Hiddenness, a Place of Intimacy

Hiddenness is an essential quality of the spiritual life.
Solitude, silence, ordinary tasks, being with people without great agendas,
sleeping, eating, working, playing ... all of that without being different from others,
that is the life that Jesus lived and the life he asks us to live. 
It is in hiddenness that we, like Jesus, can increase "in wisdom, in stature,
and in favour with God and with people" (Luke 2:51). 
It is in hiddenness that we can find a true intimacy with God and a true love for people.

Even during his active ministry, Jesus continued to return to hidden places to be alone with God. 
If we don't have a hidden life with God, our public life for God cannot bear fruit.

Henri J. M. Nouwen

Hiddenness, a Place of Purification

One of the reasons that hiddenness is such an important aspect of the spiritual life is
that it keeps us focused on God.  In hiddenness we do not receive human acclamation,
admiration, support, or encouragement. 
In hiddenness we have to go to God with our sorrows and joys and trust that
God will give us what we most need.

In our society we are inclined to avoid hiddenness.  We want to be seen and acknowledged. 
We want to be useful to others and influence the course of events.  But as we become visible
and popular, we quickly grow dependent on people and their responses
and easily lose touch with God, the true source of our being. 
Hiddenness is the place of purification.  In hiddenness we find our true selves.

Henri J. M. Nouwen

Protecting Our Hiddenness

If indeed the spiritual life is essentially a hidden life, how do we protect this hiddenness
in the midst of a very public life? 
The two most important ways to protect our hiddenness are solitude and poverty.
Solitude allows us to be alone with God. There we experience that we belong not to people,
not even to those who love us and care for us, but to God and God alone.
Poverty is where we experience our own and other people's weakness, limitations,
and need for support.
To be poor is to be without success, without fame, and without power.
But there God chooses to show us God's love.

Both solitude and poverty protect the hiddenness of our lives.

Henri J. M. Nouwen

Our Poverty, God's Dwelling Place

How can we embrace poverty as a way to God when everyone around us wants to become rich?   Poverty has many forms.  We have to ask ourselves:  "What is my poverty?" 
Is it lack of money, lack of emotional stability, lack of a loving partner,
lack of security, lack of safety, lack of self-confidence? 
Each human being has a place of poverty.  That's the place where God wants to dwell! 
"How blessed are the poor," Jesus says (Matthew 5:3)
This means that our blessing is hidden in our poverty.

We are so inclined to cover up our poverty and ignore it that we often miss the opportunity
to discover God, who dwells in it.  
Let's dare to see our poverty as the land where our treasure is hidden.

Henri J. M. Nouwen

Clinging to God in Solitude

When we enter into solitude to be with God alone, we quickly discover how dependent we are.  Without the many distractions of our daily lives, we feel anxious and tense. 
When nobody speaks to us, calls on us, or needs our help, we start feeling like nobodies.
Then we begin wondering whether we are useful, valuable, and significant.
Our tendency is to leave this fearful solitude quickly and get busy again to reassure
ourselves that we are "somebodies." 
But that is a temptation, because what makes us somebodies is
not other people's responses to us but God's eternal love for us.

To claim the truth of ourselves we have to cling to our God in solitude
as to the One who makes us who we are.

Henri J. M. Nouwen

Hidden Greatness

There is much emphasis on notoriety and fame in our society.
Our newspapers and television keep giving us the message:
What counts is to be known, praised, and admired, whether you
are a writer, an actor, a musician, or a politician.

Still, real greatness is often hidden, humble, simple, and unobtrusive.
It is not easy to trust ourselves and our actions without public affirmation.
We must have strong self-confidence combined with deep humility.
Some of the greatest works of art and the most important works of peace
were created by people who had no need for the limelight.
They knew that what they were doing was their call,
and they did it with great patience, perseverance, and love.

Henri J. M. Nouwen

The Hidden Way

It is hard to believe that God would reveal his divine presence to us
in the self-emptying, humble way of the man from Nazareth.
So much in me seeks influence, power, success, and popularity.
But the way of Jesus is the way of hiddenness, powerlessness, and littleness.
It does not seem a very appealing way.
Yet when I enter into true, deep communion with Jesus,
I will find that it is this small way that leads to real peace and joy.

Henri J. M. Nouwen

Jesus’ Hiddenness

I don’t think you’ll ever be able to penetrate the mystery of God’s revelation in Jesus
until it strikes you that the major part of Jesus’ life was hidden and
that even the “public” years remained invisible as far as most people were concerned.
Whereas the way of the world is to insist on publicity, celebrity,
popularity, and getting maximum exposure,
God prefers to work in secret.
You must let that mystery of God’s secrecy, God’s anonymity,
sink deeply into your consciousness
because, otherwise, you’re continually looking at it from the wrong point of view.
In God’s sight the things that really matter seldom take place in public. . . .
Maybe, while we focus our whole attention on the VIPs and their movements,
on peace conferences and protest demonstrations,
it’s the totally unknown people, praying and working in silence,
who make God save us yet again from destruction.

Henri J. M. Nouwen

"Jesus did many other things as well.
If every one of them were written down,
I suppose that even the whole world would not have room
for the books that would be written."
John 21:25 (NIV)


Though the phrase alone gives images of a lonely saviour on a tree,
being alone can also be good.

Jesus often was alone in prayer:

“At once the Spirit sent [Jesus] out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days,
being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”
(Mark 1:12-13)

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off
to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
(Mark 1:35)

“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
(Luke 5:16)

“Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.
When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them.”
(Luke 6:12-13)

George Fox the founder of the Society of Friends is an example from history of a man
who spent alone time. “I fasted much,” Fox says, “walked about in solitary places many days,
and often took my Bible, and sat in hollow trees and lonesome places till night came on;
and frequently in the night walked mournfully about by myself; for I was a man of sorrows in
the time of the first workings of the Lord in me…
Though my exercises and troubles were very great… I was sometimes brought into such
a heavenly joy that I thought I had been in Abraham’s bosom…”

For instance, one day when he was walking in solitary prayer he writes,
“I was taken up in the love of God… it was opened to me by the eternal light and power
and I… clearly saw that all was done and to be done in and by Christ, and how He conquers
and destroys this tempter the devil, and all his works…
and that all these troubles were good for me.”

Scripture says “Be still and know that I am God.”
(Psalm 46:10)

This Lent season when we withdraw to pray alone,
let's remember to be still, to know Him as God.

David Holdsworth

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