THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION

“True contemplatives, then, are not the ones who withdrew from the world to save their own soul, but the ones who enter into the center of the world and pray to God from there.”

“How to come to this simplicity, this inner sense of self, this conviction of self-worth? ‘Meditate,’ John Eudes said, ‘and explore the small daily events in which you can see your insecurity at work. By meditation you can create distance, and what you can keep at a distance, you can shake off.'”

Re the problem of constantly comparing ourselves to others:

“John Eudes [Father John Eudes Bamberger; abbot emeritus of Abbey of the Genesee] talked about that moment, that point, that spot that lies before the comparison, before the beginning of the vicious circle or the self-fulfilling prophecy. That is the moment, point, or place where mediation can enter in. It is the moment to stop reading, speaking, socializing, and to “waste” your time in meditation. When you find your mind competing again, you might plan an “empty time” of meditation, in this way interrupting the vicious circle of our ruminations and entering into the depth of your own soul. There you can be with him who was before you came, who loved you before you could love, and who has given you your own self before any comparison was possible. In meditation we can come to the affirmation that we are not created by other people but by God, that we are not judged by how we compare with others but how we fulfill the will of God.

This is the time [when you start to feel at home] in which meditation becomes very important; this is an invitation to enter deeper into prayer. Otherwise, you will start complaining within a few weeks that the monastery is not severe enough, not poor enough, not strict enough, and you, as many others before, will leave and start a life which, in fact, is much less poor and less severe.”

Speaking about prayer, I asked John Eudes a question that seemed very basic and a little naïve: ‘When I pray, to whom do I pray? When I say ‘Lord,’ what do I mean?’ ”

“John Eudes responded very differently than I expected. He said, ‘This is the real question, this is the most important question you can raise; at least this is the question that you can make your most important question.’ He stressed with great and convincing emphasis that if I really wanted to take that question seriously, I should realize that there would be little room left for other things.

‘Except,’ he said smiling, ‘when the question exhausts you so much that you need to read Newsweek for a little relaxation’ ‘It is far from easy,’ John Eudes said, ‘to make that question the center of your meditation. You will discover that it involves every part of yourself because the question, Who is the Lord to whom I pray? leads directly to the question, Who am I who wants to pray to the Lord? And then you will soon wonder, Why is the Lord of justice also the Lord of love; the God of fear also the God of gentle compassion? This leads you to the center of meditation. Is there an answer? Yes and no. You will find out in your meditation. You might some day have a flash of understanding even while the question still remains and pulls you closer to God. But it is not a question that can be simply one of your questions. In a way, it needs to be your only question around which all that you do finds its place. It requires a certain decision to make that question the center of your meditation. If you do so, you will realize that you embarking on a long road, a very long road.’ ”

–Henri Nouwen, all from The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery

11 Replies to “THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION”

  1. We are God’s beloved sons and daughters, as Fr. Nouwen liked to remind us. And so we are and are becoming,

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Right, Br. Rex–progress, not perfection…blessings to you in Maine–

  2. Joyce Bock says: Reply

    Loved every word of this essay. Will sit with it all afternoon , maybe even always.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      I’m so glad you loved Henri Nouwen’s piece…I have a file hundreds of pages long of excerpts and quotes I’ve copied out over the years, and sometimes I just scroll through and something jumps out at me…often something, as with this passage, that I hadn’t even remembered. So it was a new revelation for me, too.

  3. Molly Walchuk says: Reply

    How could you possibly have known how much I needed that today? Thank you

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Ha, Molly, probably because I needed it so much myself that day!

  4. Lately I’ve been noticing that whenever I start thinking about the really important question, the greatest opposition comes from my SELF: it just want to give up the priority it has in my life and it knows that when it comes down to questions of God, then SELF is in mortal danger.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Bless you, Barbara, an old priest friend would say “Instead of trying harder, resist less”…yes, always the self in there trying to win, get its way, be right…good to notice, though, because maybe then we can start resisting less!

  5. I meant “it just WON’T give up……”

  6. Thank you! dear Heather! Am thankful for the place from where your writings cometh!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Ha, Glenda, yes! The wind blows where it listeth…it’s all a mystery!…

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