The spiritual life starts at the place where you can hear God’s voice. Where somehow you can claim that long before your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your school, your church touched you, loved you, and wounded you — long before that, you were held safe in an eternal embrace. You were seen with eyes of perfect love long before you entered into the dark valley of life.
—Henri J. M. Nouwen
Lecture given at Scarritt-Bennett Center, Nashville, TN, 1991
I met Henri Nouwen, very briefly, in the hall outside my office in 1991. Henri (we called him “Henri,” because that was how John Mogabgab and Marjorie Thompson, Henri’s dear friends and our Upper Room colleagues, referred to him) was in Nashville to give a lecture at Scarritt- Bennett Center. He had been visiting John in his office across the hall from me. Henri walked by my office door, looked in, smiled, and said, “Hello.” I treasure that moment, as brief as it was, when I had the honor of meeting Henri and shaking his hand.
This was during a season in my life when my wounds were tender. I didn’t attend Henri’s lecture, because I was too overwhelmed to be in a crowd of people. But I got a recording of his lecture and listened to it so many times that I can imagine that I was there in the chapel hearing his words. Henri’s voice spoke to me in my wounded place, assuring me that, despite my limitations, I was, I am loved by God. From the beginning of my life, I have been held in God’s loving embrace.
This, to me, is the essence of wholeness. That our brokenness is made whole through God’s love. That wholeness does not mean we are perfect. That even the difficult things in life — estrangement, abuse, illness, death — can be transformed into wholeness in God’s eternal love.
The Hebrew scriptures give us the gift of the word shalom, which means peace, completeness, welfare, health. This definition expands far beyond the status of personal physical health. It paints for us images of wholeness that include social justice, God’s desire for human completeness, and health of spirit, emotions, mind, and body. The root of the word shalom means “to be whole.” In the scriptures, the word and its relatives describe the perfection of God and God’s desire for human beings to be whole.
Becoming whole is a lifelong process. God seeks us, and it is through our hunger for and openness to God that we become whole. Our weakness is made complete in God’s strength. Our wounds can become the turning points in our spiritual lives. By emptying and opening ourselves, we come into the fullness of life in God’s spirit.
Blessings as you consider your wounds, the broken places of the world, and wholeness in God’s love.
Beth A. Richardson
From March/April Alive Now. Copyright © 2016 by The Upper Room. Purchase a copy of this issue on “Wholeness” by calling 1.800.972.0433. Or download the digital issue today.