Henri Nouwen’s daily devotional:
How does the Spirit of God manifest itself through us? Often we think that to witness means to speak up in defense of God. This idea can make us very self-conscious. We wonder where and how we can make God the topic of our conversations and how to convince our families, friends, neighbors, and colleagues of God’s presence in their lives. But this explicit missionary endeavor often comes from an insecure heart and, therefore, easily creates divisions.
The way God’s Spirit manifests itself most convincingly is through its fruits: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). These fruits speak for themselves. It is therefore always better to raise the question “How can I grow in the Spirit?” than the question “How can I make others believe in the Spirit?”
It is through prayer, contemplation and love that we can overcome this anxiety of self-consciousness that leads us away from feeling God’s presence. Gradually, in our communion with God, however we enter into that, we tap into the abundant and boundless generosity of the Spirit within our heart. This Spirit can be so joyous, so comforting, so overwhelming as to immerse our entire being in this spirit–our heart, mind, soul and body. In this way, we enjoy our intimate relationship with God, we delight in it, we are transformed by it to where we feel this same intimate relationship with all of humanity and creation. In this transcendence of being in the living kingdom of heaven here and now, overlapping objective reality, we break through the prison of the human ego and no longer anxiously, self-consciously define our identity by the dominant measures of the world, by what we have, what we can do, or what people say about us. And in this breakthrough, we realize just how chained we are by our unconscious desires and habits to conform to the patterns of the world, to limit our sense of joy and blessedness to the strivings of possessive individualism.
Certainly, as God is the creator and author of all life, and he has proclaimed it good, our self-conscious instinctive desire to exalt in our own ego is also God-given. We are to feel the pleasure of using our mind and body to the fullest, in extraordinary ambition and daring and discipline devoted to discovery and creativity, to the very triumph of our own will in the arts, leadership, scholarship, science, innovation, business and labor. In every field of human endeavor, we are rightly called to exemplify excellence and virtue. This is truly the blessedness of life as created, governed and sustained by God. We feel pleasure in living true to our self, through the vehicle of the rebellious and obstinate ego, bringing all our gifts and abilities to full fruition in our competition of all against all.
But in God’s grace we become aware of an even greater blessedness of life–beyond the egoistic heights of achievement and power through our own gifts and abilities and virtues. For without God, all of these human endeavors lead merely to temporal treasures that do not last. We find even our strength and intellect and beauty as measured in the eyes of the world are fading and impossible to hold onto. We suffer and agonize over this eventual passing. Is this a cruel conceit of the human condition? We have an innate desire to seek human excellence, to achieve great things, only then to be mocked by the limits of our efforts and ability, by our very mortality, by our very weakness? And to see the treasures we have built up only to turn to rust and be eaten by moths?
And here it is that we are perhaps most surprised by God. With God we rejoice in an even greater blessedness that our ego points us to, our intimate kinship with God as beloved children of God. But our ego must die first before we can attain this kinship. In this new creation, we see the spiritual reality that all our abilities and gifts, even all our experiences and conditions, are from God to be used for his purposes and glory. We are to find our true fulfillment as instruments of God, building up his spiritual kingdom of heaven, and using our gifts to create and share the godly and eternal goods of love, peace, compassion, empathy, healing, caring, in solidarity with all of humanity and creation. Our individual gifts are thus transformed into our divine blessings to share with the world. They are not our own. We are to use them to better love and serve God and others. With this transformed heart, we build treasures that are truly eternal and lasting, in the people we touch, comfort, heal and love. We in our own unique and original way add to the body of Christ, to the multitudes who live in this body, past, present and future. We participate in and contribute to the eternal truths of faith, hope and love. We grow in the ever greater Christ, we are filled by the Holy Spirit with more of the spiritual gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.
God therefore gives human beings an ego along with the gift of freredom so that they can exalt fully in all their powers and creativity and authority, and then God gives us grace to see the shame of pride and arrogance when we think all this creativity and authority is from our own will, and to be used selfishly to glory in our own image like Narcissus. We become ashamed that we have reduces the blessings of life to our own small-minded and hard-hearted desire for power, pleasure and meaning that makes us more glorious, righteous, more superior to others. What amazing grace to then have the humility to fulfill our ego and then surpass it, to go beyond its sinful alienation from God, to go beyond its physical limits of the senses and the brain, and to instead discover the mystery and miracle of Christ in our hearts, that this is the fountainhead of our true treasure. We are then led and filled by the Holy Spirit to grow in creativity, generosity, love, courage and compassion.
We again hear Christ’s words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” These are the believers who are not only among the poor and dispossessed but all those who have surrendered the delusions and lusts of the ego, who have come to the very edges of their own will and capacity, even to the edges of their own faith community. Recognizing their poverty of spirit, they humbly but joyously exalt in their poverty of spirit, i.e. their deep yearning for more spiritual life, their emptiness that enables them to be given the kingdom of heaven by Christ and later filled by the Holy Spirit. Now they can use all their ego-driven talents and abilities and bring them to even greater fruition and purpose in service and love of God, humanity and all of creation. They can enjoy the eternal godly goods of joy, love, peace, empathy, and kindness, and flourish in the goodness of creation as God intends. These goods are their rock, their foundation. They do not fade or deteriorate like material realities. What comfort to be loved by such an amazing God! He trusts us to glory in our own freedom and to grow according to our own will, our own pride, our own ambition, and then patiently, compassionately receives us back. He then gives us the treasures of the unsurpassed original blessedness of life, saved and redeemed from sin, we regain our joyous consciousness as unified with God when he created us in his own image and likeness, to be in loving relationship with God and all that he created.
Now that we know this truth, let us reflect back on the human predicament – the alienated ego facing a seeming pitiless and indifferent vast universe, alone, left to rely solely on its own instincts for survival, the fulfillment of its own basic needs. This deeply embedded human instinct still resides within us. but now we are to undertand its genesis, to give us a sense of personhood and then to transcend and surpass it by now knowing this personhood comes from God and we are to grown not inour own puny egoistic self but in the far greater, the ever greater character and life and love of Christ, through the Holy Spirit. We are each unique and original, equal before God, to use our gifts and capacities, and the insights and wisdom gained from all of our experiences, to humbly serve and love God and others.
We are each and everyone of us to use all our gifts, even those seen as disabilities in the eyes of man but not in the eyes of God, in humility, surrender and obedience to God, in a state of awe and wonder before each other and creation. In this way, I use my disability not as driven by my ego but as my unique witness of Christ, it affirms that I am knit together by God in all my being, that I walk in the path of righteousness regrdless of my conditions or circumstances, and surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. This is my little voice, my beautiful way of seeing the world, embracing and then transcending the polarity of being, of moving in and beyond joy and suffering, faith and doubt, hope and despair, and love and loneliness. I glory in that I have fulfilled and surpassed the journey of my ego. And now joyously, intimately adventure in the further journey with my true holy self in God. In the prison of the ego, on the other hand, one is overly self-conscious and cunning, a hypocrite, acting as if following a script in order to get what one wants, which is always simply more. It is a terrible anxiety-ridden life of addiction, and the insatiable craving is the envy or approval of others.
Seek instead the generosity of the Spirit and find that its love is ly nourishing and overflowing.