Actually the title should read, the bus, Nouwen and a cow, if you want to get technical. My Swedish Volvo, probably brought here by some rich Swedish diplomat back in 1986 has been problematic this week and after a weekend of fruitless hours under the hood, I gave in. In Spanish I would say “me rindí.” I, with help from a generous neighbor, towed the car (actually mostly coasted the car – while the mechanic is about 3 miles away, 75% of it is down hill). Anyway, that has put me on the bus this week to get to ESEPA and around. I actually really enjoy taking the bus. In order to get to ESEPA I must take two buses. The ride is usually 1 hour or longer. I guess I like the ride because I usually take that time to read something I enjoy and now that I have picked up this book on Nouwen, well, perfect combination. As I sat down I immediately opened up where I last left off. I will share what impacted me from the reading in a second. So as I am reading, all of the sudden the bus jerks to one side and slams on the brakes. I thought we had crashed. Immediately I noticed a guy in the front seat kind of looking off the side as the bus passed in the opposite lane. So I too looked and found a cow gazing at us as if to say, “GET OUT OF THE WAY!” It turns out the guy in the front seat was the cow’s owner. Anyway, that’s how I came up with the silly title.
Now on to Nouwen: What impacts me most about his life is not that he was a man dedicated to God’s service, but that he was a flawed individual who was used by God. One of the most famous of books that Nouwen wrote was The Wounded Healer. People frequently think of pastors or priests (or maybe even a missionary or two) as a perfect individual who has the whole game down. It was obvious to most of the people close enough to Nouwen to know that he was not a perfect individual. Perhaps that is why he wrote The Wounded Healer, for he was a healer and he was wounded. One of the struggles that Nouwen frequently dealt with was isolation and loneliness. I think if we get down to it, it’s a common feeling that most people feel. I have certainly passed through those moments of loneliness no matter who was around me. Nouwen says, “We ignore what we already know with a deep-seated intuitive knowledge – that no love or friendship, no intimate embrace or tender kiss, no community, commune or collective, no man or woman, will ever be able to satisfy your desire to be released from our lonely condition.” Sounds hopeless huh? Yes and no. I think what Nouwen was describing was our human condition. The minute we turned away from God, our lives became lacking, lacking of a deep intimate relationship with God (described in vertical dimensions) and with other human beings (on a horizontal level). The solution? Returning to God and acknowledging our condition and becoming hosts. Nouwen describes the act of hospitality as one way for us to at least come together in someone’s house to develop those horizontal relationships. As Americans we have lost the art of hospitality…not all, but generally, it is gone. Nouwen suggests that coming together as lonely people will help us to identify our loneliness together and it’s in that act that we move toward a better understanding of our human condition and maybe, just maybe, find the kind of intimacy that our spirits long for.