The Taser's Edge


The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen

In a conversation with a dear friend of mine today, while talking about what I’ve been reading recently, I was reminded that I hadn’t said a word on this blog about Henri Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom, which I finished reading last week.

Inner Voice was drawn from some of Nouwen’s most intimate personal journals (written first for his personal use and only later published by his choice), and it’s presented in bite-size chapters (easy snacking for those on their own journeys from anguish toward freedom).

So here’s one complete chapterette, “Go Into the Place of Your Pain”:

You have to live through your pain gradually and thus deprive it of its power over you. Yes, you must go into the place of your pain, but only when you have gained some new ground. When you enter your pain simply to experience it in its rawness, it can pull you away from where you want to go.

What is your pain? It is the experience of not receiving what you most need. It is a place of emptiness where you feel sharply the absence of the love you most desire. To go back to that place is hard, because you are confronted there with your wounds as well as with your powerlessness to heal yourself. You are so afraid of that place that you think of it as a place of death. Your instinct for survival makes you run away and go looking for something else that can give you a sense of at-homeness, even though you know full well that it can’t be found out in the world.

You have to begin to trust that your experience of emptiness is not the final experience, that beyond it is a place where you are being held in love. As long as you do not trust that place beyond your emptiness, you cannot safely reenter the place of pain.

So you have to go into the place of your pain with the knowledge in your heart that you have already found the new place. You have already tasted some of its fruits. The more roots you have in the new place, the more capable you are of mourning the loss of the old place and letting go of the pain that lies there. You cannot mourn something that has not died. Still, the old pains, attachments, and desires that once meant so much to you need to be buried.

You have to weep over your lost pains so that they can gradually leave you and you can become free to live fully in the new place without melancholy or homesickness.

I don’t know exactly what it is about Nouwen that makes him able to be so balm-like. But I would highly recommend this book to most people. Even if you’re not going through a specific major trial right now, it’s just as much about the hurts that all human beings (or at least those who are paying attention) feel.

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