The Inner Voice of Who Knows What

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

Day 22: Not right but good.

Henri, Stay with Your Pain:

When you experience the deep pain of loneliness, it is understandable that your thoughts go out to the person who was able to take that loneliness away, even if only for a moment. When, underneath all the praise and acclaim, you feel a huge absence that makes everything look useless, your hearts wants only one thing – to be with the person who was once able to dispel these frightening emotions. But it is the absence itself, the emptiness within you, that you have to be willing to experience, not the one who could temporarily take it away.

It is not easy to stay with your loneliness. The temptation is to nurse your pain or to escape into fantasies about people who will take it away. But when you can acknowledge your loneliness in a safe, contained place, you make your pain available for God’s healing.

God does not want your loneliness; God wants to touch you in a way that permanently fulfills your deepest need. It is important that you dare to stay with your pain and allow it to be there. You have to own your loneliness and trust that it will not always be there. The pain you suffer now is meant to put you in touch with the place where you most need healing, your very heart. The person who was able to touch that place has revealed to you your pearl of great price.

It is understandable that everything you did, are doing, or plan to do seems completely meaningless compared with that great pearl. That pearl is the experience of being fully loved. When you experience deep loneliness, you are willing to give up everything in exchange for healing. But no human being can heal that pain. Still, people will be sent to you to mediate God’s healing, and they will be able to offer you the deep sense of belonging that you desire and that gives meaning to all you do.

Dare to stay with your pain, and trust in God’s promise to you.



Dear readers, I hope you all had a very merry Christmas. I did. : )
I write from Oklahoma City visiting my extended family, after a three-day car trip with the Mast Family and Olive the dog.

Now –
It’s time for some honesty.

When you experience the deep pain of loneliness, it is understandable that your thoughts go out to the person who was able to take that loneliness away, even if only for a moment.

Recently I got lonely. I felt like it was highly unlikely to ever have this healing I hoped for, that God’s promise of fulfillment may not be true, that this pearl of great price would never get to shine unless I took care of it myself.

I entered into a faux-relationship with a young man, who I knew was not right for me.
He was wonderful, still is.
Handsome, kind, generous, hard-working, lovable, loving – but not right for me. He allowed me a place to escape from my troubled heart, made me feel unconditionally beautiful, dispelled the fright of that loneliness. He took care of me, but was not right for me.

(By taking matters into my own hands, I cemented my brewing disbelief in the possibility of even God’s love as big enough to take care of me.)

Knowing that he would never be able to take care of me enough, or heal me enough, or fulfill me enough… But also knowing that the immediate gratification of his affection was the best thing I’d felt in a long time… I stayed with him for a while.

… your hearts wants only one thing – to be with the person who was once able to dispel these frightening emotions.

Exploitation is what happened. I exploited his heart and his company for the temporary distraction. I exploited my own heart by letting it feel so deeply and crash so hard. I exploited the grace of my community, by crying to them that I wished to detach myself from this boy, but choosing to go back again and again.

I finally let him go. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, willingly choosing to give up this person who made my life brighter, and gave me a place to escape my pain. I miss him every day, and the loneliness he countered reappears every day, and the choice to let him go is repeated fresh every day.

Now I live as somebody who has hurt. Not just been hurt, but having hurt another human being who I deeply care for. I wrestle now with knowing that this man has been scarred by my actions.

The person who was able to touch that place has revealed to you your pearl of great price.

He took care of that pearl for a while, he made me feel fully loved for a while, but I chose to let him go – to trust that God will take care of that pearl without this man’s heart, body, and words as the right mediator.

The pain you suffer now is meant to put you in touch with the place where you most need healing, your very heart.

This man has shown me how much love I need, how much loneliness really exists in my heart, how much room God has to enter in and begin to heal. Thank God that he was there to reveal this to me. But I regret so much that I hurt him in the process.

He was not right for me, but he was good for me. He was good in loving me well for a small amount of time, and revealing to me this pearl that I now know cannot be ignored.

Thank you for being good for me.


Day 21: Henri in the inner city.

Henri, Remain Anchored in Your Community:

 When your call to be a compassionate healer gets mixed up with your need to be accepted, the people you want to heal will end up pulling you into their world and robbing you of your healing gift. But when, out of fear of becoming a person who suffers, you fail to get close to such people, you cannot reach them and restore them to health. You feel deeply the loneliness, alienation, and spiritual poverty of your contemporaries. You want to offer them a truly healing response that comes from your faith in the Gospel. But often you have found yourself hooked by curiosity and a need for affection, and so you have lost the ability to bring the good news to those to whom you came so close.

It is important to remain as much in touch as possible with those who know you, love you, and protect your vocation. If you visit people with great needs and deep struggles that you can easily recognize in your own heart, remain anchored in your home community. Think about your community as holding a long line that girds your waist. Wherever you are, it holds that line. Thus you can be very close to people in need of your healing without losing touch with those who protect your vocation. Your community can pull you back when its members see that you are forgetting why you were sent out.

When you feel a burgeoning need for sympathy, support, affection, and care from those to whom you are being sent, remember that there is a place where you can receive those gifts in a safe and responsible way. Do not let yourself be seduced by the dark powers that imprison those you want to set free. Keep returning to those to whom you belong and who keep you in the light. It is that light that you desire to bring into the darkness. You do not have to fear anyone as long as you remain safely anchored in your community. Then you can carry the light far and wide.

I live in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Fresno. Lowell lies right between our downtown in economic limbo, and the artsy, thriving Tower District. Our neighborhood is one on crowded streets, sneakers hung up on telephone wires, lots of little chihuahuas wandering around, smells of pot and tamales, and beautiful beautiful people. I am one of many who have chosen to ‘relocate,’ to intentionally make our home where it is not societally logical. We’ve made our homes in neighborhoods that aren’t used to middle-class white girls with bachelors’ degrees, and aren’t used to having different voices speak up for them.

Through Fresno Pacific, FIFUL experiences, the Pink House, and now relocation, I’ve been in circles of folks involved with ‘urban ministry’ – looking different to each different circle – for the past five years or so. It’s become my home culture, my native language, the community that I feel ‘gets’ me in some very important ways.

It seems like Henri is speaking directly to us urban ministry folks tonight.
Or at least directly to me, in this very integral part of who I am.

More thoughts tomorrow, but I hope that if you, dear reader, consider yourself a member of this urban ministry community – you would take some time to think this over.

Day 20: Solid.

Henri, Follow Your Deepest Calling:

When you discover in yourself something that is a gift from God, you have to claim it and not let it be taken away from you. Sometimes people who do not know your heart will altogether miss the importance of something that is part of your deepest self, precious in your eyes as well as God’s. They might not know you well enough to be able to respond to your genuine needs. It is then that you have to speak your heart and follow your own deepest calling.

There is a part of you that too easily gives in to others’ influence. As soon as someone questions your motives, you start doubting yourself. You end up agreeing with the other before you have consulted your own heart. Thus you grow passive and simply assume that the other knows better.

Here you have to be very attentive to your inner self. “Coming home” and “being given back to yourself” are expressions that indicate that you have a solid inner base from which you can speak and act – without apologies – humbly but convincingly.


I think Henri and I are growing together. Moving from feeling like flotsam and jetsam floating around in the chaos, we’ve remembered this solid inner base. It is refreshing to know once again that this inner base, this inner voice, has never left me – but just been shouted out by other voices lately.

Sometimes people who do not know your heart will altogether miss the importance of something that is part of your deepest self, precious in your eyes as well as God’s.

I feel this when I try to express how much nonviolent resistance, or simplicity, or jazz, mean to me. How much they are a part of my deepest self, created to be pieces of me, that are integrally precious to the way God knit me together.

I’m learning not to shy away from proclaiming those, but instead owning them as parts of me. Parts that enrich and enliven who I am. You know who you are – I know who I am – in your deepest self. And in the times that you think you don’t, say hallelujah for that inner solid base that may have just gone underground for a bit.

Day 19: Coexisting.

Henri, Befriend Your Emotions:

It can be discouraging to discover how quickly you can lose your inner peace. Someone who happens to enter your life can suddenly create restlessness and anxiety in you. Sometimes this feeling is there before you fully realize it. You thought you were centered; you thought you could trust yourself; you thought you could stay with God. But then someone you do not even know intimately makes you feel insecure. You ask yourself whether you are loved or not, and that stranger becomes the criterion. Thus you start feeling disillusioned by your own reaction.

Don’t whip yourself for your lack of spiritual progress. If you do, you will easily be pulled even further away from your center. You will damage yourself and make it more difficult to come home again. It is obviously not good to act on your sudden emotions. But you don’t have to repress them, either. You can acknowledge them and let them pass by. In a certain sense, you have to befriend them so you do not become their victim.

The way to “victory” is not in trying to overcome your dispiriting emotions directly but in building a deeper sense of safety and at-homeness and a more incarnate knowledge that you are deeply loved.  Then, little by little, you will stop giving so much power to strangers.

Do not be discouraged. Be sure that God will truly fulfill all your needs. Keep remembering that. It will help you not to expect that fulfillment from people who you already know are incapable of giving it.


Amen, Henri. Good word today.

It’s so tempting to just aggressively exorcise the loneliness/fear/pain/discomfort/dissatisfaction that live inside me, and banish them to the ends of the earth never to return.
The problem is, all these feelings will never cease to exist. They are a part of me – not welcome parts, but still there. And as a good pacifist, my job is to learn to coexist with them, rather than exterminating them.

(I’ve held to the same theory for years with things like slugs, spiders, and cockroaches – but I think I’ve let myself become okay with extermination. Just on special occasions.)

These wretched emotions are not going away, but I believe they can learn their proper place. They will always live in my house, but they can learn to live in a house where belovedness and fulfillment and joy are bustling about as well.

I am just so tired of giving them this power to run it all.

What if we shifted the power to these alternative emotions, of belovedness and fulfillment and joy?
What if these truths took the lead, instead of being hidden away?
What would change?

Day 18: Carne.

Henri, Let Jesus Transform You:

You are looking for ways to meet Jesus. You are trying to meet him not only in your mind but also in your body. You seek his affection, and you know that this affection involves his body as well as yours. He became flesh for you so that you could encounter him in the flesh and receive his love in the flesh.

But something remains in you that prevents this meeting. There is still a lot of shame and guilt stuck away in your body, blocking the presence of Jesus. You do not fully feel at home in your body; you look down on it as if it were not a good enough, beautiful enough, or pure enough place to meet Jesus.

When you look attentively at your life, you will see how filled it has been with fears, especially fears of people in authority: your parents, your teachers, your bishops, your spiritual guides, even your friends. You never felt equal to them and kept putting yourself down in front of them. For most of your life, you have felt as if you needed their permission to be yourself.

Think about Jesus. He was totally free before the authorities of his time. He told people not to be guided by the behavior of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus came among us as an equal, a brother. He broke down the pyramidal structures of relationship between God and people as well as those among people and offered a new model: the circle, where God lives in full solidarity with the people and the people with one another.

You will not be able to meet Jesus in your body while your body remains full of doubts and fears. Jesus came to free you from these bonds and to create in you a space where you can be with Him. He wants you to live the freedom of the children of God.

Do not despair, thinking that you cannot change yourself after so many years. Simply enter into the presence of Jesus as you are and ask him to give you a fearless heart where he can be with you. You cannot make yourself different. Jesus came to give you a new heart, a new spirit, a new mind, and a new body. Let him transform you by his love and so enable you to receive his affection in your whole being.



Here it is again, visiting another time like that little puppy that prances down the street to your door hoping for an invitation. Whether or not you feed her at first, she knows that eventually you’ll break down and succumb to her big loving eyes and her irresistible desire to let her love you, warmly and  unconditionally.

Incarnation keeps tapping at my door, looking up at me like it knows that it will get in eventually and be given a home in my heart, now fearless and open to it. Incarnation has been a pervasive theme for me these last weeks, giving a new power to the concrete Jesus of history, the pregnancy of Mary, the importance of my own mass of muscle and fat and skin and bones to my faith.

This week I just finished up Mark Baker’s class Global Christian Theologies at the seminary, where incarnation has taken on new life. A selection from the Rev. Dr. Loida Martell-Otero’s “Of Satos and Saints: Salvation from the Periphery” is the reading for this reflection.

Written for December 1 class, slightly edited:

Up til this point, the word incarnation had been a fairly lifeless one. I knew the idea, and the weight of the incarnation as God choosing to spend time on earth; but for all my recent musings and convictions around a bodily and fleshly theology, I failed to grasp the richness of incarnation until reading Martell-Otero’s English selection with some Spanish intermixed. From page 19, “… salvation is an incarnational event; nos afecta en la carne.”

My English-speaking (and hungry!) mind moved immediately to add asada to the end of the sentence. Obviously not the author’s point, this thought of suddenly moving from theological reflection to a burrito jolted me into recognizing how powerful this incarnation is. Nowhere but in a historically concrete context does God in Jesus happen; no place other than a man’s body of flesh and blood. It strikes me now to see the carne so often profane or unvalued – carnal desires, elementally body or meat – thrust right into the middle of incarnation/encarnacion, the word we use to describe the presence of God in our midst. It was reading theology in another language that made this enrichment possible.

If incarnation is at all related to carne asada, it must be worth looking into.
Come back, little puppy. I’m getting closer to letting you in.


Day 17: Old Starbucks.

Henri, Keep Returning to the Road to Freedom: 

When suddenly you seem to lose all you thought you had gained, do not despair. Your healing is not a straight line. You must expect setbacks and regressions. Don’t say to yourself, “All is lost. I have to start all over again.” This is not true. What you have gained, you have gained.

Sometimes little things build up and make you lose ground for a moment. Fatigue, a seemingly cold remark, someone’s inability to hear you, someone’s innocent forgetfulness, which feels like rejection – when all these things come together, they can make you feel as if you are right back to where you started. But try to think about it instead as being pulled off the road for a while. When you return to the road, you return to the place where you left it, not to where you started.

It is important not to dwell on the small moments when you feel pulled away from your progress. Try to return home, to the solid place within you, immediately. Otherwise, these moments start connecting with similar moments, and together they become powerful enough to pull you far away from the road. Try to remain alert to seemingly inocuous distractions. It is easier to return to the road when you are on the shoulder than when you are pulled all the way into a nearby swamp.

In everything, keep trusting that God is with you, that God has given you companions on the journey. Keep returning to the road to freedom.


I first read this chapter a couple months ago when I felt like I was right in the middle of that swamp. Part of me couldn’t believe I let myself get dragged this far away… And another part of me was rejoicing at the possibility of finding the road again.

I read Henri’s chapter again, sitting in an old Starbucks I used to visit when I lived on this side of town. It reminds me of a different season of life, when it I felt like I had it all figured out, but had no idea – and my ‘real life’ hadn’t quite manifested itself yet.

Five years ago, six of us from Fresno Pacific spent three weeks in South Africa on a mission trip, working with a Congolese church in Durban. Returning to California after such an impactful trip – shaping my identity, challenging my assumptions, pushing my comfort zone to its edges – was difficult. Very difficult. It was my first experience outside the States for so many days, my first experiment in mission, my first encounter with God on literally the other side of the globe.

I knew I could not go back to the life I knew right away. Arriving in the Fresno Airport in the early hours of the morning after the longest flight I had experienced yet, I wanted sleep. But I knew that there was too much going on inside of me to sleep. I wandered to this nearby Starbucks, for a 6 am visit to just sit, in solitude with South Africa on my mind, for just an hour more before it would start to slip away.

This little shop, now decorated for Christmas and generous with their gingerbread lattes, always reminds me of South Africa.

South Africa was the high point of “young Jessica Mast the cage-rattler infatuated with post-modernity.” I loved Christianity, but was so wrapped up in my dad’s seminary education and the tidbits of paradigm shift that he brought home, I had skipped over my own crucial spiritual development, enmeshed myself in the world of  and assumed that whatever my dad loved I should love to. Which is because he’s a great guy. : )

But South Africa was a turning point for me. I got to know myself for my own self, read Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution and caught the New Monastic / community development fire, learned to love cross-cultural experiences, found the value in enriching one another with very different perspectives, and realized that my infatuation with ‘the postmodern shift’ was helpful in how I saw the world – but didn’t go nearly far enough to be a compelling, fulfilling, lasting faith I could fall in love with.

All this to say, dear patient and long-suffering readers, is that Shane and South Africa and that team of six wonderful people launched me on a journey into who I have become. These last five years have been spent seeking this compelling, fulfilling, lasting faith to fall in love with. The beauty is that it is ever-changing, and moves with me where I wander, and there is still time to find it fully.

Sometimes, lately, when I feel I have wandered far off the road – I fear that I will revert back to my 18-year-old self, naive and limited with no clue how to live open to the spirit. And when I feel I have wandered far off this smaller road of healing, my blunders can appear so grand that they overshadow the goodness of who I have become. Thank God he is grander than them yet.

I come here to this Starbucks to remind myself how far I have come; on this larger road to freedom, from faith in a box to faith that excites me to pursue,  and on this smaller road to freedom, from shame and hurt and confusion to at least giving voice to it all and learning to move through it.

The journey for either road is not over, and freedom looks a long way off – but we’ll get there. God has done too much in me since South Africa, and this old Starbucks with a girl just discovering the world, to abandon it now.

Day 16: Damage done.

Henri, Find the Source of Your Loneliness:

Whenever you feel lonely, you must try to find the source of this feeling. You are inclined either to run away from your loneliness or to dwell in it. When you run away from it, your loneliness does not really diminish; you simply force it out of your mind temporarily. When you start dwelling in it, your feelings only become stronger, and you slip into depression.

The spiritual task it not to escape your loneliness, not to let yourself drown in it, but to find its source. This is not so easy to do, but when you can somehow identify the place from which these feelings emerge, they will lose some of their power over you. This identification is not an intellectual task; it is a task of the heart. With your heart you must search for that place without fear.

This is such an important search because it leads you to discern something good about yourself. The pain of your loneliness may be rooted in your deepest vocation. You might find that your loneliness is linked to your call to live completely for God. Thus your loneliness may be revealed to you as the other side of your unique gift. Once you can experience in your innermost being the truth of this, you may find your loneliness not only tolerable but even fruitful. What seemed primarily painful may then become a feeling that, though painful, opens for you the way to an even deeper knowledge of God’s love.


Compassionate. Kind. Selfless. Considerate. Loving. Big-hearted.

All words used to describe me at some point or other in my life. And that is exactly who I want to be. Often I’ve thought that although I have no clue what kind of ‘vocation’ or ‘calling’ or whatever will be my permanent place in life, I know that every single day I am called to make sure people know that they are loved.

This is what I love about myself (most of the time) – that my heart is big and breaks easily and tries to keep others in focus.

This is what I hate about myself – that I am so focused on others that I start to fear them, their perceptions, expectations, assumptions of me, and I fear the possibility of others being disappointed in me.

I can hardly bear the thought of any person being upset with me, or disappointed in me, or disgusted by me, or – most horrifying – hurt by me.

I please. It’s just what I do.
I can call it compassion, or I can call it pleasing, but they both come from the same heart.

But the problem is that as much as I love compassion, I don’t practice it all the time.
Every once in a while I do hurt somebody I love, badly.
Facing the consequences of such a blunder just wrecks my soul.

As I wrote about forgiveness and Mumford last night, it struck me how difficult a journey it’s been for me to get to a place of forgiveness and grace from a place of bitterness and frustration… I know that journey.

And then it hit me. I am not always the forgiver, the one extending grace and having the upper hand. Sometimes I am the one who needs forgiveness, the one who desperately needs grace and cannot do a thing to get it without consent.

Who am I when I am not pleasing? When somebody is disappointed in me? When somebody is upset with me? When, worst of all, I have damaged another human soul that I love?

I know there is grace… But I know from my own journey it can take a loooooong time to get there.
I am trapped in the purgatory of somebody else’s forgiveness journey.

Lord have mercy as I wait. And Lord have mercy as I come face to face with the scars I’ve left on your children.

Day 15: For the love of Mumford.

Henri, Tell Your Story in Freedom: 

The years that lie behind you, with all their struggles and pains, will in time be remembered only as the way that led to your new life. But as long as the new life is not fully yours, your memories will continue to cause you pain. When you keep reliving painful events of the past, you feel victimized by them. But there is a way of telling your story that does not create pain. Then, also, the need to tell your story will become less pressing. You will see that you are no longer there: the past is gone, the pain has left you, you no longer have to go back and relive it, you no longer depend on your past to identify yourself.

There are two ways of telling your story. One is to tell it compulsively and urgently, to keep returning to it because you see your present suffering as the result of your past experiences. But there is another way. You can tell your story from the place where it no longer dominates you. You can speak about it with a certain distance and see it as the way to your present freedom. The compulsion to tell your story is gone. From the perspective of the life you now life and the distance you now have, your past does not loom over you. It has lost its weight and can be remembered as God’s way of making you more compassionate and understanding of others.


Allrighty, dear readers.
Here’s something completely different.
I recently (just now) wrote the article below for a magazine media/faith column. Henri’s comments today helped me think through writing the article, Mumford and Sons remind me that there is something so much greater to look forward to than hurt – and since everything is all connected anyway, I included it below here.

(Feedback is very welcome, especially from any fellow Mumford lovers!)

Buying the 2009 Mumford and Sons album Sigh No More was an incredibly foolish decision.
It was an impulse buy in the intoxicating halls of Amoeba Music, a purchase based on a small snipppets of these British folks rock songs I had just vaguely heard. I romantically chose the vinyl record over the CD or online mp3 download, forgetting that I would have to lug this large purchase on my walk through San Francisco, deal with the eventual warping and skipping, and enjoy Mumford solely in the stationary presence of my record player.

It was a fantastic decision.
Mumford has taught me much about forgiveness, redemption, and the hope that from God comes a love that far surpasses any imperfect human love we experience. This impulse buy was exactly what was needed to breathe God’s good life into me at a time when it felt far off.

My experience of romantic love has not been altogether perfect… It seems this is a common burden, hoping for people to love us perfectly and then coming to the harsh realization that they are merely people. (Go figure.) Turning on the radio, one finds romance everywhere – confessions of head-over-heels infatuation, frustration and sorrow at love gone wrong, blame toward that two-timin’ woman or that man who can’t be trusted. But from Mumford, I heard something entirely different, that took me by surprise: an apology.

But it was not your fault but mine
And it was your heart on the line
I really f*ed it up this time
Didn’t I, my dear?

This raw confession comes from “Little Lion Man,” with the popular edited version never quite capturing the intensity of what it means to blunder so badly. For whatever the reason, these men singing are passionately apologetic, recognizing the damage caused, and begging for forgiveness. In the album’s title song, there is an equally passionate and mournful cry of the simple I’m sorry.

I wish I could hear the people who’ve hurt my heart sing out these lyrics, cursing and all. God knows the times I need to sing them out as well, cursing and all. There is something about owning the pain, crying out in repentance and hope for reconciliation… that restores my faith in that reconciliation. It reminds me to forgive, even when nobody may come serenading me with the words of Mumford.

Mumford has pushed me to forgive those I thought I might never forgive. And Mumford has given me hope that others can forgive me when I do not deserve it in the least. This is redemption in action.

What sustains my hope for redemption is this vision of love that Mumford offers, a vision of love that is nothing short of the beautiful kingdom of God…

Love, it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be
There is a design, an alignment
A cry of my heart to see
The beauty of love as it was made to be

In the same breath that the men of Mumford take ownership of humanity’s shortcomings, they proclaim a love boundless and fulfilling – the love we were meant to encounter in relationship with God. They call us to pursue this love, as they sing  Awake my soul, for you were made to meet your maker.

What motivates me to forgive is not assurance that humanity will drastically change, that the love I receive from people will somehow become perfect, that romance will suddenly turn easy. What motivates me to forgive is knowing that there is something bigger and better than human romance in store… From the album’s closing track “After the Storm,” the music of Mumford articulates a hope that I cannot resist, a hope that echoes this kingdom we seek.

But there will come a time, you’ll see
With no more tears
And love will not break your heart
But dismiss your fears
Get over your hill and see what you find there
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair

Mumford reminds me that this love – the love that will not break my heart – is real, and is worth hoping for.

(Yes, three posts in one day is cheating.)

Get over it.

Also, I’ve decided to extend this project out… Henri’s chapters are getting longer and I am getting out of breath trying to respond to two in one day.

Therefore. This manifestation of the blog will be around probably til February or so, past the original December 31st expiration date. If you’re tired of following by then, no worries. I forgive you. If not, we’ll see where January takes us.

It was folly anyway to think that my current dissatisfactions with life would be over by January 1st. Isn’t that every New Year’s Resolution? ; )

Day 14: Zuckerberg hermeneutic.

Henri, Seek a New Spirituality: 

You are beginning to realize that your body is given to you to affirm your self. Many spiritual writers speak about the body as if it cannot be trusted. This might be true if your body has not come home. But once you have brought your body home, once it is an integral part of your self, you can trust it and listen to its language.

When you find yourself curious about the lives of people you are with or filled with desires to possess them in one way or another, your body has not fully come home. As soon as you have come to live in your body as a true expression of who you are, your curiosity will vanish, and you will be present to others free from needs to know, or own.

A new spirituality is being born in you. Not body denying or body indulging but truly incarnational. You have to trust that this spirituality can find shape within you, and that it can find articulation through you. You will discover that many other spiritualities you have admired and tried to practice no longer completely fit your unique call. You will begin sensing when other people’s experiences and ideas no longer match your own. You have to start trusting your unique vocation and allow it to grow deeper and stronger in you so it can blossom in your community.

As you bring your body home, you will be more able to discern with your whole being the value of other people’s spiritual experiences and their conceptualization. You will be able to understand and appreciate them without desiring to imitate them. You will be more self-confident and free to claim your unique place in life as God’s gift to you. There will be no need for comparisons. You will walk your own way, not in isolation but with the awareness that you do not have to worry whether others are pleased or not.

Look at Rembrandt and van Gogh. They trusted their vocations and did not allow anyone to lead them astray. With true Dutch stubbornness, they followed their vocations from the moment they recognized them. They didn’t bend over backward to please their friends or their enemies. Both ended their lives in poverty, but both left humanity with gifts that could heal the minds and hearts of many generations of people. Think of these two men and trust that you too have a unique vocation that is worth claiming and living out faithfully.


Forgive me for my social networking-saturated cultural context, but all I can think of with this chapter is Facebook. Yes, Mark Zuckerberg, you’ve created a phenomenon that I would consider legitimately a worldview. Hermeneutics, watch out.

When you find yourself curious about the lives of people you are with or filled with desires to possess them in one way or another… When you find yourself looking through the photo albums and analyzing the comments on the FB page of that boy/girl you just met and have a crush on, kept safe in the anonymity of the Internet…

This language of possession is strong. Especially as Henri calls out our tendency for comparisons, imitations, and identifying our selves based on identifying others, he highlights this deisre to possess somebody else, to channel somebody else, as our own self.

Facebook allows this to happen with incredible ease, at the click of little buttons and the drag of a mouse. Comparisons run rampant.

With friends and strangers and enemies, the seemingly innocent glance through a profile picture album can become a war against my profile picture album. A war against my identity as portrayed on that blue and white screen – wishing that I had represented myself as more adventurous, that I had more photos from this or that angle, that I had taken more time to meticulously choose the racial diversity and ratio of friends I chose to include in my photos – so everyone discovering me online would know exactly how open and embracing I am. Ohhhhhh boy, is that unhealthy.

With fellow Christians, the tension comes with the intimidating “Religious views” question. (“Political views,” probably just as much!) Do I imitate others and give a standard, common label so I am easily identified? Do I build on my theological education background, nearly isolating myself with the particularity of a label like “postmodern, liberation-influenced, Anabaptist-rooted, contextually-cognizant, missionally-oriented, post-evangelical yet ecumenically reconciling?”

And then there are the status updates.
What two-bit soundbyte will the most fully convey the complexity of who I am? What can I say that will encapsulate my deepest identity aspects… well, not really, just the ones I want to share? What quip will be memorable, so all my ‘friends’ will not forget me? Because is that not where my identity is validated, whether people are pleased with me?

Again, ohhhhhh boy, is that unhealthy.
Thank you, Facebook, for helping giving a platform for our insecurities, image,  identity, and hopes that we can craft ourselves however we want online… Thank you for giving us a platform where they all play out. And where we can recognize them for what they are, beneath the wall feed and friendships and incessant need to perfect FarmVille.

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