Soup & Salvation: Week 4

Sisters and brothers on the way,

Chapter 5 of Nouwen’s Following Jesus: Find Our Way Home in an Age of Anxiety invites us to ponder the gift of Jesus’ joy. Nouwen argues that “we have to learn to speak about joy, because joy is a great reward for those who take up the cross and follow Jesus.” (P. 92)

Sharing a personal account of ministry from around the world, Nouwen then invites us into thinking about the infectious joy of children. Nouwen, on first arriving for a mission trip, wants to get on with things and not delay even a minute on the way to “going to help the poor!” (P. 93)

But the children of the village Nouwen travels through run out to this visible foreigner and extend a welcome of laughter and joy. In an inquisitive spirit, “they really wouldn’t let me go,” Nouwen recounts. “Laughing, screaming, climbing, and making fun,” the children of that town gift to Nouwen an “amazing” moment of God’s revelation – joy is to be found in the everyday lives of children and in their desire to learn and to play. (P. 94)

However, Nouwen risked missing that joy-revelation because of the serious intent to get going onto his next task. Yet in the “new,” fear was able to be overcome, and joy was able to be made complete (as Jesus promises in John 15.11) (P. 96)

Moving from that personal encounter, Nouwen then takes us through a reflection on “Routine” and “Rootless” behavior. For Nouwen, Routine behavior (from personal complaints to the relentless armament of the nation-state) is all part of a cycle of fear. This fear leads to an inner “destruction” within children and within each of us. Fear drives us to look for the false security of survival, rather than choosing the “freedom, joy, and life” of Jesus. (P. 97-98)

Rootless behavior also grows out of fear, argues Nouwen. It’s a type of idle “wandering” (what an irony!) a “little bit here and a little bit there,” flitting from “one little excitement to the other.” This rootless excitement can involve self-destructive choices; choices that feel like freedom in the moment but ultimately are a prison of unlimited, superficial choice (contrast the joy of deep and rooted “at-homeness”!) (P. 99-100)

Here, I hear Nouwen speaking to the monastic tradition of stability. Sisters and brothers in professed Benedictine houses such as at St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, MN, take vows of stability as prayerful gifts to their community and to the world. ( In those vows is found a joy which is akin to Jesus joy – deep and rooted, yet relational and never stagnant. For Jesus, Nouwen reminds us, “joy flowers from that communion” with Jesus’s Father. (P. 100)

Friends, that Father-Creator is our loving parent as well – ever faithful; ever listening; ever abiding in joy amid a “very strange” world. (P. 101)

Fr. Chris

** To respond to Fr. Chris’s reflection, please comment below or email We welcome your thoughtful engagement!


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