“Perhaps the greatest and most hidden illusion of all had been that after seven months of Trappist life I would be a different person, more integrated, more spiritual, more virtuous, more compassionate, more gentle, more joyful, and more understanding. Somehow I had expected that my restlessness would turn into quietude, my tensions into a peaceful life-style, and my many ambiguities and ambivalences into a single-minded commitment to God. None of these successes, results, or achievements have come about. …It did not work, it did not solve my problems. And I know that a year, two years, or even a lifetime as a Trappist monk would not have ‘worked’ either. …I had known this all along, but still I had to return to my old busy life and be confronted with my own restless self to believe it. Those who welcomed me back expected to see a different, a better man. And I had not wanted to disappoint them. But I should have known better. Using the monastery to develop a ‘successful’ saintliness only makes me like the possessed man [whom Jesus described in Matthew 12.]* …These words of Jesus have often entered my mind when old and new demons entered my soul. I hardly had an opportunity to think that seven months as a Trappist monk had cleansed my heart enough to be pure for the year to come. It took only a few weeks of being back to realize that I was having some troublesome ‘visitors’ again. Without exaggeration I can say that some of my most humbling experiences took place after my return. But they had to take place to convince me once again that I cannot be my own exorcist, and to remind me that, if anything significant takes place in my life, it is not the result of my own ‘spiritual’ calisthenics, but only the manifestation of God’s unconditional grace. God himself certainly is the last one to be impressed by seven months of monastic life, and he did not wait long to let me know it.” Henri Nouwen
*“When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none.
Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’
So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept, and in order.
Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself,
and they all enter the person and live there.”
Moving From Head to Heart
- Nouwen’s painful disillusionment is intense. Can you relate?
- What was the “illusion” he was dis-abused of?
- Could you be as honest as Nouwen about your struggles?
God, I am cast upon your grace.
For More: The Genesee Diary by Henri Nouwen
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