Tuesday, October 17, 2017

we have this treasure in earthen vessels...

Once upon a time I trusted the local church like a child. Now I love it as an adult. That means I am neither nostalgic nor naive about what it can and cannot accomplish. This morning, for example, the Henri Nouwen website posted this reflection from the late master.

The Church is holy and sinful, spotless and tainted. The Church is the bride of Christ, who washed her in cleansing water and took her to himself "with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless" (Ephesians 5:26-27). The Church too is a group of sinful, confused, anguished people constantly tempted by the powers of lust and greed and always entangled in rivalry and competition. When we say that the Church is a body, we refer not only to the holy and faultless body made Christ-like through baptism and Eucharist but also to the broken bodies of all the people who are its members. Only when we keep both these ways of thinking and speaking together can we live in the Church as true followers of Jesus.

Jean Vanier, reflecting upon Nouwen's life at his funeral eulogy, was equally un-sentimental. "The first thing I want to say about Henri is that he was a man of great energy, vision and insight, but also a man of great pain. Anguish often fueled many of his activities, his movement... and I was always moved when I sensed the depth of his pain." (Jean Vanier, Essential Writings, p. 129) Like the local church - or the wider Body of Christ - Vanier notes that Nouwen was always a "brilliant and wounded man who walked through the years of changes in the church and the world... always seeks, yearning searching, fueled by an anguish, fidelity and friendship that was sometimes terribly demanding, but always so beautiful." (p. 130)

Some in the church hate any critique. Others only see our feet of clay and our failures. At this late stage in the game, whatever complaints I have (and they are considerable) I also honor the blessings. The church - and each of us when we are driven by grace and compassion - are wounded healers. We are "beautiful healers because (we) are not ashamed to love." (p. 131) Today I experienced the blessings of being a wounded healer as I followed-up on pastoral connections, played glorious music and then sat in prayer with one who is tenderly saying goodbye to his beloved. There was agony, indeed. Tears as well as laughter, beauty, healing and hope, too mixed with our awareness that all we can bring to this moment is an open and tender heart. Like the paradoxical, exasperating and wonderful St. Paul wrote:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. (II Corinthians 4: 7-10)

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