"To live a spiritual life, I must find the courage to enter the desert of loneliness and to change it by gentle persistent effort into a garden of solitude.”
- Henri Nouwen
In this poetic expression, Father Nouwen is saying that we can take our loneliness and make it a place we can live with. This is good news. We are people who suffer from loneliness. In life, we quickly learn that people are not the cure for loneliness. We find that the worst loneliness is when we are surrounded with people, people who do not know us really, people who do not understand our inside, people who do not care. Or we are with one person, who does not know, understand or care.
The cure for loneliness is love and understanding. To find some one who will listen, understand and go on loving makes us know that we are part of another and they a part of us. We are not alone. But, I think, people are half measures. They do not have the power to fill up that longing we have inside. Only God can do that. So we must risk being alone to let Him do it.
When we know that God is truly always with us, that God fills us up, then we can take the risk of getting close to others. If they let us down for a while, that is understandable. We still have God filling us up. When we know that God is truly with us, then we have taken our loneliness and changed it into a place called solitude, a place we can enjoy.
Fr. James O’Leary
I think in reaching for God, we are not trying to be saints; we are only trying to be real. We are only trying to be who we are. And anything that helps us be real is a gift from God.
I am in the process of reading the “Inner Experience” by Thomas Merton. Thirty six years after his death, his last book reaches us. It is a magnificent book. Merton speaks of reaching the real self inside ourselves, and peeling away the false self, the egotistical self, the self build on false ambitions. He openly says we cannot share intimacy with God by sharing a false self. He does not want our false self. (No one does!) If we do not reach our true self, the door to real intimacy with God is closed. Anything that helps us be real, is a gift from God.
A problem is that the things that make us real are usually not fun things. Birthday parties do little to make us real. Hard things make us real; challenges get to the real self. There is the problem. It is hard recognizing losing a job as a gift, or getting sick, or a child rebelling, or just plain getting old. All of these experiences are gifts, but only if we see them clearly and make them so.
So, let us see our gifts. I see so many who are saying, “Why is God doing this to me?” when God is giving them a blessing. Becoming real, discovering our real selves in the task of a life time. We must use our opportunities well. God is giving us gifts all the time. Let us see them.
Personal note: Even cancer is a gift if we make it so.
Fr. James O’Leary