, she drifted off the sleep.
All the time I held her, I was in love.
This is what happens when your own babies are ready to start kindergarten and your arms have been empty long enough for you to see the newest baby at church and be filled with desire. I snatched that baby up and held her all during service, staring into those steely blue eyes that focused on me with such intensity.
This week I read the story of Namaan from the book of 2 Kings. Namaan, the commander of the King of Aram’s army, is a “valiant soldier,” visibly broken by the scourge of leprosy. Namaan is a “great man” and “highly regarded” and when he gets wind of a possible healing in Israel, he snaps his fingers and the next thing we know he’s headed to Israel with a cartload of silver and gold and a letter addressed to the King. Namaan plays every power card he can, heading directly to the King of Israel, only to discover he has the wrong person – Namaan is in need of a prophet, not a king.
Elisha gets wind of the situation and tells the King to send Namaan on over to his house. When Namaan arrives, his wagon-train of loot and personal entourage in tow, Elisha doesn’t even bother to open in the door. Instead, he sends a servant out with a simple message, “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan River.”
Namaan – the valiant soldier who’s a great man and highly regarded – is both disappointed and deeply offended. “I thought he would come out and wave his hands in the air and call upon his God,” Namaan whines, “I could get a bath at home!” Unable to accept a simple cure, Namaan leaves in a rage, followed by his servants, his horses and chariots, and his great haul of silver and gold.
Namaan is a big man with a big problem and he wants a big cure. It takes a smaller person, a servant, to point out the obvious. “Uh, Namaan,” he asks, “if he’d asked you to do something great, wouldn’t you have done it? So why would you not do this small, simple thing?”
The unspoken answer, of course, is that Namaan is a great man and used to doing great things. For Namaan, to do a small thing is to be made small.
But he does it anyway. Namaan stoops into the river seven times and the story ends with his healing – his “flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy.”
I’ve been thinking this week, like so many others, about the enormity of the problems facing our country and the desire to find big people who have big answers. I’ve been thinking about my unwillingness, at times, to suffer the indignity of doing small things.
In times like this I often return to the above quote from Henri Nouwen’s book on Christian leadership, In Jesus’ Name. That quote gets to the heart of what ails us time and time again – a lack of intimacy with God, a refusal to simply let ourselves be loved which is the heart of contemplative prayer. We want to do something big, but without a rooted intimacy with God, we become like giant trees without anchor, liable to topple and cause grave damage in even the smallest of storms.
We, like Namaan, are often disappointed, even offended, at the idea that this small thing – resting in the love of God – might be the one thing needed to heal what ails us, to make us small and vulnerable enough to be led and to lead.
That’s what I was thinking about this morning when that Mama let me borrow her dear, sweet baby. That baby stared at me with such focus, such intensity, and I loved her. I think that’s how it’s meant to be between God and us – us being small enough to just be before God, to be fed and loved, and God just getting the biggest kick out of being with us. That’s what Nouwen means by “contemplative prayer,” that’s what he means by “rooted in personal intimacy.”
The fruit of intimacy with the source of life is long-lasting and world changing. Read that last sentence again, listen as Nouwen paints a picture of the kind of people Christian leaders could be,
When we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative.
If you do anything this week, maybe begin with this: Let your God love you.
* * * *
Only 10 spaces left! I’m super excited to be joining with Andi Cumbo-Floyd and Shawn Smucker to organize a weekend writer’s retreat this summer at God’s Whisper Farm in the beautiful mountains of Virginia. Visit Andi’s website for more info!
Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.
What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?
That’s my proposal – that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days. You’re invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder. Don’t worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right – you’re welcome to come as you are.
While you’re here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.