The Genesee Diary - God suffers with us

It has been a while since I last posted on Henri Nouwen's Genesee Diary. The speed of life quickened with the end of school just before Memorial Day weekend. With my second son's graduation ceremony, and my parents visiting for almost a week,  there was a lot of cleaning to do before they arrived. Then, I spent last week baking cakes and cookies for the open house we hosted for Jon's graduation.

As you can see from this picture, I am not smiling broadly. I'm about ready to do this:

I figured that I may as well share this since it was splattered all over Facebook. Personally, I prefer my breakdown moments in the privacy of my bedroom behind a locked door, but my emotions do not always cooperate. Pretty, huh?

Life sure passes quickly. Just yesterday, Jonathan was chasing bubbles across the yard and popping them with his mouth because he liked the taste of them. Now he is 18 and about to leave for college. He does not eat bubbles any more either. Now he will have to get used to cafeteria food so he may go back to eating bubbles. 

Two kids down, one to go. It is a little difficult for a mother to take. 

I am happy for Jon although it is sad that life passes so quickly. How will Mike and I handle only having one child in the house? 

Changes in life need an adjustment period so it is good to plan ahead a little. Author and priest, Henri Nouwen wondered how he could carry what he was learning at the Genesee monastery into his regular life. How could a writer, lecturer, speaker, teacher and priest live a life of contemplative prayer while immersed in the fury of his schedule?

John Eudes, abbot of the Genesee monastery when Nouwen lived there for six months, suggested that Nouwen make some concrete decisions about prayer, availability, hours of rising and going to bed. He suggested that Nouwen spend time in prayer twice a day in the morning and in the evening without fail. 

"The only solution is a prayer schedule that you will never break without consulting your spiritual director. Set a time that is reasonable, and once it is set, stick to it at all costs," Eudes said. "Make it your most important task. Let everyone know that this is the only thing you will not change and pray at that time ... Simply make it an impossibility to do any type of work, even if it seems urgent, important and crucial. When you remain faithful, you slowly discover that it is useless to think about your many problems since they won't be dealt with in that time anyhow. Then you start saying to yourself during these free hours, 'Since I have nothing to do now, I might as well pray!' So praying becomes as important as eating and sleeping, and the time set free for it becomes a very liberating time to which you become attached in the good sense."

Eudes also said that if Nouwen was faithful in this Nouwen would "slowly experience (him)self in a deeper way. Because in this useless hour in which you do nothing 'important' or 'urgent,' you have to come to terms with your basic powerlessness, you have to feel your fundamental inability to solve your or other people's problems or to change the world. When you do not avoid that experience but live through it, you will find out that your many projects, plans, and obligations become less urgent, crucial and important and lose their power over you. They will leave you free during your time with God and take their appropriate place in your life."

Through a daily time of silence, I am allowing God to arrange my priorities. I find that life is still busy but more simplistic. In the week before graduation, however, I did let my time of silence slide. This may have contributed to the emotional outburst but I do not think missing my time of silence caused it. Even though I cried at my first son's graduation too, I thought I could prepare myself for the second ceremony. It did not work. Just like every child is different, a mother's experience with each of her children is also different. We experience life together in different ways. We also suffer together in different ways. 

Certainly, the separation of a mother and child is a harsh experience, especially for the mother. However, separation is ultimately necessary if the child is to flourish in life.It does not mean that the mother cannot cry and express her feelings of grief.

In the Genesee Diary, Nouwen shared some of the thoughts he had garnered from Abraham Heschel's, "A Passion for Truth." Heschel writes, "The refusal to accept the harshness of God's ways in the name of his love was an authentic form of prayer. Indeed, the ancient Prophets of Israel were not in the habit of consenting to God's harsh judgment and did not simply nod, saying, 'Thy will be done.' They often challenged him, as if to say, 'Thy will be changed.' They had often countered and even annulled divine decrees."... "A man who lived by honesty could not be expected to suppress his anxiety when tormented by profound perplexity ... There are some forms of suffering that a man must accept with love and bear in silence. There are other agonies to which he must say no."

By protesting and showing how one really feels, a person will experience a much closer relationship with God than would someone who simply submits to everything. There is a time for submission, of course, but true submission and peace often happen after an honest struggle with grief, even agony. Nouwen likened it to Jacob's struggle in wrestling with the angel of God in Genesis 32.

It is in our pain that we learn God suffers with us. 

"Heschel tells the beautiful story of the Polish Jew who stopped praying 'because of what happened in Auschwitz.' Later, however, he started to pray again. When asked, 'What made you change your mind?' he answered, 'It suddenly dawned on me to think how lonely God must be; look with whom he is left. I felt sorry for him."

Nouwen concludes, "This attitude brings God and his people very close to each other, so that God is known by his people as the one who suffers with them." 

Indeed. No matter what personal pain or public agony you are experiencing, God is right there going through it with you. He suffers because you suffer. He loves you that much. 

Maybe now I can look at that second picture with fresh eyes. If God suffers with us, then Christ is in that empty space above my shoulder whispering that everything would be all right. "Let it all out. I'm going through this with you."

There is so much in this chapter "Pray for the World" in the Genesee Diary that I could share more on it. But, because I would like to share more of Nouwen's works with you, I encourage you to buy or borrow the book. It is excellent. I am going to read the last three chapters and perhaps share more, but the next book in our discussion will be "Gracias!"