The cornerstone of spirituality is that God, in a plan of sheer goodness, created humans to share in God’s own blessed life. Love is therefore the principal energy in the universe, and the direction of evolution is towards greater wholeness and consciousness, toward greater love.
Contemplation of God is not ecstasy, trance, enthusiasm, or mystic frenzy. These things are not the work of the “deep self.” They are the flooding into consciousness of the dionysian emotions of the “id” from the subconscious. Spiritual practice is also not about accomplishing, winning, or losing. It is about stopping struggling and relaxing with reality, accepting reality as it is, not making it the enemy.
Henri Nouwen is the Kierkegaard of our generation because like Kierkegaard he has taught us Christian existentialism: how to pray while not knowing how to pray, to rest while being restless, to be at peace while being tempted, to feel safe while still being anxious, to be surrounded by light while still in darkness, to love while still doubting.
The problem with scientific methods is they can seduce us to think that all truth can be reduced to observable data, and therefore God and the great religious traditions of the world are irrelevant – humans are self-sufficient. However, these methods cannot penetrate the intimate, personal meaning of essential experiences of life such as suffering, sex, death, and the search for meaning itself. Nor can they give us answers to life’s biggest questions such as why are we here? where are we going? Is life and the universe essentially trustworthy?
Nine seemingly good things that can become key temptationsif you overdo them: striving for perfection (where nothing is ever good enough); helping others (to the point of burning yourself out); efficiency (when you ignore the needs of those right in front of you); authenticity (sharing too much of yourself when it is not appropriate); knowledge (dwelling only in your mind); security (being afraid to try anything new); idealism (to the point of losing touch with messy reality); striving for justice (to the point of always being angry about everything); self-deprecation (to becoming a doormat).
The Church, rather than being, as Karl Marx wrote: an “opiate of the masses,” should be a radically counter-cultural force challenging the prevailing ethic of consumption that is destroying our planet.