Thursday, March 19, 2009

Compassion

The Way of the Heart – Part 3

Photo courtesy R. Pelisson - http://www.SaharaMet.com

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I am currently reading The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen.
Check out the other posts in this series.

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I have often struggled with the monastic idea of solitude. It always seemed that they were withdrawing from a world that badly needed the savor and preservation of the salt we are called to be. However, Nouwen has some powerful thoughts about the intersection between solitude and ministry, about the necessity of solitude in order to minister to others.

According to Nouwen, “Compassion is the fruit of solitude and the basis of all ministry.” When we allow ourselves to enter “the furnace of transformation” (i.e. true solitude), it causes us to see ourselves for who we really are, to realize our own desperate state and to know that we stand only by the grace of God. “In solitude, our heart of stone can be turned into a heart of flesh, a rebellious heart into a contrite heart, and a closed heart into a heart that can open itself to all suffering people….”

In order to serve others, we must die to them; we must stop judging them, stop evaluating them, stop measuring our value and worth against their lives. In this we become “free to be compassionate.” It is only in the presence of God that this transformation can occur. “Solitude molds self-righteous people into gentle, caring, forgiving persons who are so deeply convinced of their own sinfulness and so fully aware of God’s even greater mercy that their life itself becomes ministry.”

Using St. Anthony as the prime example of this link between solitude and ministry, Nouwen goes on to state that “the solitude that at first had required physical isolation had now become a quality of his heart, an inner disposition that could no longer be disturbed by those who needed his guidance.”

“Thus in and through solitude we do not move away from people. On the contrary, we move closer to them through compassionate ministry.”

Lord, transform me in the furnace of solitude to be genuinely compassionate of those around me who need your salt and light in their lives. Call me daily to your presence, that I may see You, your mercy, your glory ; that my own pride would be burned away; that I would die to my neighbor; that my life itself would become ministry. Amen.

All quotes are from The Way of the Heart, chapter 1 – Solitude.

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