first steps

A simple, wooden cross with the weathered etching “Henri Nouwen” lay before me. I had reached my destination.

For the past year, my mind had been set on this man’s legacy and lessons. It was, at some point, decided: this man has a lot to teach me, I must visit the place where he lived. Perhaps exploring this man’s life could offer me some great insights into how I want to live my own life.

Yet, when I caught sight of Henri’s grave, I wasn’t “enlightened”, nor was I overshadowed by some mysterious inner peace. Actually, I was overwhelmed by a sudden fear of death. I realized something that I thought I had known: even this great man, who touched countless lives and did many great things, is dead. All of the gifts he gave during his lifetime are all completely out of his grasp.

I believe that this hidden fear revealed to me something about myself. I haven’t fully let go of my gifts. I haven’t shared myself as I should. So often, I may do good things, but my motives aren’t pure. It’s as if I have given a present, but have still kept one hand firmly clasped to the box. I can rarely muster the courage to offer without having the compulsion to receive, whether I want recognition, acceptance, or affection in return. Death, then, is a scary proposition for somebody like me. It marks the end of my ability to receive.

Though, I do know what Henri Nouwen would have to say to me about this.

While death may mark the end of my ability to receive all of these praises & gifts, it also marks the beginning of my ability to be fully received. I believe in a God that holds my whole being and says, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased” (Luke 3:22). If I could only set my heart completely on this singular truth, I would not be chained any longer with the need to be fully accepted, fully recognized, and fully understood by others at all times. I would be free to live without fear, to make mistakes without shame, and finally, to die without clutching desperately to a life that is given only for a short while.

Van Gogh. First Steps. 1890.

Van Gogh. First Steps. 1890.

My mind’s eye is drawn to a child taking its first steps. We are offered the beautiful freedom of being able to walk on our own for a short while. If we lose sight of our end or we wallow in fear, we will fall. But we must trust enough to return to the arms of our Father.

There, we can be embraced for nothing more than being His child.

 

Brother Joe Babcock, ofm cap

A native of Port Washington, WI, I am a friar-in-formation for the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph (Midwest USA). Click here to read more...