The Inner Voice of Who Knows What

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

Archive for the month “January, 2012”

Day 29: Stand up.

Henri, Stand Erect in Your Sorrow:

The question is “Can you stand erect in your pain, your loneliness, your fears, and your experience of being rejected?” The danger is that you will be swept off your feet by these feelings. They will be here for a long time, and they will go on tempting you to be drowned in them. But you are called to acknowledge them and feel them while remaining on your feet.

Remember, Mary stood under the cross. She suffered her sorrow standing. Remember, Jesus spoke about the cosmic disasters and the glorious appearance of the Son of Man and said to his disciples, “When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand” (Luke 2:28). Remember, Peter and John cured the crippled man who was begging at the temple entrance. Peter said to him, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!” (Acts 3:6). Then he took him by the right hand and helped him to stand up.

You have to dare to stand erect in your struggles. The temptation is to complain, to beg, to be overwhelmed and find your satisfaction in the pity you evoke. But you know already that this is not gaining for you what your heart most desires. As long as you remain standing, you can speak freely to others, reach out to them, and receive from them. Thus you speak and act from your center and invite others to speak and act from theirs. In this way, real friendships are possible and real community can be formed. God gives you the strength to stand in your struggles and to respond to them standing.


When I think of standing, I think of not hiding. Not hiding imperfections, or poor choices, or past hurts, or current hurts, or the chaos inside that sometimes goes unseen.
Not hiding the good that I have to offer, or  the joy I have to bring to a community, or the gifts and assets and growing wisdom I possess.

Standing is invitational, inviting others into knowing me.
Sitting down and hunched over, I can keep myself to myself – with a throne chair enfolding me into its arms, long and full hair hiding my eyes from the outside, a thick scarf waterfalling from neck to lap to shield my torso from any new acquaintance, crossed legs and crossed arms and a cross look when the desire is isolation.

Standing says, here I am. I place myself in front of you, to invite you to know me. I do this because I believe we will find something good in knowing one another. We can speak about my sorrow and your sorrow, we can speak about my joy and your joy. I can let you know the insides of me and trust that you will treat them kindly.

Standing means being bold with all of who I am.


Day 28: Let me let you in.

Henri, Love Deeply:

Do not hesitate to love and to love deeply. You might be afraid of the pain that deep love can cause. When those you love deeply reject you, leave you, or die, your heart will be broken. But that should not hold you back from loving deeply. The pain that comes from deep love makes your love ever more fruitful. It is like a plow that breaks to ground to allow the seed to take root and grow into a strong plant. Every time you experience the pain of rejection, absence, or death, you are faced with a choice. You can become bitter and decide not to love again, or you can stand straight in your pain and let the soil on which you stand become richer and more able to give life to new seeds.

The more you have loved and have allowed yourself to suffer because of your love, the more you will be able to let your heart grow wider and deeper. When your love is truly giving and receiving, those whom you love will not leave your heart even when they depart from you. They will become part of your self and thus gradually build a community within you.

Those you have deeply loved become part of you. The longer you live, there will always be more people to be loved by you and to become part of your inner community. The wider your inner community becomes, the more easily you will recognize your own brothers and sisters in the strangers around you. Those who are alive within you will recognize those who are alive around you. The wider the community of your heart, the wider the community around you. Thus the pain of rejection, absence, and death can become fruitful. Yes, as you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear.


become a part of me
let me
let you in
my heart is roomy enough for you
(and you and you and you)

and she’s learning how not to collapse
if you choose to leave
this great meeting-tent
gathering place to eat and sing and laugh and be

become a part of me
let me
let you sink in
my heart is soft enough for you
(to leave your fingerprints for a while)

and she loves loud and long and strong
and calls after you when you leave
sometimes too loud and long and strong

but please, sink in
they told me to guard her
(guard your heart, little girl
so hurt will not happen, tears will not drench you, pain will not press in
so deep)

they told me to guard her
but it never works
you always sneak in, don’t you…
giggling, uninvited guest
(but not unwanted)
and i am so glad you came, you little sneak
my heart could never keep you out in the cold

so glad you came
that even hurt and tears and pain
are good – because
they tell me she is still beating
loud and long and strong

she remembers you, your scent on her
she holds your ghost close and keeps you within

and though broken from your absence
the beat loud and long and strong
is mending the torn seams
little by little

the beat is rhythm
with an invitation to improvise
the beat is loving deeply
with a beckoning to love and love again

becoming whole, mending
little by little
to invite more of yous in
(and you and you and you)

let me
let you in

Day 27: Dusty.

Henri, Stay United with the Larger Body:

Your own growth cannot take place without growth in others. You are part of a body. When you change, the whole body changes. It is very important for you to remain deeply connected with the larger community to which you belong.

It is also important that those who belong to the body of which you are part keep faith in your journey. You still have a way to go, and there will be times when your friends are puzzled or even disillusioned by what is happening to you. At certain moments things may seem more difficult for you than before; they may look worse than when you began. You still have to make the great passage, and that might not happen without a lot of new distress and fear. Through all of this, it is important for you to stay united with the larger body and know that your journey is made not just for yourself but for all who belong to the body.

Think about Jesus. He made his journey and asked his disciples to follow him even where they would rather not go. The journey you are choosing is Jesus’ journey, and whether or not you are fully aware of it, you are also asking your brothers and sisters to follow you.  Somewhere you already know that what you are living now will not leave the other members of the community untouched. Your choices also call your friends to make new choices.


I feel sometimes, at least lately, that I am like Pigpen – that adorable dusty little Peanuts guy who must be the most romanticized version of poor hygiene I’ve ever seen. I imagine sometimes that I enter a room with this dust cloud surrounding me for all to see. This little flurry of “issues” orbits around me, the dust of my insecurities and confusions rising up from the floor to become my myriad little satellites. They swirl around me and follow their master, to make it known to the world that not all is well, all is perfect with Jessica Mast.

I feel sometimes that those who love me, those who are close to me, are quietly and kindly suppressing their need to cough, wave away my mess, swat away my flies, take a leaf-blower to me to get rid of the obvious, dusty intrusion.

Here’s the problem, though – seems like the more I talk with folks, the more I find that not all is perfect with any human person with a heart and a body and a brain. So, seems like not all is perfect with anybody.

Then why doesn’t everybody have this little dust cloud accompanying them?
What makes my dirt special?
Why do I feel mine is so pronounced?
Is it?

Or is the beauty that I am starting to recognize this dirt flurry I’ve ignored for so long?… is the beauty that every person in this world has their own flurry, but we choose to love one another despite it?… is the beauty that I find myself in a community that loves me fiercely and appreciates me, dust and all?… is the beauty that my journey has led me to a place of embracing these dirty satellites – instead of striving to hide them, pretend they don’t exist, and leave myself no need for grace?

This dust stirred up around me is simply human existence.
The journey I am choosing means I get the opportunity to face the dust, breathe it in deeply, choke and cough a bit, but know that it is part of me. I am choosing a journey that lets me name the dust particles, identify the mess, recognize the imperfections in myself and just let them be.

My Pigpen cloud is not a burden to my community.
The journey to start naming the Pigpen cloud is an enrichment to my community.
They have told me time and time again that this is so, but I am starting to believe it.

There is no need to hide the dust anymore… but celebrate the fact that we are loved, and love one another, right along with it.




Day 26: Better yet?

Henri, Receive All the Love that Comes to You:

While you may feel physically and mentally strong, you still experience a forceful undercurrent of anguish. You sleep well, you work well, but there are few waking moments when you do not feel that throbbing pain in your heart that makes everything seem up in the air. You know that you are progressing, but you can’t understand why this anguish keeps pervading everything you think, say, or do. There is still a deep, unresolved pain, but you cannot take it away yourself. It exists far deeper than you can reach.

Be patient and trust. You have to move gradually deeper into your heart. There is a place far down that is like a turbulent river, and that place frightens you. But do not fear. One day it will be quiet and peaceful.

You have to keep moving, as you are doing. Live a faithful, disciplined life, a life that gives you a sense of inner strength, a life in which you can receive more and more of the love that comes to you. Wherever there is real love for you, take it and be strengthened by it. As your body, heart, and mind come to know that you are loved, your weakest part will feel attracted to that love. What has remained separated and unreachable will let itself be drawn into the love you have been able to receive. One day you will discover that your anguish is gone. It will leave you because your weakest self let itself be embraced by your love.

You are not yet there, but you are moving fast. There will be a bit more pain and struggle. You have to dare to live through it. Keep walking straight. Acknowledge your anguish, but do not let it pull you out of yourself. Hold on to your chosen direction, your discipline, your prayer, your work, your guides, and trust that one day love will have conquered enough of you that even the most fearful part will allow love to cast out all fear.


Things are changing. The anguish does not have the same hold on me that it did two months ago; the once-paralyzing fear of unlove has dissipated; the brutality with which I treated my heart has softened; the pain of a chaotic and shame-filled inner life has become the embrace of a ‘normal’ and simply human imperfection.

I feel better. I am more healthy. I am loving more, being loved more. I have cast away the practices and choices that were holding me hostage.

The chapter today sounds just like my November, the anguish that characterized my fall.
But this is my January, a whole new season – post-rejection of those who once loved me, post-chaos of a hidden relationship, post-doubt of my integrity and true self, post-release of what once held me, post-Christmas trip that reminded me of my identity, post-Dream Camp where we celebrated deliverance and healing, post-embrace of freedom, post-resurrection.

Henri reminds me I’m not there yet. Henri, in his irritating wisdom and long-suffering, reminds me that this is why I chose to read him in the first place – to not let myself cut the healing short, when I felt maybe I had reached its end. Oh geez Henri, that really is annoying. Just when I felt like things had taken a turn for the better, you remind me I am only halfway through your little book.

Thanks, Henri, for keeping me moving. : )


Day 25: Imago dei.

Henri, See Yourself Truthfully:

You continue struggling to see your own truth. When people who know your heart well and love you dearly say that you are a child of God, that God has entered deeply into your being, and that you are offering much of God to others, you hear these statements as pep talks. You don’t believe that these people are really seeing what they are saying.

You have to start seeing yourself as your truthful friends see you. As long as you remain blind to your own truth, you keep putting yourself down and referring to everyone else as better, holier, and more loved than you are. You look up to everyone in whom you see goodness, beauty, and love because you do not see any of these qualities in yourself. As a result, you begin leaning on others without realizing that you everything you need to stand on your own feet.

You cannot force things, however. You cannot make yourself see what others see. You cannot fully claim yourself when parts of you are still wayward. You have to acknowledge where you are and affirm that place. You have to be willing to live your loneliness, your incompleteness, your lack of total incarnation fearlessly, and trust that God will give you the people to keep showing you the truth of who you are.


You have to be willing to live your loneliness, your incompleteness, your lack of total incarnation fearlessly, and trust that God will give you the people to keep showing you the truth of who you are.

I am finally learning this.

To claim myself… To say this is who I am, who I am created to be, the part I am wired to play in the kingdom of God, the identity that is Jessica in the midst of this big world. The difficulty comes in really believing it, in feeling it, in dwelling in that knowledge. But I am learning.

I do know that I am created in the image of God. Imago dei means that in amongst the imperfection and messiness and silliness of who I am, there is stamped upon me the definite, permanent mark of our creator. While standing on our own feet sounds honorable and strong and American and pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps-y –   this is only possible through knowing and dwelling in the imago dei, that gives us something solid to dwell in.

I am home, once again, from Dream Camp 2012, a weekend of worship, prayer, and community with folks I am usually not too much in community with. My weekend was full of Fresno’s black Christian community, beautiful music that was full and loud and long, art through painting and dancing and waving flags, speaking in tongues, prayers of deliverance and healing, and experience altogether pretty unfamiliar. Rarely do I seek out to experience God in this way, very different from my heritage and faith expressions and internal wiring, but this weekend I sought a different face of God than I usually see.

This weekend was a little bit of God smashed up against God, as I intentionally brought this journey of contemplation, reflection, and the quiet Catholic inner voice of God’s love into conversation with the free-flowing, sometimes chaotic, loud and full voice of God’s presence at Dream Camp. (Thank goodness God is big enough to encompass these diverse worlds and more, or else this would all be very confusing. Ha!)

From Henri and from Dream Camp come the same reminder…
I am not in this alone.

I carry a presence, a spirit, a voice, an image with me that is not my own. When I claim myself, I am not claiming just a sum of all my parts – but this imago dei permeates all of me. There is a reason to believe my friends when they tell me that I am extraordinary, that who I am is amazing, that I have goodness and beauty and ‘much of God to offer others…

Because of the image with me, these words of my truthful friends become true.

Day 24: Home and free.

Henri, Keep Moving Toward Full Incarnation:

Do not discount what you have already accomplished. You have made important steps toward the freedom you are searching for. You have decided to dedicate yourself completely to God, to make Jesus the center of your life, and to be fashioned into an instrument of God’s grace. Yes, you still experience your inner dividedness, your need for approval and acclaim. But you see that you have made important choices that show where you want to go.

You can look at your life as a large cone that becomes narrower the deeper you go. There are many doors in that cone that give you chances to leave the journey. But you have been closing the doors one after the other, making yourself go deeper and deeper into your center. You know that Jesus is waiting for you at the end, just as you know that he is guiding you as you move in that direction. Every time you close another door – be it the door of immediate satisfaction, the door of distracting entertainment, the door of busyness, the door of guilt and worry, or the door of self-rejection – you commit yourself deeper into your heart and thus deeper into the heart of God.

This is a movement toward full incarnation. It leads you to become what you already are – a child of God; it lets you embody more and more the truth of your being; it makes you claim the God within you. You are tempted to think that you are a nobody in the spiritual life and that your friends are far beyond you on the journey. But this is a mistake.

You must trust the depth of God’s presence in you and live from there. This is the way to keep moving toward full incarnation.


Geez. So many doors to close. But the sound of every creak or latch or slam is beautiful. These doors many find their way open once again as time goes on and the soul gets tired – but the initial choice to close them is powerful in itself.

This last week and a half was spent on four wheels roaming across half of the United States (and back), in grandparents’ homes in rural Oklahoma and suburban Kansas, and in various Motel 6 ‘double double’ rooms scattered across the expansive southwest.

I am home, for the first time in what feels like a long while. Between traveling, house-sitting, cat-sitting, and other-sittings going on I feel like I haven’t been really truly home for far too long.

It feels so good to be home this time – knowing that some of these most stubborn doors are closing. I’m not one who puts much stock in New Year’s Resolutions (partially because I keep making the same ones year after year), but I do relish new seasons. This feels to be a new season of goodness ahead.

My wonderful roommate Brittany offered me a new challenge today over dinner – freedom from people. Closing the doors of expectation, assumptions, guilt and shame, fears of rejection, or the desperate desire for acceptance. Closing the doors to my imperfect interpretations of those around me. Closing the doors to ways of being that keep me from what is truly me.

Free from people – to be Jessica.
That is what lies at the end of the cone, where intimacy with Jesus means offering all the authenticity of who I am. That is what this new season holds, this new way of being home.

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