Even spiritual exercises and disciplines can be terribly hollow. The real center is hearing God's voice and obeying his Word.
As we are involved in unceasing thinking, so we are called to unceasing prayer.
The crying need of the spiritual leader, someone once pointed out, is "a sense of the spiritual center." But how does a leader develop that sense? What roads lead to increased spiritual vitality?
Discussing those questions are two men who have ventured on the inner journey and written eloquently of their travels.
Richard Foster has been a Quaker pastor in California and Oregon. He taught at George Fox College and now teaches at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas. He has written Celebration of Discipline; Freedom of Simplicity; and Money, Sex & Power (all Harper & Row), books that call for increased commitment to live the Christian life. Yet it's obvious from Foster's quick laugh and soft eyes that for him Christian commitment doesn't mean something hard and austere, but something warm and loving.
Henri J. M. Nouwen is a Catholic priest and psychologist who has taught at Notre Dame and Yale Divinity School. He is now priest-in-residence at the L'Arche Community near Toronto. Among Nouwen's many books are The Genesee Diary and The Wounded Healer (Doubleday), which take a look at what it means to be a Christian and a minister in modern society. But Nouwen's prophetic words are tempered by an intense, electric concern for those around him. He's easy to love, and his quick, reasoned thinking invites acceptance.
In reading their books, one realizes Foster and Nouwen are saying many of the same things. Yet they are from widely divergent traditions and use different language to express their thoughts. In this dialogue of a few years ago, they talk freely about getting to know God.
Since the spiritual life is such a personal matter, perhaps we could start with where each of you find yourself now in your spiritual journey. What's happening in your spiritual life?
Henri Nouwen: Spiritually, I'm in one of the most difficult periods of my life. At times I've felt my spiritual direction to be clear-cut; right now, however, everything is uncertain.
When I came from Holland to the United States, I became a diocesan priest, a psychologist, and a fellow at the Menninger Clinic. I joined the faculty at Notre Dame, taught in Holland, and came back to teach at Yale Divinity School. People started to respond more and more to what I had to say, and that led to an increasing sense of "Yes, I must have something to say." I earned an additional doctorate in theology, so I have all the credentials affirmed by the church and academia. I should be happy.
But these past months I've come face to face with my own spiritual abyss. None of this success has made me a more saintly or holy person. Let me try to describe what I mean. Last semester I traveled all over the world. I spoke to large audiences. I've never been so praised by such varied groups, from Southern Baptist to Greek Orthodox, from young people to old people. All this created a sense of having arrived. Yet my inner life was precisely the opposite of that. More and more I felt that if God has anything to say, he doesn't need me. I found myself experiencing two extremes at the same time: high affirmation and great darkness.
In the midst of this situation, I spent several prayerful days with some new Christian friends whom I had met at one of my lectures. During that time, I came in touch with my own brokenness in a new way. Those days together brought many valuable lessons. One of the most beautiful was that my friends experienced themselves as representatives of God's love, and discovered in themselves the ability to care for someone they had expected to learn from, not teach.