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One of the hardest things in life is to let go of old hurts. We often say, or at least think: “What you did to me and my family, my ancestors, or my friends I cannot forget or forgive. … One day you will have to pay for it.” Sometimes our memories are decades, even centuries, old and keep asking for revenge.
Holding people’s faults against them often creates an impenetrable wall. But listen to Paul: “For anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old order is gone and a new being is there to see. It is all God’s work” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). Indeed, we cannot let go of old hurts, but God can. Paul says: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not holding anyone’s fault against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). It is God’s work, but we are God’s ministers, because the God who reconciled the world to God entrusted to us “the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). This message calls us to let go of old hurts in the Name of God. It is the message our world most needs to hear.
When we are free from the need to judge or condemn, we can become safe places for people to meet in vulnerability and take down the walls that separate them. Being deeply rooted in the love of God, we cannot help but invite people to love one another. When people realise that we have no hidden agendas or unspoken intentions, that we are not trying to gain any profit for ourselves, and that our only desire is for peace and reconciliation, they may find the inner freedom and courage to leave their guns at the door and enter into conversation with their enemies.
Many times this happens even without our planning. Our ministry of reconciliation most often takes place when we ourselves are least aware of it. Our simple, nonjudgmental presence does it.
“And because of the peacefulness of the snow, I imagined that my new ideas were breeding within me an interior peace. ”
Thomas Merton. A Merton Reader, ed. by Thomas P. McDonnell, (New York: Image Books, 1989), 51.
How do we work for reconciliation? First and foremost by claiming for ourselves that God through Christ has reconciled us to God. It is not enough to believe this with our heads. We have to let the truth of this reconciliation permeate every part of our beings. As long as we are not fully and thoroughly convinced that we have been reconciled with God, that we are forgiven, that we have received new hearts, new spirits, new eyes to see, and new ears to hear, we continue to create divisions among people because we expect from them a healing power they do not possess.
Only when we fully trust that we belong to God and can find in our relationship with God all that we need for our minds, hearts, and souls, can we be truly free in this world and be ministers of reconciliation. This is not easy; we readily fall back into self-doubt and self-rejection. We need to be constantly reminded through God’s Word, the sacraments, and the love of our neighbours that we are indeed reconciled.
What is our task in this world as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus? Our task is reconciliation. Wherever we go we see divisions among people – in families, communities, cities, countries, and continents. All these divisions are tragic reflections of our separation from God. The truth that all people belong together as members of one family under God is seldom visible. Our sacred task is to reveal that truth in the reality of everyday life.
Why is that our task? Because God sent Christ to reconcile us with God and to give us the task of reconciling people with one another. As people reconcile with God through Christ we have been given the ministry of reconciliation” (see: 2 Corinthians 5:18). So whatever we do the main question is, Does it lead to reconciliation among people?
Christmas at Genesee Abbey
I keep thinking about the Christmas scene that Anthony arranged under the altar. This probably is the most meaningful “crib” I have ever seen. Three small wood-carved figures made in India: a poor woman, a poor man, and a small child between them. The carving is simple, nearly primitive. No eyes, no ears, no mouths, just the contours of the faces. The figures are smaller than a human hand – nearly too small to attract attention at all.
But then – a beam of light shines on the three figures and projects large shadows on the wall of the sanctuary. That says it all. The light thrown on the smallness of Mary, Joseph, and the Child projects them as large, hopeful shadows against the walls of our life and our world.
While looking at the intimate scene we already see the first outlines of the majesty and glory they represent. While witnessing the most human of human events, I see the majesty of God appearing on the horizon of my existence. While being moved by the gentleness of these three people, I am already awed by the immense greatness of God’s love appearing in my world. Without the radiant beam of light shining into the darkness there is little to be seen. I might just pass by these three simple people and continue to walk in darkness. But everything changes with the light.
Genesee Diary (December 25, 1974). © Henri J.M. Nouwen. Published by Doubleday Religion, a division of Random House, Inc.
Merton’s Voice: If thought, love, action, contemplation exist on earth, if they are the highest immanent perfections of man’s spirit, and if all the perfections we know of are supereminently realized in God, Who is the source, exemplar, and end of them all, then how can God be anything but a personal God?
Thomas Merton. The Ascent to Truth. (New York: Harvest/ HBJ Books) 1981 p. 106.
Prayer: O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. NRSV Psalm 96: 1-2.
Life is unpredictable. We can be happy one day and sad the next, healthy one day and sick the next, rich one day and poor the next, alive one day and dead the next. So who is there to hold on to? Who is there to feel secure with? Who is there to trust at all times?
Only Jesus, the Christ. He is our Lord, our shepherd, our rock, our stronghold, our refuge, our brother, our guide, and our friend. He came from God to be with us. He died for us, he was raised from the dead to open for us the way to God, and he is seated at God’s right hand to welcome us home. With Paul, we must be certain that “neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nothing already in existence and nothing still to come, nor any power, nor the heights nor the depths, nor any created thing whatever, will be able to come between us and the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Merton’s Voice: Love is not a problem, not an answer to a question. Love knows no question. It is the ground of all, and questions arise only insofar as we are divided, absent, estranged, alienated from that ground.
Thomas Merton. Love and Living. (New York: Harcourt). p. 17.
Prayer: I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens. NRSV Psalm 89: 2.
46 poems by me published in
27 lit mags and journals (and a couple of blogs)
10 readings by me
3 book reviews of my book Better With Friends
4 book reviews by me
1 short story by me
1 interview of me
1 article about me
1 radio appearance by me
1 recording of a poem of mine
1 art show contained a poem by me
1 book accepted for publication. Seriously Dangerous coming from Main Street Rag in 2011 is in advance order now.