“On the long road it’s good to have Nouwen and his divining rod. Deftly he bends toward the drop of spiritual wisdom caked in the most ordinary things.”
—Helen Prejean, C.S.J., author of Dead Man Walking
In his classic work Intimacy, Henry J.M. Nouwen, one of the most beloved spiritual writers of the 20th century, explores the pathway to a more creative and fulfilling intimacy in our relationship with God. A wise and optimistic guide to the complexities and rewards of the fully developed inner life, Intimacy stands alongside The Wounded Healer, With Open Hands, Making All Things New, and Nouwen’s other notable works, as well as the writings of C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, and other influential Christian scholars and thinkers.
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From Magic to Faith
RELIGIOUS GROWTH IN PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE
During the year we are exposed to many events, trivial and significant, which usually don't raise questions unless we pay some special attention to them:
A paratrooper, Captain Ridgway, rowed from Cape Cod to Ireland with his friend. Overwhelmed by the greatness of the ocean and the incredible forces of nature, he found that the medal given to him by the Cape Codders kept him together and gave him words to pray.
One priest, smiling, said to another priest as they left a packed college church at the end of the semester, "The finals are the best proof that man is basically religious."
Little Johnny says, "Hey, Dad, you can't make President Kennedy alive. But God can, can't He? Cause he can do everything!" And we think: "Isn't little Johnny cute?"
You read about an astronaut, symbol of modem science, smuggling a cross into orbit, and you just don't know what to think about it.
Or you meet a student, coming from a deeply religious family where God was the source of strength and happiness, suddenly asking questions so deep and fundamental that everything that had happened before seems completely irrelevant to him.
Then you read about a group of young men leaving their good jobs, their comfortable homes and sometimes even their families to go to the most desperate places of this world, to live with people they don't even as yet know.
What about all this? Magic or Faith? Superstition or contact with ultimate reality? Something to avoid or to aspire to? To clarify these questions let us look at the life of aman from the time he is folded in the safe womb of his mother to the moment he is walking around, broad-shouldered, with his thumbs pushed behind his leather belt, curiously looking around at this world and what lies beyond. We will call this trip "from Magic to Faith." We all make this trip, and it might be worthwhile to look at it from a distance.
In each phase of a man's life we will stress one particular aspect of our development which is a constituent of a mature religious sentiment.
A. The first five years of life
During the first five years of life we have to take three big steps out of the magical world in which we are born.
1. During the -first 18 months we come to the somewhat frustrating discovery that we are not the center of the world.
Most of you will agree that there are people and things outside of us which will continue to exist even when we don't. This is, however, not so self-evident as it seems. It is only through a long and often frustrating experience that we are able to discover the objective world. As a baby in the mother's womb, everything is there for us; mother is a part of ourself. Later, it can be quite a painful experience to discover that our cry does not create the milk, that our smile does not produce the mother, that our needs do not evoke their own satisfaction. Only gradually do we discover our mother as the other, as not just a part of ourself. Every time we experience that we are not ruling the world by our feelings, thoughts and actions, we are forced to realize that there are other persons, things and events which have their autonomy.
Therefore, the first step out of the magical world is the discovery of an objective reality. It can happen that we reach this objectivity only partially. Although we slowly unfold and become able to stand on our own feet and point to the things around us as objective realities available for our curious mind, this may not happen so easily in the religious dimension. Many mature, successful men in this life often might still treat God as part of themselves. God is the factotum which comes in handy in times of illness, shock, final exams, in every situation in which we feel insecure. And if it does not work, the only reaction may be to cry louder. Far from becoming the Other, whose existence does not depend on mine, he might remain the easy frame which fits best around the edges of my security. Great anxiety, caused by internal or external storms, can sometimes force us to regress to this level of religion. This regression may even save our life, as it did Captain Ridgway's. It gives us something to hold on to, a medal or a candle which can keep us together. It may be a very helpful form of religion; but certainly it is not a mature form of religion.
II. The second step out of our magical world is the formation of the language. Somewhere between our 18th month of life and our 3rd birthday we started mumbling our first sounds which slowly developed into words, sentences, and a language. Although it may be disappointing that there are things around us which do not belong to us, by words we can take revenge, because our first words give us a mysterious power over things. Like an American who is excited to discover that his first French word, garcon, really brings the waiter to his table, the child experiences not so much the mastery of words but mastery of objects. It takes quite a while before we can detach the word from the object and give it a symbolic function.
The magical word gives us power not only over objects but also over our own instinctual impulses. Before we had words we couldn't resist the temptation of grabbing flowers in daddy's garden. But by the word "flower" we became able to substitute the act of grabbing and touching, and with our hands clasped, together at our back we could then say: "nice flower, no touch."'Intimacy. Copyright © by Henri J. M. Nouwen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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