Last week we entered into a season of examination. We began to examine the darkness in ourselves. We all have secrets. Secrets that at times seem to suffocate our faith. If you wander in the desert long enough, it is easy to become self-loathing. You begin to hate yourself for your vises. You hate yourself for your insecurities. You hate yourself for your very nature. It is exceptionally easy to develop insecurities and self-defacing ideas after one examines one’s soul.
Our own dark night seems to be overpowering. Bearing down on us. Making us feel as if we are nothing. When I examine my own lack of faith and vices, I can’t help but think of a famous short story by Edger Allen Poe. I feel trapped in the pit of my own fear and pain. My humanity slowly bisecting my mind and soul. It is easy to think that we are alone in this pit. This pit of nothingness. Henri Nouwen, spiritual author, and guide, felt the same way when he too examined his humanity.
“Everything came crashing down — my self-esteem, my energy to live and work, my sense of being loved, my hope for healing, my trust in God… everything. Here I was, a writer about the spiritual life, known as someone who loves God and gives hope to people, flat on the ground and in total darkness. What had happened? I had come face to face with my own nothingness. It was as if all that had given my life meaning was pulled away and I could see nothing in front of me but a bottomless abyss.” ~Henri Nouwen
It was during this time of examining his “nothingness” that Nouwen wrote one of the most treasured books on my shelf: The Inner Voice of Love. The Inner Voice of Love details Nouwen’s personal journal of doubts and questioning. Henri entered into an own individual season of Lent. He left the public ministry for a while in favor of serving at L’Arche Daybreak, Toronto. L’Arche Daybreak is a facility that is dedicated to living out faith community among the mentally and physically disabled. Nouwen relinquished his role of teaching at universities across the globe in favor of ministering to those who could not comprehend an academic lecture. It was there he spent many nights crying out to God. Seeking God. Asking God for healing. All while being a spiritual guide. Sometimes God calls us into a season of Lent to make us realize our own limitation. The dark night of the soul is the hardest aspect of living a life of mission. You help others find God and yet you feel far from Him. You help others draw deep of the well of life and you yourself feel spiritually dry and thirsty.
What Nouwen found at L’Arche was healing. The healing did not come from the place he expected. He felt God calling him to stop looking up to the Father for healing. Instead to look to his side. To his community. It is the community of God, the Church, where the voice of God becomes more clear. It was the faith community at L’Arche that ultimately brought healing to Nouwen. When you are a part of a community that practices mutual submission you find yourself surrounded by those whom you can trust with your “nothingness.” You have friends who can now speak truth into your life. Friends that can offer a space for you to find grace amidst the dark night. Trust your community. Trust those who know your personal journey and want you to be faithful to God. Apart from a faith community, you will not be able to remain in God. You can not do life alone. Neither the material nor the spiritual.
When we submit ourselves to the community of God, we find something profound. We are not alone in our journey. We are a part of a community of love, and love amoung the people of God is a love that is stronger than death. Is stronger than isolation. Is stronger than anything that I have ever faced. So in the words of Henri Nouwen, “Dare to love and to be a real friend. The love you give and receive is a reality that will lead you closer and closer to God as well as to those whom God has given you to love.”