LENT: Thursday of the Third Week in Lent, by Henri J. M. Nouwen

From Show Me The Way

Anyone who is not with me is against me; and anyone who does not gather in with me throws away. (Luke 11:23)

The spiritual life is a gift.  It is the gift of the Holy Spirit, who lifts us up into the kingdom of God’s love.  But to say that being lifted up into the kingdom of love is a divine gift does not mean that we wait passively until the gift is offered to us.  Jesus tells us to set our hearts on the kingdom.  Setting our hearts on something involves not only serious aspiration but also strong determination.  A spiritual life requires human effort.  The forces that keep pulling us back into a worry-filled life are far from easy to overcome.

“How hard it is,” Jesus exclaims, “to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23)  And to convince us of the need for hard work, he says, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

Here we touch the question of discipline in the spiritual life.  A spiritual life without discipline is impossible.  Discipline is the other side of discipleship.  The practice of a spiritual discipline makes us more sensitive to the small, gentle voice of God.  The prophet Elijah did not encounter God in the might wind or in the earthquake or in the fire, but in the small voice (see 1 Kings 19:9-13).  Through the practice of a spiritual discipline we become attentive to that small voice and willing to respond when we hear it.


From all that I said about our worried, over-filled lives, it is clear that we are usually surrounded by so much inner and outer noise that it is hard to truly hear our God, when he is speaking to us.  We have often become deaf, unable to know when God calls us and unable to understand in which direction he calls us.  Thus our lives have become absurd.  In the word absurd we find the Latin word surdus, which means “deaf.”  A spiritual life requires discipline because we need to learn to listen to God, who constantly speaks but whom we seldom hear.  When, however, we learn to listen, our lives become obedient lives.  The word obedient comes from the Latin word audire, which means “listening.”  A spiritual discipline is necessary in order to move slowly from an absurd to an obedient life, from a life filled with noisy worries to a life in which there is some free inner space where we can listen to our God and follow his guidance.  Jesus’s life was a life of obedience.  He was always listening to the father, always attentive to his voice, always alert for his directions.  Jesus was “all ear.”  That is true prayer: being all ear for God.  The core of all prayer is indeed listening, obediently standing in the presence of God.

A spiritual discipline, therefore, is the concentrated effort to create some inner and outer space in our lives, where this obedience can be practiced.  Through a spiritual discipline we prevent the world from filling our lives to such an extent that there is no place left to listen.  A spiritual discipline sets us free to pray or, to say it better, allows the Spirit of God to pray in us.


Almighty God,
grant that we may heed the call of your grace
and ready ourselves all the more fervently
to celebrate the mysteries of Easter,
as the feast of our redemption comes closer and closer.

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