Today I have begun reading Henri Nouwen's book, Turn My Mourning Into Dancing. When I first began reading Henri's writings I did not care much for them. He was a famous spiritual writer and his work did not speak to my heart. As time went on and I journeyed more and more into the pain of the homeless and my own parallel pain things changed. I can see now what my anxiety is with Henri, he writes the way I write. He was able to take many of his own life experiences and through his prayer and God's grace given to him he connected them to the truth of the Divine bringing his prophetic words greater authenticity and recognition to those who seek his wisdom. It is "soul" writing; the writing that draws someone in to the truth of life, not the writing that offers up a fictional release from life. It is the place where so many do not choose to go because it sheds light but ultimately choose to go and discover God's blessing.
Henri had many painful experiences in his life and came to clarify how us human beings try to circumvent suffering with actions such as staying very busy, extremely busy. It isn't that there are so many eternally important things to do it is that in doing these things and filling our lives with continued experience we can somehow pull ourselves out of the deeper picture and minimize the painful effects of disagreement, deceit, viciousness, abuse, injustice, and even death. An example would be for our culture that if we shorten the time we are given from our work to "deal" with the death of a family member which, I think, is usually around 3 days, then the unspoken understanding is that someone somewhere has determined that 3 days is all we should really need to mourn. It is just part of the American culture to get back on your feet. People who truly mourn the loss of loved ones know that this is not true and the expectation lacks of justice and mercy. If we look deeper, we find that it is not about us at all but about a system of production and purchase that does what it can to stay in place, even if it means to manipulate our psyche. Now, we all know that the "system" is none other than other people, people who do not want to mourn or look at the faces of those who are suffering even more due to the insistence of ridiculous emotional and spiritual expectations. It does not matter that we have some very wonderfully educated sociological researchers who have written about the "healthiness" and the "quality of life" that other cultures have that are associated with the sick, dying, and death process when we have our "way" of life that seems to be more and more spinning out of control. I heard on the news this morning that 6 million prescriptions were written last year for sleep medications, mostly for older, educated women. The doctor who was part of the study stated that what is continuing to be seen is a willingness on the part of doctors to write prescriptions for pills over any type of suggestion of behavior modification or integration of mindfulness or other meditation practices. We see, once again, Henri's prophecy of life as usual at any cost of any pill or slowing down and "seeing" what is truly happening.
I, like most, have experienced great pain in my life; pain of abandonment, abuse, deceit, poverty, etc. As I have grown older I have come to be able to clarify more profoundly their cause and affects for the affects continue to be played out. Henri and I would agree that these painful experiences along with all of our joyful experiences, shape our human "dance". Under the superficiality of all that we try to do by ourselves it is truly healing that we seek. We want the suffering to go away. Henri writes "I realized that healing begins with our taking our pain out of its diabolic isolation and seeing that whatever we suffer, we suffer it in communion with all of humanity and, yes, all of creation. In so doing, we become participants in the great battle against the powers of darkness". He goes on to write that "We are called to grieve our losses...healing and dancing begin with looking squarely at what causes us pain. We face the secret losses that have paralyzed us and kept us imprisoned in denial or shame or guilt. We do not nurse the illusion that we can hopscotch our way through difficulties. For by trying to hide parts of our story from God's eye and our own consciousness, we become judges of our own past. We limit divine mercy to our human fears." That is quite an attempt at unravelling the "too busy", "do not want to go there" attitude that seems to permeate our culture today. Instead, I will dare to say, that if we cannot act the suffering away or think it way, then doggone it we will medicate it away. Both Henri and I would, out of compassion, would instead like to open up for others the wonder of God's healing grace.
Henri wrote these words after having been extremely busy touring and giving lectures. He had been around the world and was feeling more and more physically and spiritually drained. It was good for him and good for humanity that he was wise enough to stop and take the time he needed to write and clarify and allow God to use his spiritual gift of writing to reveal wisdom to others. This book was published 12 years ago. It just doesn't seem to me that we have not been able to technologically experience ourselves right out of the suffering of our human condition. Henri's words still ring of truth for Jesus, the Truth, revealed to us over 2,000 years ago "Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted".