One of the devotions that I get by email are writings of the late Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was a catholic priest, college professor and theologian, and I love reading his thoughts, because they turn me inward.
This devotion got me thinking about a gay man I know, who once shared this with me: “Until I was in my late 30’s I was never comfortable in my own skin. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere, that I was a mistake. And it was some loving non-judgmental co-workers who helped me feel at home in my own body.” I asked him if they were Christians. He said, “No. in fact, the church I grew up in and other Christians I knew were the people who made me made me feel more uncomfortable, more homeless.”
Now, I want to share the words of Henri Nouwen:
Creating space for the other is far from an easy task. It requires hard concentration and articulate work. Indeed, more often than not, rivalry and competition, desire for power and immediate results, impatience and frustration, and most of all, plain fear (emphasis mine) make their forceful demands and tend to fill every possible empty corner of our life. Empty space tends to create fear. As long as our minds, hearts, and hands are occupied, we can avoid confronting the painful questions to which we never gave much attention and that we do not want to surface.
When we think back to the places where we felt most at home, we quickly see that it was where our hosts gave us the precious freedom to come and go on our own terms and did not claim us for their own needs. Only in a free space can re-creation take place and new life be found. The real host is the one who offers that space where we do not have to be afraid and where we can listen to our own inner voices and find our own personal way of being human. But to be such a host we have to first of all be at home in our own house.
Jesus was a master at creating space for people. He touched those the religious leaders, “Good Jews”, and the Law said you should never touch (lepers and women who were bleeding). He welcomed (and healed!) those the religious leaders, “Good Jews”, and the Law said you should never welcome (the blind, the lame, the mentally ill). He ate with those the religious leaders, “Good Jews” and the Law said you should never eat with (tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners of all kinds). He healed people on days when the religious leaders, the “Good Jews”, the Law said you should not do any work (the Sabbath – “The Sabbath was made for human beings, not human beings for the Sabbath!”). Maybe that’s because Jesus was so comfortable in “his own house”, in who he was and what he was called to do, what he knew God wanted him to do.
My gay friend’s experience made me wonder how the church strayed so far from who Jesus was and what Jesus did. And I am so grateful that we are a church (and part of a denomination) that has chosen to be “Open and Affirming”, that we were and still are willing to do the hard work of faith, of looking inward and becoming more comfortable in our own house (facing our own fears and letting God help us deal with them in productive and healing ways), so we are able to be “the host that offers space where people do not have to be afraid.” That we work at creating space – safe space, welcoming space, loving space - for people that other churches and denominations can’t or won’t make space for.
The season of Lent is a season of reflection. I like to think of it as an intentional pause in our faith journey where we take time to look down and in, as well as up and out. So, as we enter another season of Lent, I invite you to use the 6 weeks of Lent to look “down and in” and reflect on your own journey – think about the people who have created space for you, safe space, welcoming space, loving space, space that helped you get comfortable in your own skin, comfortable with who God created you to be and what God has called you to do. And then thank God for their presence in your life.
But don’t stop there. Then think about someone you know who might need someone to create space for them – safe space, welcoming space, loving space, and reflect on how you might create that space for them. And then begin to do it. Ask God how you can create safe space where that person or persons can be who they are, and be accepted and loved as that person. And then thank God for their presence in your life, because in working to create that space, you are doing the work of Christ.
I know, that as Henri Nouwen pointed out, Creating space for the other is far from an easy task. It requires hard concentration and articulate work”. But it is what Christ calls us to do. So, my prayer for us this Lenten Season, is that we will all use our Lenten Journey to reflect and give thanks, but also to reflect and grow - grow in our awareness of the mission Jesus began and left to us. And grow in our commitment to fulfilling it, in small but loving ways, one person, one child of God at a time.
Blessings and Peace,
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Eph. 2:8-10)