Transformed Lives: From Resentment to Gratitude

This week, we are exploring the movement Henri Nouwen describes from resentment to gratitude. Below are some exercises and spiritual disciplines to practice to help you join the Holy Spirit in this transforming movement.


A Diagnostic Checklist for Resentment

Do I feel like I should mask or hide “negative” emotions such as sadness, anger, frustration, or anxiety?

  • How can we break through the chains of resentment and free ourselves? Resentment has very deep roots in our human condition as is not easily cleared away. But once we confess our resentments within a safe and supportive faith community, we create space for forgiveness and freedom. When this happens, God’s liberating grace is able to make all things new. — Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation p.64
  • Ask God to help you be honest in discovering the what and the why behind the actual state of your inner life. If you need help identifying what emotions you’re experiencing or where they’re coming from, bring that before God in genuine conversation and prayer.

Do I find myself feeling unhappy or jealous of other people’s successes?

  • Spiritual formation is the way by which resentment can slowly be transformed into gratitude. Through the spiritual practice of letting go of jealousy and bitterness, and forgiving and affirming others, we can make rivals into friends and competitors into companions on the way to true greatness. Servanthood might sound like a pious idea, but it really asks for the humble recognition that our life is not our own to be defended but a gift to be shared. All we have has been given to us. Our part is to be grateful and to give thanks. — Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation p.65
  • As you pray, focus on God as the Generous Giver, whose love & grace is inexhaustible. Instead of imagining that someone else’s success takes something away from you, ask God for a mindset of Kingdom abundance — where there is not only enough for everyone, but where joy is multiplied when it is shared.

Do I believe I deserve more than someone else because I’ve demonstrated more faith, virtue, obedience, or hard work than they have?

  • Authentic Christian community occurs where there is fertile ground for gratitude to grow, for gifts to be received, and for blessings to be shared. Such a place embodies the true nature and function of what we call church no matter where it gathers or what name it bears. Authentic Christian community nurtures the spirit of gratitude and service in the spiritual life. It does so by inviting us to give constant attention to the condition of our hearts, where we listen to the voice of God and respond with thanksgiving. It calls for an ongoing willingness to remove our defensive armor and create inner space where the Spirit of God can live. It requires courage to scrutinize our compulsive selves and to open our hearts to new ways of being. — Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation p.65
  • Ask God to help you see that getting to be a part of Jesus’ mission in the world, spending time with God, and working alongside sisters & brothers in Christ are priceless rewards, in and of themselves.

When things don’t go according to my plan, do I become overly annoyed or frustrated?

  • Resentment is exactly the complaint that life does not unfold the way we planned; that our many goals and projects are constantly interrupted by the events of the hour, the day, and the year… The movement to gratitude involves the discover y that God is the God of history and that things are quietly and slowly unfolding as they should. My spiritual task is to learn to listen to all that is going on and trust that God’s hand is guiding me. — Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation p.66
  • Ask God for the flexibility and adaptability that comes from trust in God’s plan (and not just personality type). Lift up those people or circumstances that cause interruptions in your life and ask God how they might be an invitation into God’s plan.

In all of these self-reflections, friends, please be kind to yourselves! It can be really hard to look inside. All too often, when we see something we don’t like, we end up feeling bad and kicking ourselves — but nothing changes (except, perhaps, feeling worse). If and when you hear the voice of criticism who is waiting to pounce on your mistakes, move past it and listen for the true voice of Love, who is patient, kind, and protective.


[The following two exercises are from Nouwen’s book, Spiritual Formation]

Given how destructive the passion of resentment can be in human life, the movement from resentment to gratitude is necessary. Once we enter into this movement of the Spirit, we can let go of our resentments and stretch out our arms to the God who sets us free for joyful service — service not as a religious obligation, but as a manifestation of our inner gratitude. Nouwen’s challenge is for us to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now in the light of a loving and guiding God. 

Reflect and Journal 

  • Can you name one difficult stepping-stone that has brought you to where you are now, and reflect on it in the light of a loving God who guides your steps? 
  • For Nouwen, to be grateful means to live life as a gift — that wherever I live, whatever I do, or whatever happens to me, I see somewhere in the experience a gift for which to be thankful. What past experiences in your life that were hard at the time can you now be truly grateful for?
  • The Apostle Paul encourages us to “give thanks always and for everything” (Eph. 5:20). Further, Paul reminds believers that “in all things God works for the good” (Rom. 8:2). In your journal, write down ten things that you can thankful for today. Share these with someone else. 
  • Read the parable of the lost sons in Luke 15:11-32. Write a page in your journal on the question, In what ways am I the older son in the parable? 

Visio Divina: The Graceful Dancer 

Russian troops entered Paris in 1815 with force and violence. In the aftermath of destruction and loss, an important acquisition was made for the Hermitage. Alexander I arranged for the purchase by private treaty of a collection of artworks belonging to Empress Josephine, former wife of Napoleon, housed in her Malmaison Palace. Among the priceless additions were four sculptures by Antonio Canova: Hebe, Paris, Woman Dancing, and Cupid and Psyche.

As you ponder the Dancer image, reflect on the following insight of Nouwen’s: 
“I once saw a stonecutter remove great pieces from a huge rock on which he was working. In my imagination I thought, That rock must be hurting terribly. Why does this man wound the rock so much? But as I looked longer, I saw the figure of a graceful dancer emerge gradually from the stone.” 

  • In what ways do you feel the pain of the rock being made into a statue of a dancer? 
  • What chipping away at the protective wall of your soul do you feel God may be engaged in right now? 
  • In what ways are your resisting or resenting the process? 
  • In what ways are you open and graceful? 
  • As you look at Woman Dancing by Antonio Canova, can you feel the cold marble of the statue? 
  • Can you sense the movements of the dancer in motion? 
  • Can you see yourself alone or with another on the dance floor? 
  • What would it take to make you dance with joy? 

Transformed Lives: From Illusion to Prayer

This week, we are exploring the movement Henri Nouwen describes from illusion to prayer. Below are several prayers to help you engage in a deeper life with Jesus through prayer.


A Prayer of Recollection

I am not God, but a finite creation of God.
Lord, I know that I have a body that has limits. 
I am here right now and cannot be other places.  
I cannot grant everybody’s wishes. 
I am grateful for the truth that I am not you, God. 
Only You can meet all the needs around me.  

Calls us to rest in God’s sovereignty and love — God will accomplish God’s purposes. We don’t need to be God.  

In my deepest place, I am not my names, roles and qualities, and these are not my righteousness (my salvation, my rest).  
At my deepest place I am not a daughter or son, a husband or wife, a father or mother, a boyfriend or girlfriend. 
I am not what I do. I am not how much money I make. 
At my deepest place, I am not what others have named me. 
I am not my failures. I am not my successes. I am not my strengths. I am not my weaknesses.  
I confess any image of myself I cling to as a means to find my own salvation, my own righteousness apart from you.  

Calls us to rest from, indeed to repent of, our efforts to somehow find our identity, our worth, our salvation, in things apart from God.  

I affirm the truth of my soul’s identity in Christ.
In my deepest place, I am a spirit now clothed with the righteousness of Christ. I am precious in God’s eyes.
From all eternity, God calls me beloved and holds me with an everlasting embrace.  

Calls us to rest in our deepest identity as God’s beloved, which was given to us through the cross of Christ and the gift of the Spirit.  

Live in me. Make your home in me as I do in you.
— Jesus in John 15:4 (The Message)

You must begin by fixing this truth in your minds: that there is within you a palace of surpassing splendor, whose whole structure is composed of gold and most precious stones — such, indeed, as is fitting for the great King who resides within it; and that the beauty of your own soul is, in part, the cause why this palace is so beautiful.
— Teresa of Avila

Since God’s Divine Majesty has made the soul to God’s own image, how great must be its dignity, how surpassing its beauty! It is a sad pity, and a shame as well, that we do not know ourselves and what we are.
— Teresa of Avila


The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be Thy name;
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
forever and ever.
Amen.


The Jesus Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
have mercy on me,
a sinner


A Prayer by Thomas Keating

Here I am, Dear Lord, desperately in need of your Holy Spirit. 
Give me your Holy Spirit, according to Your promise. 
I don’t know how to ask rightly,
so I just sit here and allow You to pray in me,
asking for what You most want to bestow,
which is Your own Holy Spirit —
with the Gifts through which the Holy Spirit takes over more and more of my life.


Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life
Amen.


A Prayer for the Evening (Compline)

Keep watch, dear Lord,
with those who work, or watch, or weep this night,
and give Your angels charge over those who sleep.
Tend the sick, Lord Christ;
give rest to the weary,
bless the dying,
soothe the suffering,
pity the afflicted,
shield the joyous;
and all for Your love’s sake.
Amen.


Visio Divina
from Spiritual Formation by Henri Nouwen

As you pray, imagine yourself sitting on the bench at Saint-Rémy de Provence, under a tall old tree as painted by Vincent van Gogh.

Read this parable shared by Henri Nouwen, adapted from Chuang Tzu:

A carpenter and his apprentice were walking together through a large forest. And when they came across a tall, huge, gnarled, old, beautiful oak tree, the carpenter asked his apprentice: “Do you know why this tree is so tall, so huge, so gnarled, so old and beautiful?” The apprentice looked at his master and said: “No…why?” 

“Well,” the carpenter said, “because it is useless. If it had been useful it would have been cut long ago and made into tables and chairs, but because it is useless it could grow so tall and so beautiful that you can sit in its shade and relax.”


How is this tree useful? How is it useless? How does it glorify God in its branches and shade? Can all creation praise God by simply being what it was created to be?

Consider these questions, and then simply look at the image for ten minutes letting God speak to you through the image. Write down your thoughts and reflections. 

Like the old tree in the parable, we don’t pray to be productive or useful, but to be open and grateful. In prayer and meditation, we can live and be; we can bear or not bear fruit, and we can grow old freely, without being preoccupied with our usefulness. Faithfulness in prayer is its own reward, with or without tangible results.


Transformed Lives: From Fear to Love

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 

General Questions:

  1. What do you hoard or cling to out of the fear of scarcity? 
  2. Of what or of whom are you most afraid? 
  3. When have you felt most safe and unafraid? What were the circumstances? 
  4. What does the following verse mean to you, “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18)?

Daily Questions:

  1. What causes you fear and anxiety today? 
  2. Did you make decisions today based on far? Are you feeling trapped in a prison of fear? 
  3. 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.?
  4. How has God shown love and care for you today? 
  5. “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


Sunday School at Home: The week of 8 November 2020

As we continue to navigate pandemic and online gatherings together, we want to help our younger NextGen students feel like they’re “together” by sharing the same Bible story and craft each week. Parents, please remember to have your kids bring their Growing in God’s Love story Bible to our worship gatherings via Zoom!

From week to week, even if we don’t read the story out loud, you can read it with them during the week (or, if they’re of reading age, have them read it to you!). 

For this Sunday, 8 November 2020, our story is “What is God’s Name?” from page 170 and the craft is “His Name Shall Be” — which is dated in its own baggie in your November care package.

Click on the images below to view/download the parent letter we sent with the care packages:

 

12 Months of Blessing: Pajama Drive for Cal-Safe Escondido

For the month of October, we’re partnering with Cal-Safe Escondido to do a kids’ pajama drive for 17 families in time for Thanksgiving. Please read the letter from Ann Leong below for more information:


Dear Brothers and Sisters of Anchor City Church,

I am so excited and thankful for the opportunity to serve The California School Age Families Education Program (Cal-SAFE) this month as a part of Anchor City’s 12 Months of Blessings.

This program, known to most of us, as the “Teen Parent Program” in Escondido has been hit hard by Covid. They have been closed since March and have not been able to re-open. At a special board meeting last night, it was determined that their district will stay in the Red tier until next semester. Discouraged but not giving up hope, the staff at Cal-Safe have tirelessly and continuously been doing home visits, making cares calls and dropping off resources at their residence for the 17 teen moms in their program. We want to bless these 17 beautiful families by hosting a Pajama Drive this month, to be delivered to their homes for Thanksgiving.

Edit: Signups are full — thanks for your generous support! You can still send in gift cards as detailed below. Won’t you join us in providing jammies for the babies and toddlers at Cal-Safe? Take a look at the list and pick a family you would like to bless. If you need a reminder of who you signed up for, you can also check the list. We are asking for brand-new jammies and a book to be gift-wrapped or gift bagged and labeled (for example, BOY 2T)! We can make arrangements to have them picked up (our sister Yang was gracious enough to volunteer for that) or you can drop them off. If you are mailing them, would you send them to Ann’s house?

[Note: Please email info@anchorcity.org for Ann’s address.]

Also! If you want to participate but are not comfortable going out, please feel free to send along a gift card and we will shop for you! There are so many ways to make it work~I really hope you get a chance to be a part of this wonderful giving.

We need them by October 30th! If you have any questions you can call or e-mail me directly.

Thank you in advance~God bless you, your family, your work, and your community!

Blessings,
Ann Kim Leong