The Inner Voice of Who Knows What

the pilgrimage: Henri Nouwen and my own topsy-turvy little heart

Archive for the month “November, 2011”

Day 4: Give and take.

Henri, Set Boundaries to Your Love:

When people show you their boundaries (“I can’t do this for you”), you feel rejected. You cannot accept the fact that others are unable to do for you all that you expect from them. You desire boundless love, boundless care, boundless giving.

Part of your struggle is to set boundaries to your own love – something you have never done. You give whatever people ask of you, and when they ask for more, you give more, until you find yourself exhausted, used, and manipulated. Only when you are able to set your own boundaries will you be able to acknowledge, respect, and even be grateful for the boundaries of others.

In the presence of the people you love, your needs grow and grow, until those people are so overwhelmed by your needs that they are practically forced to leave you for your own survival.

The great task is to claim yourself for yourself, so that you can contain your needs within the boundaries of your self and hold them in the presence of those you love. True mutuality in love requires people who possess themselves and who can give to each other while holding on to their own identities. So, in order both to give more effectively and to be more self-contained with your needs, you must learn to set boundaries to your love.

Henri, Give Gratuitously:

Your love, insofar as it is from God, is permanent. You can claim the permanence of your love as a gift from God. And you can give that permanent love to others. When others stop loving you, you do not have to stop loving them. On a human level, changes might be necessary, but on the level of the divine, you can remain faithful to your love.

One day also you will be free to give gratuitous love, a love that does not ask for anything in return. One day also you will be free to receive gratuitous love. Often love is offered to you, but you do not recognize it. You discard it because you are fixed on receiving it from the same person to whom you gave it.

The great paradox of love is that precisely when you claimed yourself as God’s beloved child, have set boundaries to your love, and thus contained your needs, you begin to grow into the freedom to give gratuitously.


A very few amount of thoughts tonight. Let’s consider it a mid-week Shabbat.
Today I’m hearing loud and clear that Henri is coming from a very personal, contextual place.
Today I hear these “you”s directed at his own heart, speaking to his own journey.

But this below does challenge me, because I am not wired for this kind of grace given authentically…
And at the same time, the attempts to continue loving can lead to hurt as well.

When others stop loving you, you do not have to stop loving them.



Day 3: Do you love me?

Henri, Cry Inward:

A split between divinity and humanity has taken place in you. With your divinely endowed center you know God’s will, God’s way, God’s love. But your humanity is cut off from that. Your many human needs for affection, attention, and consolation are living apart from your divine sacred space. Your call is to let these two parts of yourself come together again.

You have to move gradually from crying outward – crying out for people who you think can fulfill your needs – to crying inward to the place where you can let yourself be held and carried by God, who has become incarnate in the humanity of those who love you in community. No one person can fulfill all your needs. But the community can truly hold you. The community can let you experience the fact that, beyond your anguish, there are human hands that hold you and show you God’s faithful love.

Henri, Always Come Back to the Solid Place:

You must believe in the yes that comes back when you ask, “Do you love me?” You must choose this yes even when you do not experience it.

You feel overwhelmed by distractions, fantasies, the disturbing desire to throw yourself into the world of pleasure. But you know already that you will not find there an answer to your deepest question. Nor does the answer lie in rehashing old events, or in guilt or shame. All of that makes you dissipate yourself and leave the rock on which your house is built.

You have to trust the place that is solid, the place where you can say yes to God’s love even when you do not feel it. Right now you feel nothing except emptiness and the lack of strength to choose. But keep saying, “God loves me, and God’s love is enough.” You have to choose the solid place over and over again and return to it after every failure.


The deepest question: Do you love me?

It should be enough to hear the resounding yes from the creator of the universe, the redeemer of humankind, the author of every tiny bit of life – but often it is not.
I seek another resounding yes from somebody, or somebodies, who I can touch and smell and look in the eyes.

The physicality of the answer seems to cement it.
The earthiness of the speaker leaves less room to question.

I wish I could have the privilege of Thomas, to put my finger in Jesus’ side and feel the very human, textured, scarred reassurance that this man is a real man. I wish I could have the sensation of the woman who touched his cloak, felt the fabric of her Rabbi, and was called daughter. I wish I could have the memories of Mary Magdalene and Judas, who for different reasons graced the Messiah with a kiss. I with I could have the pregnant belly of Mary.

Communication in our era holds so many levels of intimacy… Words through an e-mail, Facebook message, or journal article may be powerful, but still lifeless as they are created on a screen. A text message adds the odd comfort of knowing that the message was sent from a place close to the speaker – a purse or maybe warm pocket. Conversations on the telephone mean tone of voice, the sound of laughter, or the agony of silence. Skype calls invite body language and facial expressions into the complexity of communication.

But seeing that face, hearing that voice, and knowing that this person is physically within reach – creates an entirely different world. The ability to grasp firmly a hand from across the table, or swoop up a child in strong loving arms, or feel the sweetness of a little kiss… The message is right at your fingertips. The love is right at your fingertips.

God’s love was found incarnate in Jesus, this very tactile and physically imperfect and earthy incarnation in 1st century Palestine.
Right at our fingertips.
Dear God, let me feel, really feel, that incarnation – that physical promise and assurance of your love.


Henri’s second chapter today speaks exactly to where my heart lies in wait, pondering its next step. I hope he is speaking to you as well.

Day 2: Love that community!

Henri, Stop Being a Pleaser:

You have to let your father and father figures go. You must stop seeing yourself through their eyes and trying to make them proud of you.

For as long as you can remember, you have been a pleaser, depending on others to give you identity. You need not look at that only in a negative way. You wanted to give your heart to others, and you did so quickly and easily. But now you are being asked to let go of all these self-made props and trust that God is enough for you. You must stop being a pleaser and reclaim your identity as a free self.

Henri, Trust the Inner Voice:

Do you really want to be converted? Are you willing to be transformed? Or do you keep clutching your old ways of life with one hand while with the other you beg people to help you change?

Conversion is certainly not something you can bring about yourself. It is not a question of will-power. You have to trust the inner voice that shows the way. You know that inner voice. You turn to it often. But after you have heard with clarity what you are asked to do, you start raising questions, fabricating objections, and seeking everyone else’s opinion. Thus, you become entangled in countless and often contradictory thoughts, feelings, and ideas and lose touch with the God in you. And you end up dependent on all the people you have gathered around you.

Only by attending constantly to the inner voice can you be converted to a new life of freedom and joy.


Writing these “spiritual imperatives” to himself in a specific context, it’s more than clear that Henri Nouwen struggles to let go of pleasing his father, and father figures…
Thank goodness I have a father who told me the other day, (over a delicious breakfast of avocado/bacon/tomato omelet and crispy golden hash browns) that there is very little I can do that would make him less proud of me. A bit of a sock to the stomach – in a good way – to know that this guy loves me so much, that he doesn’t even expect me to please him. Wow.

The tension here with pleasing – and remember, I like to be liked – is that i loooooove community. Community has become the buzz word of my life the last few years, but it resonates deep and long as one of the few unshakable priorities in my life seeking God’s kingdom. Community means that I take others seriously – what they bring to me, what I bring to them, the accountability we share, and the identities that we shape together.
I am thankful that I can lean on my community – mostly a ragtag bunch of weird young Christians making dinner together, having dance parties, sharing secrets whether we’d like to or not, motivating one another to be excited about life – to shape my identity. And I am thankful that they lean on me to do the same.

This “free self” has come through in some pretty powerful glimpses, defying expectations I assume my community places on me. Or even better, defying the insecurities that keep me from truly being myself. The free unbridled self is the self who chose to stay in Fresno for college when it was popular to go to a UC school, who took a semester off in the middle of university to live with hippies and travel and be “unproductive”, who sings in the shower even when somebody might be home to hear it, who continues to cut her own bangs despite a 50% percent success rate. Yeah, maybe less than 50.

This free self is okay with who I am, and jubilant about who I am – whether or not I believe others in my community are.

Henri asks:
Do you really want to be converted? Oh, you’re asking me? Meh.
Are you willing to be transformed? Hmmmmm, probably-ish.
Or do you keep clutching your old ways of life with one hand while with the other you beg people to help you change? Yeah, pretty much.

Really Henri, I’m not sure you understand – life is much easier when I don’t have to commit to that transformation.

Even though I cry out to YHWH that the Egyptians are oppressing my people, and that we desperately seek our Promised Land – there’s just something about that good old familiar rhythm of slavery that is hard to get over. At least you know what to expect every day. Overwhelming humiliation and systemic injustice aren’t too bad when you get used to them. But all this junk of discipleship and obedience and having to do the right thing with manna – GEEEEEZ life gets more complicated!

Life lived in freedom is still to be lived in obedience – but shoot.
Sometimes it feels easier to curl up, grab a blanket, and remain buried in the discomfort – the comfort of familiarity.
I’m still deciding if I really want to be converted.
It seems like a worthwhile question to ask yourself as well.
(My answer surprised me.)

Day 1: Unlearning.

Henri, Work Around Your Abyss:

There is a deep hole in your being, like an abyss. You will never succeed in filling that hole, because your needs are inexhaustible. You have to work around it so that gradually the abyss closes.

Since the hole is so enormous and your anguish so deep, you will always be tempted to flee from it. There are two extremes to avoid: being completely absorbed in your pain and being distracted by so many things that you stay far away from the wound you want to heal.

Henri, Cling to the Promise:

Do not tell everyone your story. You will only end up feeling more rejected. People cannot give you what you long for in your heart. The more you expect from people’s response to your experience of abandonment, the more you will feel exposed to ridicule.

You have to close yourself to the outside world so you can enter your own heart and the heart of God through your pain. God will send to you the people with whom you can share your anguish, who can lead you closer to the true source of love.

God is faithful to God’s promises. Before you die, you will find the acceptance and the love you crave. It will not come in the way you expect. It will not follow your needs and wishes. But it will fill your heart and satisfy your deepest desire. There is nothing to hold on to but this promise. Everything else has been taken away from you. Cling to that naked promise in faith. Your faith will heal you.


Henri says not to tell everyone my story – perhaps he’s giving me justification to hold back on the honesty I was committed to yesterday.
Right? Yeah?
Just kidding. ; )

But he strikes hard when he says this: People cannot give you what you long for in your heart. The more you expect from people’s response… the more let down you will be when a human being cannot fulfill everything for you.

I am a performer – writer, speaker, singer, actor, teacher, communicator, worship leader, comfortable with the mic, and that one kid who always gets asked to share with the class during a group project. Always have been. That also means I’ve learned over the years the best ways to put my best foot forward, and deliver a performance that encourage people to like me. Sometimes love me, sometimes respect me – but most importantly, like me. I like to be liked. Often that burning need to be liked can run my life… determine my priorities, direct my choices, and shape my identity.
(I’m tired of it.)

Henri again: Before you die, you will find the acceptance and the love you crave. It will not come in the way you expect. It will not follow your needs and wishes. But it will fill your heart and satisfy your deepest desire.
Here are my three issues with this train of thought.
1)  Before you die?!?!? I’m just imagining lying on my deathbed with no friends, no husband, no children, no cats, a courtesy vase of drab light pink carnations wilting on the windowsill… and then suddenly, a few seconds before I croak, all my dreams come true. (Mkay, exaggeration yes. But for reals, “before you die” is a very vague promise.)
2) It will not come in the way you expect –  Disclaimer: I am a 23-year-old girl who really hopes for a nice handsome strapping young man to love and snuggle with and take picnics with and go hiking with and raise children with and do life with, for the entirety of life. I’m learning to let that desire/expectation go before it controls me.
3) But it will fill your heart and satisfy your deepest desire –  I know it will, this acceptance and love that will be abundant enough, born from God and from within my self-image. The struggle is in being content with that love, not seeking more from this need to be liked by others.

Henri’s abyss is something that I’m only feeling truly, and deeply, for the first time. Just these last few months of life, I have felt this like never before. And I have tried both paths to pseudo-healing – being completely absorbed in your pain and being distracted by so many things that you stay far away from the wound you want to heal.

I’ve let myself dive headfirst into the abyss – spend my days in dirty PJs watching Dexter and shutting out the people who love me.
I’ve also let myself wander away from what I know truly gives me life – being so busy that I have no time to even hear my heart beat, working hard at delivering the best performances possible so nobody will see my pain, searching for affection and appreciation in places that are not sustainable, investing myself into delusions of romance that will only be half-fulfilling, and exploiting others for the promise of making myself feel worthwhile.

I’ve moved from the pain of looking into the abyss, into the pain of fleeing from it and taking refuge in somebody else’s cozy cave – but knowing that the abyss hasn’t closed up just because I chose to turn my back on it. I’ve moved from the shame of rejection by those I love and respect (yes, you can ask me about dramatic break-up stories later, ha.) to the shame of isolation as I look for love elsewhere – still absorbed in the pain, only shifting its shape.

Whew. That’s a lot for one day.

I am still unlearning the expectation for other human beings to fulfill all the needs of who I am.
Ask my friends and family and profs and people I preach at on the streets –
I am great at unlearning theology, deconstructing our mythologies of justice, dismantling cultural assumptions and status quo…
I looooove it all.
But the challenge here is unlearning within my own heart. You silly little maze of emotions, you.


Just a wee bit more introduction.

Henri, excerpts from the introduction:

“This book is my secret journal. It was written in the most difficult period of my life, from December 1987 to June 1988…

“Within me there was one long scream coming from a place I didn’t know existed, a place full of demons… All this was triggered by the sudden interruption of a friendship… One friendship encouraged me to to allow myself to be loved and cared for with greater confidence… But this deeply satisfying friendship soon became the road to my anguish, because soon I discovered that the enormous space that had been opened for me could not be filled by the one who had opened it. I became possessive, needy, and dependent, and when the friendship had to be interrupted, I fell apart. I felt abandoned, rejected, and betrayed. Indeed, the extremes touched each other.

“Intellectually I knew that no human friendship could fulfill the deepest longing of my heart. I knew that only God could give me what I desired. I knew that I had been set on a road where nobody could walk with me but Jesus. But all this knowledge didn’t help me in my pain.

“… Writing became part of my struggle for survival. It gave me the little distance from myself that I needed to keep from drowning in my despair… I was able day by day to take very small steps toward life.”

This is my hope, small steps toward life day by day.

The Inner Voice of Love: a journey with Nouwen

Dear readers,
Here’s the deal.

I want to be authentic.
I want to move through layers of humility, pride, false humility, false pride, self-loathing, self-loving, self-doubting, and dig deep into my identity that is in only FULL in God, and in God’s good good good good love.

Seems like life lately has been more confusing than usual…
Post- college, post- Pink House urban leadership internship, post- two relationships that promised good but left me broken, post- this burning desire to have it all together and live my life pleasing others.

My identity has for so long been wrapped up in one or the other of these pursuits, and it’s time to find it again without so much of these external qualifiers.

Henri Nouwen has kindly agreed to walk with me along the way…
The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom, published in ’96 but written in ’87-’88, represents a deeply personal journal during Henri’s time of  “extreme anguish.” Not the most lucrative thing to let the world see, this darkness washing over one of the world’s great spiritual writers.

But dear Henri chose to share – and has inspired me to share, as I process through this dark time in my own walk. This blog represents a journey – unfinished as hell! – but hopefully at times humorous, at times helpful, and at times hopeful to you.

From November 26 to December 31, I will be writing.
Every day, we’ll read one or two of Henri’s “spiritual imperative” chapters, skipping Friday as shabbat.
I’ll copy the chapters here so you can read along with me, and reflect as honestly as I can from my own humble and fragile little heart.
Might be a sermon, might be a sentence, might be a blrrrgghlfnk.

Who knows what will happen.
All I know is that I love to write – and I give my heart voice when I write.
Thank you for walking with me as my inner voice may speak up, whisper timidly, shout like crazy on its soapbox, or perhaps just blubber at times.

Shalom to you.

Writer’s block.

Behold, the reason for revisiting the blog.

Thoughts from a girl who loves to write, who fears vulnerability,
… and who knows that she THRIVES when the two work together.

I am blocked.
I try time and time again to write –
to bare my soul for the benefit of its healing (or the benefit of others?),
to spill out the turmoil inside and free it, to see on paper some resolution and maybe proof that I’m all better.
That I’ve worked through all my deep dark damaged issues,
and here behold a nicely put-together personal memoir with a happy ending to this journey.

But damn. My heart is more messy than this.
And damn, if I am honest with myself… I have no desire to be honest.
Then what will people think of me?
Who will I be, if all my imperfections are laid out for all to see?
What light do I have, if my darkness is exposed?

I am in process.
I know I need to write, but I fear the vulnerability.
I block myself from the healing, with the fear of honesty clogging the path to authenticity…
I am process of coming un-blocked.

Dear readers, please be patient with me.

(Well, this is a large gap.)

Two and a half years later, I am back on the blog.

Below here you’ll find very old thoughts –
on travel to India and Vietnam and South Africa,
on university life and learnings in the Fresno Pacific community,
on the journey through postmodernity/salvation/pacifism/feminism/urban ministry/empire-subverting/orthopraxy and into learning my unbridled love for theology, on my naive infatuation with hippies and gypsies and nomads and wayfaring strangers (yeeeeeeah, I’m still infatuated),
on sexuality and Christianity,
on the joy of discovering tobacco,
on the various ponderings of my heart as it beat two and half years ago.

As it goes with most lives and most hearts, mine has changed LOTS since then.

So, welcome to this next season!
Thanks for sticking around.

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