Pastor’s Corner (12/3/2020)
In his book Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church, author Philip Yancey shared the stories of those who helped shape his thought and faith. His chapter 13 described one of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen. Nouwen grew up in the Netherlands and became a Roman Catholic priest. He became a sought after speaker and his ministry led him to serve in a variety of ways throughout his life. I’ve read all of Nouwen’s books and know something of his life, but I was really struck by Yancey’s retelling of Nouwen’s time in South America. While in Peru, he lived in a slum north of Lima and stayed with a family there. He felt particularly loved by the children there. “The children literally hugged life back into him” Nouwen would later say. “How little do we really know the power of physical touch,” Nouwen also said in response to his visit to an orphanage. The children there fought for the privilege of touching him.
“These boys and girls only wanted one thing; to be touched, hugged, stroked and caressed. Probably most adults have the same needs, but no longer have the innocence and unselfconsciousness to express them. Sometimes I see humanity as a sea of people starving for affection, tenderness, care, love, acceptance, forgiveness and gentleness. Everyone seems to cry ‘please love me.'”
Yancey’s recounting of this portion of Nouwen’s life brought me to tears. It struck me that these reflections were never more true than they are today. As we move towards the end of 2020, many, if not most, of us probably feel like those orphans. Isolation and physical distancing have intensified these yearnings. For many of us, especially those of us who live alone, the church may be the major place in which these needs for human contact are met. And now, that is not true. As many of us worship virtually in our homes, and even those of us participating in in-person worship, we are separated by at least 6 feet. Our masks hide the expressions on our faces. Even with others, we are keenly aware of how separate and alone we really are. I suspect Nouwen could never have imagined a time like ours.
As we move into the Advent season, we may be keenly aware of the physical distances that keep us apart. Fortunately, this will be temporary, despite the fact that it seems to drag on. Perhaps this Advent during COVID will provide opportunities to experience God’s eagerness to touch us by becoming incarnate as a small, helpless baby. God hears our cry “please love me” and does so in ways humanity could never have imagined. Just like Nouwen, God “sees humanity as a sea of people starving for affection, tenderness, care, love, acceptance, forgiveness and gentleness.” Hopefully during this Advent season, we will become aware of the many ways in which “God hugs life back into us” even, and especially, when we are physically distant.
With love and joy,
You can read more in Gracias! A Latin American Journal by Henri J. M. Nouwen.