this secret garden

henri nouwen on intimacy

I’ve been reading Seeds of Hope, a Henri Nouwen Reader my friend sent me recently.  I love his insights and how he writes about spirituality.  Some of his conclusions are very similar to the ones I came to during my high school, college, and post-grad years.  I used to reflect a lot on themes such as the act of writing, the written word, prayer, solitude, and relationships. I feel as if Henri Nouwen is a kindred spirit, someone I’ve known for quite a while.  And I know that many many other people feel this way because of how he writes with abandon, incredible vulnerability, and unmistakable love.

It was recently a friend’s anniversary (one year!), and I thought of a passage Nouwen had written about marriage.  I had included it in a wedding card to my cousin though he’s not Christian because I knew he appreciates such language and reflection.  I wanted to share it with those who are married, in a relationship, or will one day find their significant other.

“A Dwelling Place for God” from Clowning in Rome

Marriage is not a lifelong attraction of two individuals to each other, but a call for two people to witness together to God’s love.  The basis of marriage is not mutual affection, or feelings, or emotions and passions that we associate with love, but a vocation, a being elected to build together a house for God in this world, to be like the two cherubs whose outstretched wings sheltered the Ark of the Covenant and created a space where Yahweh could be present (Ex. 25:10-12, 1 Kings 8:6-7).  Marriage is a relationship in which a man and a woman protect and nurture the inner sanctum within and between them and witness to that by the way in which they love each other . . .

The real mystery of marriage is not that husband and wife love each other so much that they can find God in each others lives, but that God loves them so much that they can discover each other more and more as living reminders of God’s presence.  They are brought together, indeed, as two prayerful hands extended toward God and forming in this way a home for God in this world.

“Love Asks for Total Disarmament” from Intimacy

Love asks for a total disarmament.  The encounter in love is an encounter without weapons.  Perhaps the disarmament in the individual encounter is more difficult than international disarmament.  We are very able to hide our guns and knives even in the most intimate relationship.  An old bitter memory, a slight suspicion about motives, or a small doubt can be as sharp as a knife held behind our back as a weapon for defense in case of attack.  Can we ever meet a friend or stranger without any protection?  Reveal ourselves to another in our total vulnerability?  This is the heart of our question.  Are man and woman able to exclude the power in their relationship and become totally available for each other?  When the soldier sits down to eat he lays down his weapons because eating means peace and rest.  When he stretches out his body to sleep he is more vulnerable than ever.  Table and bed are the two places of intimacy where love can manifest itself in weakness.  In love men and women take off all the forms of power, embracing each other in total disarmament.  The nakedness of their bodies is only a symbol of total vulnerability and availability. . .

When through the careful growth of their relationship men and women have come to the freedom of total disarmament, their giving also becomes for-giving, their nakedness does not evoke shame but desire to share, and their ultimate vulnerability becomes the core of their mutual strength.  New life is born in the state of total vulnerability–this is the mystery of love.  Power kills.  Weakness creates.  It creates autonomy, self-awareness, and freedom.  It creates openness to give and receive in mutuality.  And finally it creates the good ground on which new life can come to full development and maturity.

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2 comments on “henri nouwen on intimacy

  1. hans
    August 4, 2010

    it’s true. marriage is blessing in which you can enjoy the partnership and love of another person but it does not replace God, and when the focus of marriage becomes strong on making “me” happy or fulfilling me in a way it was not intended, my vision becomes skewed. i feel like me included, a lot of people think marriage is THE end all, like it’s THE goal, to be happy, to be in love, to just be married and all you see is each other, but that’s only a partial side of the blessing, it is also like your post says, a vehicle in which both people fall deeper into the love of God. it can never replace the absolute need and love of God first or all my hopes get placed on my husband in ways he was never intended to carry.

    • mijin
      August 4, 2010

      EXACTLY. a lot of people make marriage a god, thinking of it as a solution. and i think when people just focus on each other like you mentioned, it becomes suffocating and limited. nouwen actually writes about that also. maybe i’ll post that up as well since i feel like this happens often. thanks hans. ^.^

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This entry was posted on August 3, 2010 by in qt / meditation and tagged , , , , .
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