I Have Got to Be That Leper
More Thoughts: on reading Henri Nouwen
by Jane Tawel
September 10, 2017
We used to sing songs like “This little light of mine” or “Jesus loves me, this I know” or “This is my Father’s world”, or “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Where?! Down in my heart! Where?! Down in my heart!” Now we sing songs about how broken and lost we are. I was making myself giggle the other day trying to imagine my grandpa and grandma pulling up a hymn book and singing along with “Oceans” or “Broken Together”. And, honestly, I get it, I really, really get it — I love those songs — but reading Henri Nouwen has convicted me that what is most difficult of all for me to do is to live as if I am loved by a real, true God, to live each day as a beloved child of Jehovah.
I have to grow up, out of my whining and whinging, and accept the covenantal family relationship of “IF God = Then I”. I have to see God as a parent who loves me and who promises that no matter how far the world descends into madness or “pig swill”, Our Father will be preparing a party at home in His Kingdom for the return of His lost ones. Then I have to look around at the suffering in the world and the lost folks on my own doorstep and karaoke with Jesus on, “this little light of mine. I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
I have got to be that leper — the one out of ten — that can’t stop shouting about how joyful he is to be healed and who dashes through the opened party doors that Jesus shines the light from. Does that leper have hard days? Yep. Did Jesus have hard times? Yep. But those hard times — and they can sometimes be daily — are the times I must follow The Son’s example of retreat — even if only for a moment — to enter the accepting solace of The Father’s arms. In that love I find true joy as a dearly loved child of God.
The second hardest thing for me to do is to follow God’s ancient command to love other people as if they are also beloved children of a real live God. Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” God loves the prodigal sinner in the very same and eternal way that he loves the eldest believer — both are sinners saved only by the inexplicable, unchanging, running -forward- towards- us joyful, joy-inducing LOVE of OUR Father.
So if I have opened my arms to accept the loving embrace of this God, then I must not focus on my brokenness but must fight the darkness with joy. I am a child of God called to speak truth, fight injustice, love enemies, sorrow with the sorrowful, walk upright, and to REJOICE in the nearness and love of God. This is the joy that comes with being not a servant but a child of a King. If I don’t accept what The Father offers me — complete forgiveness and restoration to what He created me to be — If I don’t allow myself to be reborn and returned not to slavery but to sonship like Jesus, The Son, — If I don’t allow the sorrows of this world to be shadows dispelled by God’s light in me — THEN I am turning my back on The Father as He dashes across the earth’s plains, longing to bring me back into His Garden Kingdom. I must know Him as loving Father and myself as His beloved. I must daily put on the royal robe and enter the party.
And if I have opened my arms to accept the loving embrace of this God, then I must open my arms with a loving embrace for all those who do not know how loved they are by a God. BY A GOD!!!!!! With that acceptance of my role as daughter, I must look up from my not so very important work to see the one lost prodigal or the one proud hateful eldest that God also runs toward. I must sorrow with she who is lost and rejoice with he who enters the same embrace I am held firmly in. I must join in God’s party for each child of God. That is what evangelism is — oh how I mourn with those who have lost that word’s meaning — Evangelism is going out there and discovering that everyone’s name is on God’s party list and then flinging open my own arms to party with each invitee like there are endless tomorrows of celebration. Because there are– God’s Hoopla has no end. The “Good News” is an invitation open for each individual, no matter who they are, who seeks joy in God’s love. In Jesus, I experience the joy of my own celebration of salvation in being loved by God when I see how dearly loved even my worst enemy is by the God who loves.
One day, as Jesus gathered His children, or those we call His disciples, to Him to give them the power of His kingdom, in Luke 10:21 the Bible tells us that ” In that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
Dear Father, please help me to seek Your gift of Joy in the Jesus Journey. Help me see myself and others as much loved children. Create in me a heart and will to mourn with those who have so much to mourn about. Then let me trust that no matter what, You can create joy. Forgive my petty complaints and help me not act like a slave but as your child Help me accept that everything You have is mine. Forgive my grasping hands. Help me to open my hands to all those I meet and to give what You have given me. Help me to open my arms that You have filled with plenty of Your goodness and love — enough to last forever. Please let my little light shine. Amen
From Henri Nouwen in The Return of the Prodigal (emphases are my own):
“From God’s perspective, one hidden act of repentance, one little gesture of selfless love, one moment of true forgiveness is all that is needed to bring God from his throne to run to his returning son and to fill the heavens with sounds of divine joy….
When Jesus speaks about the world, he is very realistic. He speaks about wars and revolutions, earthquakes, plagues and famines, persecution and imprisonment, betrayal, hatred and assassinations. There is no suggestion at all that these signs of the world’s darkness will ever be absent. But still, God’s joy can be ours in the midst of it all. It is the joy of belonging to the household of God whose love is stronger than death and who empowers us to be in the world while already belonging to the kingdom of joy.
All holy men and women, whether they lived long ago or belong to our own time, can recognize the many small returns that take place every day and rejoice with the Father. They have somehow pierced the meaning of true joy.
For me it is amazing to experience daily the radical difference between cynicism and joy. Cynics seek darkness wherever they go, they point always to approaching dangers, impure motives, and hidden schemes. They call trust naive, care romantic, and forgiveness sentimental. They sneer at enthusiasm, ridicule spiritual fervor, and despise charismatic behavior. They consider themselves realists who see reality for what is truly is and who are not deceived by “escapist emotions.” But in belittling God’s joy their darkness only calls forth more darkness.
People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God. They discover that there are people who heal each other’s wounds, forgive each other’s offenses, share their possessions, foster the spirit of community, celebrate the gifts they have received, and live in constant anticipation of the full manifestation of God’s glory.
Every moment of each day I have the chance to choose between joy and…….
Jesus lived this joy of the Father’s house to the full. In him we can see his Father’s joy. That divine joy does not obliterate the divine sorrow. In our world, joy and sorrow exclude each other. Here below, joy means the absence of sorrow and sorrow the absence of joy. But such distinctions do not exist in God. Jesus, the Son of God, is the man of sorrows, but also the man of complete joy. … The joy of God belongs to his sonship, and this joy of Jesus and his Father is offered to me. Jesus wants me to have the same joy he enjoys: “I have loved you, just as my Father has loved me. Remain in my love, If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this, so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.” The Return of the Prodigal by Henri Nouwen (116-118)