LENT: Wednesday of the First Week in Lent, by Henri J. M. Nouwen

From Show Me The Way

So work out your salvation in fear and trembling.  It is God who, for his own generous purpose, gives you the intention and the powers to act.  Let your behavior be free of murmuring and complaining so that you remain faultless and pure unspoilt children of God. (Philippians 2:12-15)

God exists.  When I can say this with all that I am, I have the “gnosis” (the knowledge of God) about which Saint John speaks and the “Memoria Dei” (the memory of God) about which Saint Basil writes.  To say with all that we have, think, feel, and are: “God exists,” is the most world-shattering statement that a human being can make.  When we make that statement, all the distinctions between intellectual, emotional, affective, and spiritual understanding fall away and there is only one truth left to acclaim: God exists.  When we say this from the heart, everything trembles in Heaven and on Earth.  Because when God exists, all that is flows from him.  When I want to know if I ever have come to the true knowledge, the gnosis, of God’s existence, I have simply to allow myself to become aware of how I experience myself.  I am aware of my desire for food and clothing and shelter.  I am aware of my intellectual, physical, and artistic skills and my drive to use them.  I am aware of my anger, my lust, my feelings of revenge and resentment, and even at times of my desire to harm.  Indeed, what is central to me is: I exist.  My own existence fills me, and wherever I turn I find myself again locked  in my own self-awareness: I exist.  Although experiences of hatred are different from experiences of love, and although a desire for power is different from a desire to serve, they all are the same insofar as they identify my existence as what really counts.

However, as soon as I say, “God exists,” my existence no longer can remain in the center, because the essence of the knowledge of God reveals my own existence as deriving its total being from his.  That is the true conversion experience.  I no longer let the knowledge of my existence be the center from which I derive, project, deduct, or intuit the existence of God; I suddenly or slowly find my own existence revealed to me in and through the knowledge of God.  Then it becomes real for me that I can love myself and my neighbor only because God has loved me first.  The life-converting experience is not the discovery that I have choices to make that determine the way I live out my existence, but the awareness that my existence itself is not in the center.  Once I “know” God, that is, once I experience his love as the love in which all my human experiences are anchored, I can only desire one thing: to be in that love.


The converted person does not say that nothing matter any more, but that everything that is happens in God and that he is the dwelling place where we come to know the true order of things.  Instead of saying: “Nothing matters any more, since I know that God exists,” the converted person says: “All is now clothed in divine light and therefore nothing an be unimportant.”  The converted person sees, hears, and understands with a divine eye, a divine ear, a divine heart.  The converted person knows himself or herself and all the world in God.  The converted person is where God is, and from that place everything matters: giving water, clothing the naked, working for a new world order, saying a prayer, smiling at a child, reading a book, and sleeping in peace.  All has become different while all remains the same.


You who live in the secret place of Elyon,
spend your nights in the shelter of Shaddai,
saying to Yahweh, “My refuge, my fortress,
my God in whom I trust!”

You who say, “Yahweh, my refuge!”

No disaster can overtake you,
no plague come near your tent;
he has given his angels orders about you
to guard you wherever you go.
Psalm 91:1-2, 9, 10-11

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