I just completed a short book that was stocked with gems for the spiritual journey. Henri Nouwen’s book, The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God Through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence, begins by introducing the reader to the spirituality of the Desert Fathers who dwelled in the Egyptian desert during the fourth and fifth centuries. Their desire was to remove themselves from the conformity of the world. Nouwen says that one could summarize their spirituality by using the words, “flee, be silent, and pray.” The following are practices Nouwen discusses:
St. Anthony, called the father of monks, lived 20 years in complete solitude. His life illustrates that we are to be aware of the need to let go of our false self and to reclaim the “new self of Jesus.” Solitude is where this type of transformation takes place.
Solitude makes us aware of how dead we are inside. Being alone with God keeps us from judging the other as worse than ourselves. The outflow of such change is to have a ministry filled with compassion for others.
Nouwen shares how our world has become a “torrent of words.” I have always enjoyed and been fascinated by words. But, I was challenged to consider how words could keep us from silence in our souls.
A wise man in our church said, “I wonder what it would be like if a pastor, instead of saying “let’s pray,” said “let’s be silent.” Nouwen says, “A word with power is a word that comes out of silence.” He challenges us to be careful about our churches being places where we keep people so busy that they no longer hear the God who speaks in silence.
The book suggests that solitude and silence are two integral parts of unceasing prayer. The Desert Fathers saw prayer as listening to God and not so much as speaking. Their “prayer of the heart” is one in which their hearts and minds are one in the presence of God. But, since we do not live as monks, Nouwen provides a “rule of prayer.” These are short, simple prayers that are unceasing and all-inclusive. This could include a word or sentence that is repeated frequently so that it moves to the center of our being and allows us to hear God.
Psalm 46:10 reminds us to “Be still and know that I am God…” This is my greatest challenge. But, Nouwen reminds me that these disciplines, as modeled by the Desert Fathers, are crucial to being able to do my work as a pastoral counselor. Yes, I can’t leave my daily responsibilities, but I can find moments within my daily schedule to pause, get quiet, and hear the Lord. I pray that you will take the opportunity today to do just that—and be blessed by it.
Kathy Milans is the lead member of the Soul Care Collective Steering Committee.
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