There is probably no image that expresses so well the intimacy with God in prayer as the image of God’s breath. We are like asthmatic people who are cured of their anxiety. The Spirit has taken away our narrowness (the Latin word for anxiety is angustia/narrowness) and made everything new for us. We receive a new breath, a new freedom, a new life. This new life is the divine life of God. Prayer, therefore, is God’s breathing in us, by which we become part of the intimacy of God’s inner life, and by which we are born anew.
So, the paradox of prayer is that it asks for a serious effort while it can only be received as a gift. We cannot plan, organize or manipulate God; but without a careful discipline, we cannot receive God either.
~Henri J. M. Nouwen, Reaching Out
The resurrection does not solve our problems about dying and death. It is not the happy ending to our life’s struggle, nor is it the big surprise that God has kept in store for us. No, the resurrection is the expression of God’s faithfulness to Jesus and to all God’s children. Through the resurrection, God has said to Jesus, “You are indeed my beloved Son, and my love is everlasting,” and to us God has said, “You indeed are my beloved children, and my love is everlasting.” The resurrection is God’s way of revealing to us that nothing that belongs to God will ever go to waste. What belongs to God will never get lost.
~Henri J. M. Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift
Have you ever tried to spend a whole hour doing nothing but listening to the voice that dwells deep in your heart? … It is not easy to enter into the silence and reach beyond the many boisterous and demanding voices of our world and to discover there the small intimate voice saying: “You are my Beloved Child, on you my favor rests.” Still, if we dare to embrace our solitude and befriend our silence, we will come to know that voice.
~Henri J. M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved
When I really bring others into my innermost being and feel their pains, their struggles, their cries in my own soul, then I leave myself, so to speak, and become them; then I have compassion. Compassion lies at the heart of our prayer for our fellow human beings. When I pray for the world, I become the world; when I pray for the endless needs of the millions, my soul expands and wants to embrace them all and bring them into the presence of God. But in the midst of that experience I realize that compassion is not mine but God’s gift to me. I cannot embrace the world, but God can. I cannot pray, but God can pray in me.
~Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Genesee Diary
Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.
~Henri J. M. Nouwen
If you come in touch with that first love you will discover not only that you are loved unconditionally, but that the One who loves you unconditionally loves all of humanity unconditionally, with that same all-embracing love. And the fact that God loves you so intimately and personally does not mean that God loves anyone else less or differently. Uniquely, yes. But whether they are Nicaraguans or Russians, people from Afghanistan or Iran or South Africa, they all belong to the house of God.
And therefore, when you enter into intimate communion with the God of the first love, you will find yourself in intimate communion with all the people of God, because the heart of God is the heart that embraces the whole of humanity. That’s why intimacy with God always means solidarity with the people of God. To put it more precisely: God pitched a tent among us and took on our flesh so that there is no human flesh that has not been accepted by God.
~Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Road to Peace