Signposts on the Way to God
On a daily basis, in the early morning hours ... I receive an email message inspired, and collected, from the words and wisdom of Henri Nouwen. "A Daily Meditation". "A Spiritual Reflection". A signpost ...... steering me — steering us — on the Way to God.
How do we know about God's love, God's generosity, God's kindness, God's forgiveness? Through our parents, our friends, our teachers, our pastors, [our rabbis, our imams], our spouses, our children …. they all reveal God to us. But as we come to know them, we realise that each of them can reveal only a little bit of God. God's love is greater than theirs; God's goodness is greater than theirs; God's beauty is greater than theirs. At first we may be disappointed in these people in our lives. For a while we thought that they would be able to give us all the love, goodness, and beauty we needed. But gradually we discover that they were all signposts on the way to God."
- Henri J. M. Nouwen
Henri Nouwen understands, as well as any author or spiritual leader that I've encountered, the active, burning, all-consuming presence of God in the hearts, and lives, of compassionate … caring people. Not necessarily (just) the people within one family, one community, or even one religion - but rather, all those that share a thirst for the Divine, and a hunger for the Eternal.
On a bookshelf in my library lies a rather old — somewhat decaying — underlined, and dog-eared, trade paperback written by Huston Smith (published in 1957). The title of this 94¢ "gem of knowledge" is The Religions of Man […if written today, I would expect Mr. Smith might call the book 'The Religions of Humanity' … but in the 1950s, language often took a primarily masculine direction]. Religion. Our Faith Traditions. Our Spiritual Pathways. Our complex, complicated, sometimes confusing religions.
What does 'religion' tell us about who we are …. or, what is important to us, and why …. or, how we should deal with the problems, and struggles, that are faced - daily - in life? Some people would argue that our religions, in fact, entangle more of their energy in the roots of the world's problems than in the spiritual medicine box that we would hope helps solves many, if not all (some day), of our global, human difficulties. Certainly, there is some truth to this critical statement. However, we should also consider: if all of 'this energy' is going into the root, and none finding its way to the branches — where it can display beauty and reflect harmony — then the problem is absolutely not with the Gardener; it's with the plant itself!
Our "human plants" — whether fed by religion or not — unfortunately, do not show an attractive record of success …. specifically, in the course of relationships, in neighbourly (or nation-ly) cooperation, in generosity, in compassion. But that does not mean the plant is about to self-destruct. Optimists ( .. and I am one of them) will argue that there are signs of progress. And, not suprisingly, one of the clearer signs of progress …. is dialogue, and understanding.
'Isn't it ironical,' remarked G. K. Chesterton upon hearing of the first round-the-world wireless communication, 'that we have learned to talk around the world at precisely that moment when no one has anything to say.' … this [however] is far from true of religion. Here the people of the world have a great deal to say to one another, and they have drawn close at precisely the time when man's spiritual life, facing severe threats from nationalism, materialism, and conformity, stands in desperate need of the stimulus that searching conversation can encourage."1
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