The Gift of Care

December 23, 2014 § 2 Comments

A message for this season from Henri J.M. Nouwen.

Why is it that we keep the great gift of care so deeply hidden? Why is it that we keep giving dimes without looking into the face of the beggar? Why is it that we do not join the lonely eater in the dining hall but look for those we know so well? Why is it that we so seldom knock on a door or grab a phone just to say hello, just to show that we have been thinking about each other? Why are smiles still hard to get and words of comfort so difficult to come by? … Why do we keep bypassing each other on the way to something or someone more important?

Maybe simply because we ourselves are so concerned with being different from others that we do not even allow ourselves to lay down our heavy armor and come together in a mutual vulnerability. Maybe we are so full of our own opinions, ideas, and convictions that we have no space left to listen to the other and learn from him or her.

There is a story … about a university professor who came to a Zen master to ask him about Zen. Nan-in, the Zen master, served him tea.

He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing until he could no longer restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

To care means first of all to empty our own cup and to allow the other to come close to us. It means to take away the many barriers which prevent us from entering into communication with the other. When we dare to care, then we discover that nothing human is foreign to us, but that all the hatred and love, cruelty and compassion, fear and joy can be found in our own hearts. When we dare to care, we have to confess that when others kill, I could have killed, too. When others torture, I could have done the same. When others heal, I could have healed, too. And when others give life, I could have done the same. Then we experience that we can be present to the soldier who kills, to the guard who pesters, to the young man who plays as if life has no end, and to the old man who stopped playing out of fear of death …

When Jesus had received the five loaves and fishes, he returned them to the crowd, and there was plenty for all to eat. The gift is born out of receiving. Food came forth out of kinship with the hungry, healing out of compassion, cure out of care. he or she who can cry out with those in need can give without offense.

As long as we are occupied and preoccupied with our desire to do good but are not able to feel the crying need of those who suffer, our help remains hanging somewhere between our minds and our hands and does not descend into the heart, where we can care. But in solitude our heart can slowly take off its many protective devices and can grow so wide and deep that nothing human is strange to it.


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

This piece is excerpted from Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, Ave Maria Press. I found this in the December, 2014, print issue of The Sun Magazine.

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