Monday, September 23, 2019

City Notes '19 Special | The Abbey of the Genesee Silent Retreat Readings by Henri Nouwen: The Genesee Diary



One of the experiences of prayer is that it seems that nothing happens. But when you stay with it and look back over a long period of prayer, you suddenly realize that something has happened. What is most close, most intimate, most present, often cannot be experienced directly but only with a certain distance. When I think that I am only distracted, just wasting my time, something is happening too immediate for knowing, understanding, and experiencing. Only in retrospect do I realize that something very important has taken place. Isn’t this true of all really important events in life? + Henri Nouwen, The Genesee Diary


Recently, I was given the privilege to spend 72+ hours with Cistercian monks and other ministers of our denomination at The Abbey of the Genesee in Upstate New York. This invitation and gift is meant to develop within church planters and ministers the historic practice of going into "out-of-the-way spaces" without technology or distraction, in some ways imitating Christ's practices during His ministry to be alone with our Father. The plan was for 36 hours of my time there to be in complete silence, which I have never done before, but was really looking forward to in having an extended time of solitude and silence with God. Each day had a steadfast liturgy to participate in with the monks. My favorite moments with them were Lauds + Mass, Vespers, and Compline.

3:30 a.m. | Vigils: First Prayers + Psalms 
6:30 a.m. | Lauds + Mass: Morning Prayers + Psalms + Scripture Readings + Eucharist 
10 a.m. | Tierce: Mid-Morning Prayers 
12 p.m. | Sext: Midday Prayer + Psalms
2 p.m. | None: Mid-Afternoon Prayer
5:30 p.m. | Vespers: Evening Prayers + Psalms  
7:30 p.m. | Compline: Night Prayers + Psalms 4, 91, 134

In preparation for this silent retreat, there were three books I planned to digest and meditate on specifically. These were Henri Nouwen's The Genesee Diary and Thomas Merton's Thoughts in Solitude (given to me by our denomination ahead of time) along with Paul Pastor's The Face of the Deep

This special version of City Notes will include favorite pull quotes from all three, featuring little subheads I gave for each quote as a point of reference. This first post will include excerpts from Nouwen's The Genesee Diary.





The Abbey of the Genesee Silent Retreat Readings | The Genesee Diary by Henri Nouwen

Introduction | 

The Way to God Together: The way to “God alone” is seldom traveled alone. + pg. 14 

June | 

Egoless: “Stuckness shouldn’t be avoided. It’s the psychic predecessor of all real understanding. An egoless acceptance of stuckness is the key … “ (Pirsig). God help me when I get stuck. + pg. 25

Speaking of the Lord: “Don’t worry about how to speak about the Lord. When you allow Him to enter into your heart, He will give you words” (Brother Elias). + pg. 20

All Thoughts, Ideas, Concerns as Prayers: Instead of excluding I could include all my thoughts, ideas, plans, projects, worries, and concerns and make them into prayer. … I might direct my attention to all my attachments and lead them into the all-embracing arms of God. When this idea grew in me, I experienced a new freedom and felt a great open space where I could invite all those I love and pray for that God touch them with His love. + pg. 39


Spiritual Life Discovered in Ordinary: The spiritual life does not consist of any special thoughts, ideas, or feelings but is contained in the most simple ordinary experiences of everyday living. + pg. 41

July | 

Happy to be Part of the Battle: I should be happy to be part of the battle, independent of the question of victory. The battle is real, dangerous, and very crucial. You risk all you have; it is like fighting a bull in a bull ring. You will only know what victory is when you have been part of the battle. People who have tasted real victory are always very modest about it because they have seen the other side and know that there is little to brag about. The powers of darkness and the powers of light are too close to each other to offer the occasion for vainglory. … In the many little things of everyday life we can recognize the battle. … By staying at one place you get to know the battlefield quite well. + pgs. 71-72

Anger Converted into Compassion and Forgiveness: Maybe it is realistic to recognize angry feelings and be thankful that the psalms give me a chance to express them even in the intimacy of prayer. Maybe these feelings have to be led directly to the center of my relationship with my God, who is “slow to anger,” and there converted into compassion and forgiveness. + pg. 55

The Community Can Carry You Along: Two of the monks remarked in different ways that although Thomas did not believe in the resurrection of the Lord, he kept faithful to the community of the apostles. In that community the Lord appeared to him and strengthened his faith. I find this a very profound and consoling thought. In times of doubt or unbelief, the community can “carry you along,” so to speak; it can even offer on your behalf what you yourself overlook, and can be the context in which you may recognize the Lord again. John Eudes remarked that Dydimus, the name of Thomas, means “twin,” as the Gospel says, and that the fathers had commented that all of us are “two people,” a doubting one and a believing one. We need the support and love of our brothers and sisters to prevent our doubting person from becoming dominant and destroying our capacity for belief. + pgs. 56-57


Nothing More Fatal than Self-Direction: Doretheus of Gaza says, “Nothing is more harmful than self-direction, nothing more fatal … I never allowed myself to follow my thought without asking advice.” + pg. 58

Building a Church or Babel?: There is a fine distinction between building a church and building a new tower of Babel. I think that there is a permanent temptation to forget the difference. + pg. 58


Gospel of Forgiveness: Evagrius Ponticus says “He who prays for his enemies cannot be revengeful.” The mother of Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated during a Sunday service in the Ebenezer Church in Atlanta. The assassin planned to kill her husband. I keep thinking about Martin Luther King, Sr., who has been the preacher in that church for forty years. … He lost his two sons and now his wife. You must be a saint to preach the Gospel after that with a pure heart, asking not for revenge but for forgiveness. + pgs. 61-62

Bring Neighbor to Love: Dorotheus of Gaza writes: “Don’t look for the affection of your neighbor. He who looks for it is troubled when he does not get it. You yourself, however, have to give witness to the love for your neighbor and to offer him rest, and thus you will bring your neighbor to love.” + pg. 72


Pay Attention for the Great Grace of God Here and Now: Maybe I have been living much too fast, too restlessly, too feverishly, forgetting to pay attention to what is happening here and now, right under my nose. Just as a whole world of beauty can be discovered in one flower, so the great grace of God can be tasted in one small moment. Just as no great travels are necessary to see the beauty of creation, so no great ecstasies are needed to discover the love of God. But you have to be still and wait so that you can realize that God is not in the earthquake, the storm, or the lightning, but in the gentle breeze with which He touches your back. + pgs. 94-95

August | 

The Reality of the Story of God in Bible: The Bible is a realistic book and does not avoid any part of human reality. It speaks about the life, thoughts, and history of men and women from the perspective of the God of history. It is good to be reminded of this realism. God is not only where it is peaceful and quiet but also where there is persecution, struggle, division, and conflict. + pgs. 112-113

The Problem of Obedience is a Problem of Intimacy: “Obedience becomes hard when you have to be vulnerable to the other who has authority. You can play the obedience game in such a way that you never disobey any rule while keeping from your guide (i.e. director, superior) those things about which you do not want to hear a “no.” You need a lot of trust to give yourself fully to someone else, certainly to someone to whom you owe obedience. Many people adapt very quickly but are not really obedient. They simply don’t want to make waves and instead go along with the trend. That is not obedience. That is just adaptation.” (John Eudes) If I were able to trust more, to open myself more easily, to be more vulnerable, then obedience would not be so hard. I would be able to disagree without fear of rejection, to protest without resentment, to express different viewpoints without self-righteousness, and to say after all arguments: “If I am still asked to do something I do not like to do, perhaps I must be open to the idea of God’s preparing me for something greater and more important than I can imagine.” With that attitude, life in obedience indeed can be quite exciting since you never really know what is next. + pgs. 119-120

Empty: While it is true that in order to pray you have to empty your heart and mind for God, you also have to empty your heart and mind of your feelings and ideas on prayer. … Maybe this is what makes the Jesus Prayer so good for me. Simply saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” a hundred times, a thousand times, ten thousand times, as the Russian peasant did, might slowly clean my mind and give God a little chance. + pgs. 122-123


September | 

Waiting with a Smile: After having done everything to make some space for God, it is still God who comes on His own initiative. But we have a promise upon which to base our hope: The promise of His love. So our life can rightly be a waiting in expectation, but waiting patiently and with a smile. Then, indeed, we shall be really surprised and full of joy and gratitude when He comes. + pg.129

Live Now: It has become quite clear to me that my good plans for later will only be real if I start living accordingly now. + pg. 140


So Close: One of the experiences of prayer is that it seems that nothing happens. But when you stay with it and look back over a long period of prayer, you suddenly realize that something has happened. What is most close, most intimate, most present, often cannot be experienced directly but only with a certain distance. When I think that I am only distracted, just wasting my time, something is happening too immediate for knowing, understanding, and experiencing. Only in retrospect do I realize that something very important has taken place. Isn’t this true of all really important events in life? When I am together with someone I love very much, we seldom talk about our relationship. But later we realize how much it all meant to us. When I pray, my prayer often seems very confused, dull, uninspiring, and distracted. God is close but often too close to experience. God is closer to me than I am to myself and, therefore, no subject for feelings or thoughts. I wonder if in this sense I am not participating in what the apostles experienced. When Jesus was with them, they could not fully realize or understand what was happening. Only after he had left did they sense, feel, and understand how close he really had been to them. + pg. 141

Pain with God: The real pain is the pain that I find in God, who allowed all of earth’s suffering to enter into His divine intimacy. The experience of God’s presence is not void of pain. But the pain is so deep that you do not want to miss it since it is in the pain that the joy of God’s presence can be tasted. + pg. 142


Infinite Compassion Available in Prayer: Compassion lies at the heart of our prayer for our fellow human beings. … When I pray … 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. When God became as we are, that is, when God allowed all of us to enter into His intimate life, it become possible for us to share in His infinite compassion. … To pray for others means to offer others a hospitable place where I can really listen to their needs and pains. Compassion, therefore, calls for a self-scrutiny that can lead to inner gentleness. If I could have a gentle “interiority” – a heart of flesh and not of stone, a room with spots on which one might walk barefooted – then God and my fellow humans could meet each other there. + pgs. 144-145

October | 

See the World Upside Down: Chesterton gives a beautiful insight into the conversion of St. Francis by describing him as the “tumbler for God” who stands on his head for the pleasure of God. By seeing the world upside down “with all the trees and towers hanging head downwards,” Francis discovers its dependent nature. The word dependence means hanging. By seeing his world, his city, upside down, Francis saw the same world and the same city but in a different way. “Instead of being merely proud of his strong city and because it could not be moved, he would be thankful to God Almighty that it had not been dropped.” + pg. 154

Life in Jesus: Self-Denial, Charity, Union with God: John Eudes also explained the full sense of the classic saying that the Christian life consists of “fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.” When fasting means self-denial, almsgiving means charity, and prayer the search for union with God, then indeed this short expression summarizes the life of the Christian. + pg. 164

November | 

Union with God Leads to New Strength and Endurance for the Life of the World: The love of God lived in its fullest sense leads to a most selfless dedication to the neighbor. … Mysticism is the opposite of withdrawal from the world. Intimate union with God leads to the most creative involvement in the contemporary world. + pg. 177

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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