Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Pondering Distance and Withdrawal - Nouwen & Girard

The Gospel reading today, January 14, 2015 included this verse from Mark 1. 

Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.  – Mark 1:35

If you have visited this blog you know that I am a student of René Girard. The scope of mimetic theory and 'the scapegoat' encompasses about everything human: memory, language, ritual, violence, love, culture, person-hood, it is all there.


I have always had a special place in my soul for the words of Fr. Henri Nouwen.  Many years ago he wrote a meditation on the passage above, Mark 1:35.  It’s found in his book, Out of Solitude.

My inclination is when reading and a nugget-of-wisdom jumps out, I often, in my mind, connect it to another nugget-of-wisdom that had lodged in my brain sometime earlier.  By bringing these nuggets together and discerning I am often left with awe and gratitude for those who help open our minds to a revelation that there truly is something greater here... So I give you to ponder, first Nouwen's reflection on Mark 1:35 and then below is Girard's quote. How have you contemplated the many paradoxes in your life?

Henri Nouwen:

In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.”  In the middle of sentences loaded with action – healing suffering people, casting out devils, responding to impatient disciples, traveling from town to town and preaching from synagogue to synagogue – we find these quiet words:  “In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.”  In the center of breathless activities we hear a restful breathing.  Surrounded by hours of moving we find a moment of quiet stillness. 

In the heart of much involvement there are words of withdrawal. 

In the midst of action there is contemplation. And after much togetherness there is solitude.  The more I read this nearly silent sentence locked in between the loud words of action, the more I have the sense that the secret of Jesus’ ministry is hidden in that lonely place where he went to pray, early in the morning, long before the dawn.

In the lonely place Jesus finds the courage to follow God’s will and not his own; to speak God’s words and not his own; to do God’s work and not his own.  He reminds us constantly”  “I can do nothing by myself  . . . my aim is to do not my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (Jn 5:30).  And again, “The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself: it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work” (Jn 14:10).  It is in the lonely place, where Jesus enters into intimacy with the Father, that his ministry is born.

I want to reflect on this lonely place in our lives.  Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger.  Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening, speaking no longer heals, that...

...without distance closeness cannot cure. 

Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our actions quickly become empty gestures.  The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the Christian life and should therefore be the subject of our most personal attention.

Powerful reflection! I read this meditation many years ago and it still nourishes my soul. The paradox is part-and-parcel to the mystery. And now the quote from Battling to the End by René Girard:

... one can enter into relations with the divine only from a distance and through a mediator: Jesus Christ. This contains the whole paradox that we have to deal with...

The imitation of Christ provides the proximity that places us at a distance. It is not the Father whom we should imitate, but his Son, who has withdrawn with his Father. His absence is the very ordeal that we have to go through.  (pg 119-120)

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