A Spiritual Discipline of “Looking”

In the month of February, I thought it’d be nice to write about what I read recently and share with you what I learned. To start off, I have a book called Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen. Hope this adds value to your life.

What’s the book about?

In this book, Nouwen suggests a discipline of “looking” to cultivate one’s spiritual life. There are three spiritual directions to where we should look.

First, he wants us to look within the heart using introspection and contemplative prayer. Second, we ought to look to God in the sacred book using a meditative reading technique known as Lectio Divina. Lastly, Nouwen directs us to look to others in the community.

Part One: Look within the Heart.

Chapter One: Who Will Answer My Questions?

The questions we ask are more important than the answers we find. We ask questions about ourselves, about life, and purpose, and so on. This indicates that we have a desire to learn. Having the said desire is a great sign that we are on the right path for spiritual growth. Life is not about attaining answers. Rather, it’s the journey we take to getting those answers. Perhaps, the reason we have these problems and questions is so we can look within ourselves.

Chapter Two: Where Do I Begin?

The journey of our spiritual maturity begins with prayerful listening. Nouwen writes, “Absurd living is a way of life in which we remain deaf to the voice that speaks to us in our silence.” We are so bombarded with noise and clutter that we don’t pay enough attention to the small voice that comes within our hearts. But take a moment to listen. Create a time and a place to sit with our thoughts and be brave. Pay attention to where God already is in your life.

The role of a spiritual director is then directing their students to pay attention to where God is already working in their lives. The place to begin the spiritual journey is your own life.

Chapter Three: Who Am I?

We are the beloved children of God the Father. As you pray and meditate, make sure you engrave this spiritual identity to your heart.

Chapter Four: Where Have I Been and Where Am I Going?

Nouwen says, “The length of time doesn’t matter. Life is just a short opportunity for you during a few years to say to God: ‘I love you, too.’” The purpose of life is knowing the answers to these questions: where we are from and where we are going. A life well-lived isn’t about achieving great feats. Life is about relationship. A person who led a life well lived is able to say that s/he is loved.

Part Two: Look to God in the Book

Chapter Five: What Is Prayer?

Prayer is about crying out to God with your needs and wants and frustrations and everything in between. Prayer is about conversing with God in dialogue. Prayer is about being contemplative in listening and being with God.

Chapter Six: Who Is God for Me?

God is Abba, personal, intimate, hidden, and present.

God’s absence is just as important as his presence.

God desires to find us more than we want to find God! The question then changes from “Who is God for me?” to “Who am I to God?” It’s not about how we can find God but how we can be found by Him.

Chapter Seven: How Do I Hear the Word?

You can hear the word by listening to the Living Word of God (Jesus), reading the word (the Bible), speaking the word out of silence (Rhema), and writing the word (spiritual writing and journaling).

Part Three: Look to Others in Community

Chapter Eight: Where Do I Belong?

Before we find a community to belong to, we must first be grounded in solitude. Community is about a way of living and relating to others. To create a community, we must learn to forgive and celebrate each other’s gifts. Forgive others for not fulfilling all your needs and desires. Forgive others for not being God. Celebrate the contribution of each member of the community.

To create a community, you need solitude, forgiveness, and celebration.

Chapter Nine: How Can I Be of Service?

Our very presence, when we have been with God, is the heart of ministry. Allow the power of God to flow through you. If you are living in communion with God, if you know you are the beloved child of God, and if you make yourself available by showing up for service, then you cannot NOT do ministry!

Watch out for resentment. It kills the spirit of ministry. Be grateful and compassionate. Look for the way of Jesus, which was voluntary displacement. Look for downward mobility. Be prepared to go places outside your comfort zone. Look for the divine in your mundane life.

What I learned from the book

1. What are the questions you ask about yourself? About life? What’s the meaning of life?

2. Have a regular daily time of solitude. Start listening to your inner voice.

3. You are a beloved child of God the Father who loves you unconditionally forgives you, accepts you, and values you despite any of your flaws and shortcomings.

4. Forgive people in your life. Be grateful for their presence and the joy they bring to your life. Love them for who they are. And forgive them when they disappoint you. They were not meant to bring you true happiness. Only God can make you truly happy and fulfilled.

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N. Jerry Cho

N. Jerry Cho

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