Ooh, I like today’s extract from Nouwen. (Incidentally, how does one pronounce his name??)
Fear leads to hostility – when we perceive ourselves to be threatened we can so easily react defensively. This can then cause others to perceive themselves as threatened and to react defensively in their turn… before long, there we all are, each cowering behind out own personal little barricades and preparing to defend ourselves from all-comers…
This is a pattern I have seen played out time without number in my own life, sometimes finding it’s root in my own fear, sometimes in the fear and resultant defensiveness of another which then triggers my own defensive reaction.
The bible reading suggested (Hebrews 12:1-3) gives a hint of a clue to a possible solution. It says that Jesus is our example, enduring undeserved hostility, and that in considering His example we are also able to endure.
However, I’d like to explore that further.
The Hebrews passage seems to emphasize the need for us to set aside all that hinders us. Well I don’t know about you, but I am increasingly aware that the more I try to change myself, my attitudes and behaviour, the more I fail. I’m with St Paul on this – “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19).
Effort in, in this case, really doesn’t seem to equal results gained.
What does seem to make a difference, at least for me, is repentance. Ah, there’s a word to consider – repentance. As a youngster, I was taught that to repent was to tell God (and maybe others) that I was sorry for being so wicked. I don’t actually think that’s what it means at all. I now think that repentance is a liberating word. It means to turn around. All the while we are attempting to change ourselves, where are we facing? what is our focus? it’s ourselves, our behaviour, our failings. So let’s stop trying – let’s stop focussing on ourselves, our behaviour, our failings.
Repent – turn around! Focus on Jesus – on Him, on Hisbehaviour. The more we spend time in His company, the more His atitudes and behaviour-patterns will influence us. And I’m not talking about intellectual Bible-study here – we all know in our heads how Jesus reacted in various situations. Rather, we need to actually enter in to those situations in our imagination, see ourselves there, hear Jesus speaking to the characters in the stories, see Him turn to look at us, hear Him speaking to us also.
The website run by the Irish Jesuits, http://www.sacredspace.ie, gives this suggestion for prayer after considering a passage from the Bible: “Remembering that I am still in God’s presence, I imagine Jesus himself standing or sitting beside me, and say whatever is on my mind, whatever is in my heart, speaking as one friend to another.” Speak to Jesus, then rest in His company, as you would with a close friend, and listen for His voice. Throughout the day, imagine Jesus walking beside you, sitting beside you, present in every exchange.
Jesus didn’t barricade himself in, preparing to blast all-comers. He lived openly, and if we walk with Him we will find our own hostility lessening. he will bear it for us, as He bore all on the cross.
Jesus, You want to walk with us today and every day.
Help us to be aware of your presence.
Help us to choose to walk with you.
Hold our hand, guide us in all we do.
And when we are frightened, threatened –
make us aware of your arm around us,
Help us to let Your perfect love for us
cast out all our fear,
setting us free to share your perfect love with others
in their fear and hostility.
And an alternative suggestion – find something that symbolises for you the presence of Jesus and carry it with you today. Touch it often, let it bring you into an awareness of His presence and let that awareness colour all your interactions.
And here are other people posting on the Advent Book Club: