The Inner Voice of Love called my attention to every word and made me think and thank Henri Nouwen for sharing the writing that came out of his pain. After I had read the first three pages, I thought: how could it be that he is describing my pain? Somewhere in the middle of the book I realized not only is it my pain, but it is the basic pain of existence, which is exacerbated or distorted through our own personal experiences as we develop from children to adults.
As I was thinking about whether or not I should post this I started to look through an old journal I had written in 2007.
My journal entry was about a book I was reading then, Coming Home, written in 1978 by Lex Hixon. It was an introductory book on different religions. At that time I was amazed that at their root all religions were pointing to the same place, home.
Although, I was still far off from truly understanding what anyone was saying, this book somehow comforted me. I was feeling awful about losing a friendship and not being able to get pregnant in order to fill out my idea of what was home. I was feeling quite frantic about everything. I had decided to adopt in order to make home a reality.
After reading Hixon’s book I had written in my journal that I had finally understood the “I am” of it all and that I could safely move on because I knew I was happily not a single predicate I could manage to stick after the I am… . Obviously, though, I was in for it since I was adopting to solidify the predicate.
And then came the fall…
I became the mom of an adoptive child and a biological child came immediately afterward. In up to my neck, I flailed (take out the “l” and you will really get a sense of it), around for years.
Still here, almost 10 years later, I now hear myself saying almost the same thing I had written in my journal, “oh, yes… I see.” The difference is that although I almost sunk like an old heaping wreck in the middle of the Mississippi (I’m in the middle of reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), and I paddled on by seeking spirituality through books, churches, and meditation, what I get is that “getting it” is not a one time deal. You must get it over and over again.
Getting back to Henri Nouwen:
Henri Nouwen, a spiritual guide, who died quite awhile now, left for those who are on the way, The Inner Voice of Love, his personal journal from when he was lost. You would not think that a successful writer, Catholic priest, professor of theology at the most prestigious universities would be confessing to being needy, clingy, doubtful and seeking admiration from others because he felt empty inside or not worthy. But, page after page Henri opens his heart to the reader and through his own reflections offers to us strength and love.
It would be impossible to quote from this book as every sentence condenses life’s pain to its core and then gives some insight into working with it. Perhaps quoting from his introduction is the only beneficial use of quotes here.
“This book is my secret journal. It was written during the most difficult period of my life, from December 1987 to June 1988. That was a time of extreme anguish, during which I wondered whether I would be able to hold on to my life. Everything came crashing down — my self-esteem, my energy to live and work, my sense of being loved, my hope for healing, my trust in God… everything (xiii).”
This is not a book which permits us an escape route as human beings who have faults, and even a spiritual man has them, so let’s move on. On the contrary, this book reminds us that we are human. And that in being human there comes a responsibility, as an imperative, to look at the pain, and the shadows within us. It is with great gratitude that we can begin to believe it is all part of being human, but acceptance is not passive, and therefore it cannot be used as an excuse to keep living or dwelling within pain. What Henri reveals to us is that we need to accept our pain into our lives so that it does not control us from some place we are too fearful to enter. It takes work. Mainly, the work rests on not trying to cover up, enjoy, or change the pain. The pain, if you allow it, will eventually change you, but you must remain open or else it will change you into a bitter, angry, old person.
He explains briefly how his writing played a direct role in his ability to survive and then thrive. It is also worth noting that he chose to write imperatives. He was commanding himself to do something. He was not simply writing in the first person expressing how awful he felt.
“To my surprise, I never lost the ability to write. In fact, writing became part of my struggle for survival. It gave me the little distance from myself that I needed to keep from drowning in my despair. Nearly every day, usually immediately after meeting with my guides, I wrote a ‘spiritual imperative’ — a command to myself that had emerged from our session. These imperatives were directed to my own heart. They were not meant for anyone but myself (xvi-xvii).”
He held on to his journal for eight years, thinking these imperatives were too “raw” to be of any use to anyone. But, he was encouraged to publish them. I’m grateful he did. He clearly shows how we must face our pain with our heart. I have always faced it with my mind. The mind can turn pain into a distraction. It can take you far away from your heart. Your heart does not want to take you on a trip; it wants to lead you on a path.
The Inner Voice of Love is a beautiful book. It is not very long, slightly over 100 pages. Each chapter has a title, and the chapters range from half a page to a page an a half long.
Interestingly, I did state in my journal from years ago that I was either about to find home or begin the journey towards it. I am happy to see I was a little cautious of my overly enthusiastic and careless declarations of getting it all and finding home! I see today that I will always need to renew my faith in home. For there is no once and for all comprehension of our lives.