Henri Nouwen — priest, author, and professor — wrote dozens of books on the spiritual life. Even after his death in 1996, his words in books like Spiritual Formation continue to shape and influence people who desire a deeper life with Christ.
Nouwen describes spiritual formation not so much in a direct linear path (i.e., you must accomplish step one before moving onto step two, and “mature” Christians are the ones who have mastered all the previous steps) but as a series of Spirit-led movements, often pushing back and forth at different points in our lives.
This week, as we explore the movement from fear to love, here are a set of reflections questions for you to consider. You might think about one each day, or several at a time — feel free to choose your pace and direction:
Reflect and Journal
- What do you hoard or cling to out of the fear of scarcity?
- Of what or of whom are you most afraid?
- When have you felt most safe and unafraid? What were the circumstances?
- What does the following verse mean to you, “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18)?
- What causes you fear and anxiety today?
- Did you make decisions today based on far? Are you feeling trapped in a prison of fear?
- If so, how can you move toward house of God’s love? What inward thoughts and outward practices will redirect your life away from fear and toward love? Generosity, hospitality, silence, imaginative prayer, exercising, etc.?
- How has God shown love and care for you today?
- “The challenge is to let go of fear and claim the deeper truth of who I am”
Visio Divina: Living in the House of Love
In Spiritual Formation, Nouwen offers different exercises for spiritual formation. One of these is called Visio Divina. We encourage you to practice this discipline during this week as an exploration of how God might be speaking to you.
Clear an extended time for visual prayer — at least ten minutes. Look long and hard a Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity.
Nouwen writes in Behold the Beauty of the Lord, “As we place ourselves in front of the icon in prayer, we come to experience a gentle invitation to participate in the intimate conversation that is taking place among the three divine angels and to join them around the table. The movement from the Father toward the Son and the movement of both Son and Spirit toward Father become a movement in which the one who prays is lifted up and held secure.”
Never have I seen what it means to dwell in the house of love more beautifully depicted than in the icon of the Holy Trinity painted by Andrei Rublev in 1410 in memory of the great Russian saint Sergius (1313-92). This icon has been a helpful visual window into the house of love for me. The story behind it opens it up even more.
Long ago in Russia, there were many attacks made on a small town, and in a monastery the monks got very nervous and could no longer concentrate on their prayers because of all the violent conflicts throughout the town. The abbot called his icon painter, Rublev, to paint an icon to help the monks remain prayerful in the midst of restlessness, trouble, and anxiety. Rublev painted an icon based on the visit of the three angels to Abraham in Genesis, seated around a table of hospitality.
In the icon, the figure in the center points with two fingers to the chalice and inclines toward the figure on the left, who offers a blessing. A third figure to the right points to a rectangular opening on the front of the table through which the viewer is invited to enter and participate in the spiritual actions.
Together, the three figures form a mysterious circle of movement in perfect proportion. So when the monks prayed with the icon and focused on that circle of hospitality, love, and intimacy, they realized that they did not have to be afraid. When they allowed themselves to be part of the community formed by the three figures and let themselves be drawn into that circle of safety and love, they were able to pray and not lose heart.
For me, praying with this icon, releasing my fears as I focus on that little doorway in the icon that leads to where God dwells in intimacy, hospitality, and welcome, has increasingly become for me a way to enter more deeply into the mystery of divine life while remaining fully engaged in the struggles of our hate- and fear-filled world.
Prayerfully focus on the truth of these Scriptures:
- The Lord is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble — Psalm 46:1
- In you, O Lord, I trust. I let go of my fears — Psalm 31:14
- For you are our God, and we are the people of your pasture — Psalm 95:7
- For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Romans 8:38-39
- Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever — Psalm 23:6
At the end of your prayer time, read the following Psalm out loud:
There is one thing I ask of the Lord;
for this I long:
To live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life …
For there God keeps me safe in God’s tent.
In the day of evil God hides me.
In the shelter of God’s tent on a rock
God sets me safe …
And now my head shall be raised
Above my foes who surround me.
And I shall offer within God’s tent
a sacrifice of joy.
— Psalm 27:4-6