Deeper lies another question

The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world – free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless. I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.

A friend just sent me these words from Henri Nouwen. They strike I chord with me because I have been sensing, more deeply as the months pass, that beneath all the theological, philosophical, political, economic, and organizational challenges we face is a question of capacity, of power, of character, of spirit.
The question we face these days isn’t merely, “What should be done, and how can we do it?” Deeper lies another question: “What kind of people must we become in order to do what needs to be done in the way it needs to be done?”
You can’t use bullying methods to achieve a tender, vulnerable task. You can’t use coercive methods to achieve a goal that requires sincere commitment. You can’t use personal charm to end-run the need for radical rethinking. You can’t use intellectual argument to disarm greed or an emotional slogan to disarm an intellectual pretension or a clever compromise to disarm an inescapable truth. You can push a boulder out of the road, but you can’t push a tree to grow faster than its biology permits.
For us to do what needs to be done in the way it needs to be done requires something of us that transcends all bullying, coercion, charm, argument, slogans, compromise, pushing, and other tactics of “flesh” … It requires deep roots in God, as Nouwen said, fully trusting that we belong to God, that we are loved beyond the boundaries of this world.
That’s a conclusion I reached in A New Kind of Christianity:

So our quest calls us first and foremost to nurture a robust spiritual life – not only a deep commitment to serve God, but also a deep desire to know and love God … [and, I would add, echoing Nouwen, to experience being loved by God]…. [W]e need as our models more than great thinkers and theologians; we also need great saints, women and men of the Holy Spirit, women and men who are full of God.

And that conclusion, of course, led to the writing of Naked Spirituality, which really is a book about rendering ourselves vulnerable to the experience of belonging and beloved-ness that was a theme of Nouwen’s life and work.
That is the great spiritual task that underlies every other significant task we face.