Do you know Henri Nouwen and Anne Lamott? They’re two of my favorite spiritual writers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you said they’re yours too.
What I love about their work is how utterly personal it is.
For instance, I just read Anne Lamott’s latest missive on Facebook. (Which, by the way, do you follow her on Facebook? Because if you don’t, you totally should. She showers us with goodness and light from her daily life every few days, and it’s amazing and delightful and encouraging and real every single time.)
Anyway, I read her latest Facebook missive today, and she was talking about how sick she’s been since the holidays and how hard it is to let the people in her life love her when she’s down for the count and how much of an issue she has with God for letting the people she loves in her life who are very, very sick get sick and not get better in the first place.
But, she said, “For me, it’s always about [the poet William] Blake saying we’re here to learn to endure the beams of love. I’m fantastic at giving—but receiving is grad school. … I’ll lie here, with Advil, kleenex, and the greatest medical device in history, the hot cat compress, radiating warmth onto my chest and his furry feng shui. I’ll still hate being sick, and especially hate having sick friends. But I love and sometimes live in God’s perfect care.”
Um, wow. She writes such truth, doesn’t she? And with such beauty, isn’t it?
Henri Nouwen is the same way. I own so many of his books that not all of them even fit lined up on his special shelf on my bookshelf and I have to turn them to the side and pile them in stacks.
But my favorite books that I own of his are his published journals. Several times in his life, he published journals he kept during special seasons — when he lived at a monastery in New York, for instance, while trying to find a place of unfettered peace from the compulsions that drove his life; or when he lived in Bolivia for six months to discern if he was called to be a priest in a developing nation instead of a professor at Harvard; and when he lived in France for a year so he could participate in the L’Arche community there and discern if he was meant to leave academia and serve the mentally and physically disadvantaged among us; and when he published the “secret journal” he kept for himself while recuperating from a very deep wound he’d received from a friend that sent him into a spiral of darkness.
His work is so honest and raw and true, and he’s so generous to let us see inside the unvarnished truth of his heart and mind in certain seasons — all his wrestlings, all his struggles, all his longings, all his cloud nines.
I love this kind of writing. It’s perhaps why memoir is my favorite genre.
And so I’ve been thinking about this in terms of what I offer you. The truth is, I write these personal letters each week, formed from the grist of my own life’s mill, from a similar vantage point: in the hope that as you read about the experiences of my interior life with God, you’ll gain a glimpse into the possibility and truth of your own life.
But lately, I’ve been wondering about this. Is what I’m writing helpful? Is it providing that side-view mirror into your own journey that I’m ultimately hoping it does? Does it come across as sheer navel-gazing, too much self-absorbed blathering? Am I being as helpful to you as I really could be?
Earlier this week, I had an epiphany about this.
I realized that while I will always love the work of Henri Nouwen and Anne Lamott, and while I will always feel at home writing in a similar self-reflective posture that is shared as an open mirror to the world, it is also true that there are ways I’m decidedly different than those two spiritual heroes of mine.
For instance, I’m a teacher. I have an uncanny ability to see inside the way a thing works, or to see at a glance the whole scope of some great, grand design, and to know how to help another person along inside that scope, tiny step by tiny step.
I’m always the one asking “How?” How are we formed spiritually? How do we grow in our capacity to love? How is this or that thing accomplished in our lives? Questions like these flood the journals I have kept along the years. (I’m serious. The “how” question is everywhere in there.)
And so I’m thinking. Watching. Noticing these things. Wondering how both my willingness to share my journey with you and my ability to understand and create a process for you can be offered in meaningful ways.
I look forward to sharing more about this as I learn more what it means, too.
PS: Thank you for your patience with me last week! I don’t think I’ve ever missed a Sunday in the year and a half I’ve been writing these letters — except maybe once, and even then I believe I announced it in advance. But last week, as I was both catching a red-eye flight home from California to Orlando and nursing a cold that had come on with a vengeance at the turn of the new year, every effort to write my weekly letter to you was futile. Thankfully much better now! :)