A living prayer amidst our world
“Through the grace of God I am who I am” – 1 Cor. 15:10 (free translation).
I received a text message recently quoting the Catholic priest Henri Nouwen saying: “People do not form community when they cling to each other in order to survive the storms of the world. They do form community when together they erect a living prayer in the midst of our anxiety-ridden human family”.
We indeed live in an anxiety-ridden world. If we are honest, there is also a lot of anxiety that we find when looking within our own hearts. And if that makes us desperately cling to the other in an effort to fill the empty spaces we encounter within ourselves that does not create the clear and healthy space which is necessary for a healthy relationship.
In this regard Nouwen speaks of the “gentle, fearless space in which we can move to and from each other” and without which our relationships can easily become strained and artificial. He mentions a “mutual protection of each other’s uniqueness” where it is possible to “move graciously in and out of each other’s life circle”. Perhaps for us to be able to create such healthy relationships, we need first of all, to become mindful of the anxiety that lives within our own hearts. We don’t have to feel alone however when facing the different complexities of our lives. People like Nouwen himself during his lifetime had to struggle with self-doubt which sometimes brought him to the brink of despair (See: Wounded Prophet by Micheal Ford & The inner voice of love by H. Nouwen). Even Mother Theresa had been tormented by doubt and unbelief (www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1655415,00.html) – that while she is today considered to be one of the greatest icons of faith and Christian service.
In reference to his so called thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12:1-10) and also taking into account his many controversial statements which sometimes still cause a lot of pain today, the apostle Paul seemed not to have been without complexities and struggles himself. In fact in 1 Timothy 1:12-16 we hear him grappling to integrate his past with his present.
But in 1 Cor. 15:10 Paul testifies to a new freedom when he writes: “Through the grace of God I am who I am”. It is as if Paul in this passage evokes the remarkable self-affirmation of God in Exodus 3. God’s revelation as the great “I am who I am” emphasizes that God’s authority lies within God. It is on the basis of this authority that Paul finds the secret of his own identity, the courage to be. In the words of another translation: “God made me what I am”, or “Here I am” or “This is who I am, but for the grace of God”. We also hear an echo of the Reformer Martin Luther’s words when he said: “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise…”. It is through this grace that grants us the courage to be, that we can also today venture out to erect the gentleness of a prayer of community in our world.
O God, at times you see me bewildered, like a stranger in the world, crying out in desperation to belong, grasping wildly around me. Let my heart find rest in the knowledge of my being having been taken up in your image, in your great “I am”. And let me seek from there to create the gentleness of a prayer of communion within our world. Amen. (Adaptation of prayer by Brother Roger of Taizé)