Joy by Henri Nouwen
The following passages are taken from Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “Bread for the Journey” published in 1997.
1. Choosing Joy (Jan 30)
Joy is what makes life worth living, but for many, joy seems hard to find. They complain that their lives are sorrowful and depressing. What then brings the joy we so much desire? Are some people just lucky, while others have run out of luck? Strange as it may sound, we can choose joy. Two people can be part of the same event, but one may choose to live it quite differently from the other. One may choose to trust that what happened, painful as it may be, holds a promise. The other may choose despair and be destroyed by it.
What makes us human is precisely this freedom of choice.
2.Fruits that grow in Vulnerability (Jan 4)
There is a great difference between successful and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.
3.Solidarity in Weakness (Feb 1)
Joy is hidden in compassion. The word compassion literally means, “to suffer with.” It seems quite unlikely that suffering with another person would bring joy. Yet being with a person in pain, offering simple presence to someone in despair, sharing with a friend times of confusion and uncertainty. . . such experiences can bring us deep joy. Not happiness, not excitement, not great satisfaction, but the quiet joy of being there for someone else and living in deep solidarity with our brothers and sisters in this human family. Often this is a solidarity in weakness, in brokenness, in woundedness, but it leads us to the center of joy, which is sharing our humanity with others.
4.The Treasure of the Poor (Aug 20)
The poor has a treasure to offer precisely because they cannot return our favours. By not paying us for what we have done for them, they call us to inner freedom, selflessness, generosity, and true care. Jesus says, “When you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, then you will be blessed, for they have no means to repay you and so you will be repaid when the upright rise again”(Luke 14:13-14)
The repayment Jesus speaks about is spiritual. It is the joy, peace, and love of God that we so much desire. This is what the poor give us, not only in the afterlife but already here and now.
5.Our Poverty, God’s Dwelling Place (Aug 18)
How can we embrace poverty as a way to God when everyone around us wants to become rich? Poverty has many forms. We have to ask ourselves, “What is my poverty?” Is it lack of money, lack of emotional stability, lack of a loving partner, lack of security, lack of safety, lack of self-confidence? Each human being has a place of poverty. That’s the place where God wants us to dwell! “How blessed are the poor,” Jesus says (Matthew 5:3). This means that our blessing is hidden in our poverty.
We are so inclined to cover up our poverty and ignore it that we often miss the opportunity to discover God, who dwells in it. Let’s dare to see our poverty as the land in which our treasure (love, joy, peace) is hidden.
6.Spiritual Choices (Jan 6)
Choices. Choices make the difference. Two people are in the same accident and severely wounded. They did not choose to be in the accident. It happened to them. But one of them chose to live the experience in bitterness, the other in gratitude. These choices radically influenced their lives, and the lives of their families and friends. We have very little control over what happens in our lives, but we have a lot of control over how we integrate and remember what happens. It is precisely these spiritual choices that determine whether we live our lives with dignity.
7.Expecting a Surprise (Jan 1)
Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.
8.Our Spiritual Parents (Jan 2)
Joy and sorrow are never separated. When our hearts rejoice at a spectacular view, we may miss our friends who cannot see it, and when we are overwhelmed with grief, we may discover what true friendship is all about. Joy is hidden in sorrow and sorrow in joy. If we try to avoid sorrow at all costs, we may never taste joy, and if we are suspicious of ecstasy, agony can never reach us either. Joy and sorrow are the parents of our spiritual growth.
9.Enough Light for the Next Step (Jan 8)
Often we want to be able to see into the future. We say, “How will next year be for me? Where will I be five or ten years from now?” There are no answers to these questions. Mostly we have just enough light to see the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go. Let’s rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all shadows away.
10.The Spiritual Work of Gratitude (Jan 12)
To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives—the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections—that requires hard spiritual work. Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to the present moment. As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for.
Let’s not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God.
11.The Joy of Being Like Others (Jan 31)
At first sight, joy seems to be connected with being different. When you receive a compliment or win an award, you experience the joy of not being the same as others. You are faster, smarter, or more beautiful, and it is that difference that brings you joy. But such joy is very temporary. True joy is hidden where we are the same as other people: fragile and mortal. It is the joy of belonging to the human race. It is the joy of being with others as a friend, a companion, a fellow traveller.
This is the joy of Jesus, who is Emmanuel: God-with-us.
12.Going beyond our Wants (April 22)
Sometimes we behave like children in a toy shop. We want this and that, and then something else. The many options confuse us and create an enormous restlessness in us. When someone says, “Well, what do you want? You can have one thing. Make up your mind,” we do not know what to choose.
As long as our hearts keep vacillating among these many wants, we cannot move forward in life with inner peace and joy.That is why we need inner and outer disciplines, to go beyond these wants and discover our mission in life.
The passages below are taken from Robert A. Jonas’ book, published in 1998, on Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s writings.
1.Sadness to Joy (pg 37)
For Jesus, joy is clearly a deeper and more truthful state of life than sorrow. He promises joy as the sign of new life: “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. A woman in childbirth suffers, because he time has come; but when she has given birth to the child, she forgets the suffering in her joy that a human being has been born into the world. So it is with you; you are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you.” (John 16:20b-22)
Jesus connects joy with the promise of seeing Him again. In this sense, it is similar to the joy we experience when a dear friend returns after a long absence. But Jesus makes it clear that joy is more than that. It is “his own joy,” flowing from the love He shares with His heavenly Father and leading to completion. “Remain in My love. . . so that My own joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” (John 15:9b-11)
The word “ecstasy” helps us to understand more fully the joy that Jesus offers. The literal meaning of the word can help to guide our thinking about joy. “Ecstasy” comes from the Greek ekstasis, which in turn is derived from ek, meaning out, and stasis, a state of standstill. To be ecstatic literally means to be outside of a static place. Thus, those who live ecstatic lives are always moving away from rigidly fixed situations and exploring new, unmapped dimensions of reality. Here we see the essence of joy. Joy is always new. Whereas there can be old pain, old grief, and old sorrow, there can be no old joy. Old joy is not joy! Joy is always connected with movement, renewal, rebirth, change—in short, with life. (“Lifesigns,” 86-88)
2.Ministry as Being-With (pg 112-113)
Two words that I think are helpful for ministry are “compassion” and “gratitude.” Ministry happens when you participate in the mystery of being-with. The whole incarnation, God-with-us, Emmanuel, is first of all being with people. Caring means “to cry out with.” Compassion literally means “to be with those who suffer.” Ministry means that we lift the incarnation—we lift the God who says, “I will be with you.” We are to be precisely where people are vulnerable, not to fix it or to change it. That is an unintended fruit of it, but that is not why we are there.
Compassion is the priesthood of Jesus—-read the letter to the Hebrews. Since nothing human was alien to Him, He was the compassionate high priest. Jesus is first of all God-with-us. For thirty years He was just living in a small village, living the same life that we live. It was for only three years that He was preaching. So even when you look at it in a spiritual way, Jesus’ ministry wasn’t just the three years He was preaching. The mystery is that He shared our lives. God is a God-with-us. Ministry is being with the sick, the dying, being with people wherever they are, whatever their problems. We dare to be with them in their weakness and trust that if we are entering into people’s vulnerable places, we will experience immense joy. That is the mystery of ministry.
You can’t solve the world’s problems, but you can be with people. I’ve been with two people who were dying in the last months. It wasn’t a burden—it was a great joy to have the privilege to be there when they made their passage.
If I follow God, I pray, I say certain things, and I tell others in need that I care. But I don’t sit down beforehand and plan how to get this person from here to there. If I am not in communion with God or in communion with other people, then I become a technician who got involved, but as a technician I cannot lay down my life for my friends. My life is my joy, my peace, and my sorrow. Ministry is witness. It is nothing else but saying, “I’ve seen something, I’ve experienced something, and I am not afraid to share it with you if you ask me to.” Ministry doesn’t have that quality of compulsiveness that it has to happen right away or if I don’t say something at the right time that person will become lost. (“Parting Words,” 14-15)
3.A Ministry of Empowerment (pg 114-115)
Gratitude is essential to ministry. Gratitude basically means to receive the gifts of others—to say thank you for being you. It is a central part of ministry to receive the gifts of others. Only when you yourself have experienced your own giftedness can you be free. We have a desire to get things to other people so that we can be on the giving side. We forget that the greater joy for other people is for them to realise that they have something to give to us.
I can care for handicapped people my whole life, and they need thousands of things, but the greater joy for other people is to be able to do some things themselves. When I can be excited about them, take them on a lecture tour with me and hear others say to them, “Wow, you were great!” these are gifts. When I take Bill or one of the other from L’Arche with me, it’s not to show other people how much I care for them; rather I do it so they can offer other something. I’m the mediator of that. I need to be there with them. They cannot give their gifts if I’m not there to make them visible.
For instance, I am leaving New Jersey soon. When I began praying here, the group said, “You’re the one who know all about prayer.” Yes, I have a certain sophistication around these things, but if I stayed here longer, they would see that I am not always grateful and things don’t always work for me. The point is that, finally, I have to empower people, and say, “You have as much to give as I do.” Ministry always means to empower others to give their gifts to each other. Ministry is about multiplication. You give away what you have—that little piece of bread in your hand—and it multiplies. You give away the little ministry that you have and everyone becomes a minister to others. Then there is more ministry being done than you have ever seen.
This is what Jesus meant when He said (in effect), “It is good for you that I die; if I go then you can do your job.” Jesus’ task was to create a community that was empowered. Jesus said, “I will go and I will send you My Spirit, and My Spirit will empower you. All the things the Father told Me, I’m telling you. All the things I am doing, you will do, and even greater things.”
Jesus never said that He could do something that we couldn’t do. He never said that He was something we are not. He said, I am the Son of God, and you are children of God. I am called from death to life and you are as well. I know everything about the love of God and I hold back nothing from you. That’s the whole concept of the Church; we are the body of Christ—-we are the living Christ. The sacramental vision of Christ means that Christ is where we are. Just as Christ went away in order to empower others, every minister has to go away sometimes to empower others. It’s good for you that I die, that I go away so that you can claim the gifts of God. But for a while I have to be with you so that you can discover your gifts, but then you have to let me go so that they can fully bloom. (“Parting Words,” 15-17)