April: Creative Contemplation

The goal of contemplative practices is to develop deep intimacy with God, but sitting still and silently meditating isn't the only way to do that. Our unique gifts, talents, heritages, and cultures all contribute to how we uniquely draw near to God. So, to celebrate this (and hopefully inspire you to contemplate more creatively), each month we'll post a different piece of art along with some reflecting questions.

Some months this will be a song, a poem, a painting, a video, or a sculpture. Some months the piece will resonate deeply with you, some months it may upset you, and some months it may confuse you. Lean into whatever feelings the piece stirs up and allow it to draw you nearer to God's heart and expose your own. 

This month we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These events – the events of Holy Week – may bring up a lot of different memories, expectations, and emotions for you and others.

For this month’s Creative Contemplation, we’re offering a couple different reflections on what the incarnation – the death of God in a physical body, and the resurrection of God in a physical body – means for us. As a community devoted to developing an embodied faith experience, this season holds many layers of meaning and we pray this poetic language helps you connect with it in a new and deeper way.

What a faith! What a hope! What a love! The body is not a prison to escape from, but a temple in which God already dwells, and in which God’s glory will be fully manifested on the day of the resurrection.
— Henri Nouwen (Show Me the Way: Daily Devotional for Lent)
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
— John Updike, Seven Stanzas for Easter

If you’re interested in exploring, these are just two women who opened their hearts to Christ’s suffering and resurrection, and their lives became powerful testimonies to the power of God:

Mother Teresa saw the suffering of Christ in the sick and dying around her and gave her life in service to Jesus in them.

In New York we have a home for AIDS patients who are dying from what I call “the leprosy of the West.” On Christmas Eve, I opened this house as a gift to Jesus for His birthday. We started with fifteen beds for some poor AIDS patients and four young men I brought out of jail because they didn’t want to die there. They were our first guests. I made a little chapel for them. There these young people who had not been near Jesus could come back to Him if they wanted to. Thanks to God’s blessing and His love, their hearts completely changed.

Once when I went there, one of them had to go to the hospital. He said to me, “Mother Teresa, you are my friend. I want to speak to you alone.” So the sisters went out, and he spoke. And what did this man say? This was someone who hadn’t been to confession or received Holy Communion in twenty-five years. In all those years, he had had nothing to do with Jesus. He told me, “You know, Mother Teresa, when I get a terrible headache, I compare it with the pain that Jesus had when they crowned Him with thorns. When I get that terrible pain in my back, I compare it with Jesus’ when He was scourged. When I get that terrible pain in my hands and feet, I compare it with the pain Jesus had when they crucified Him. I ask you to take me back home. I want to die with you.”

I got permission from the doctor to take him back home with me. I took him to the chapel. I have never seen anybody talk to God the way that young man talked to him. There was such an understanding love between Jesus and him. After three days, he died.

It is hard to understand the change that young man experienced. What brought it about? Perhaps it was the tender love the sisters gave him that made him understand God loved him.

-excerpt from letter written by Mother Teresa compiled in No Greater Love

Marthe Robin (a woman whose life and story greatly impacted Henry Nouwen) experienced the suffering of Christ in her own body.

Marthe Robin is one of the most impressive examples of God´s hidden presence in our world. She was born in 1902. At sixteen she fell ill, and her illness, for which the doctors could find no explanation, grew worse and worse.

Slowly but surely she became aware that God was calling her to a life in which she would be linked in a special way to the suffering of Jesus.

When she was 23, she wrote an “act of abandonment”. In it she gave to the God of love all that she had: “I belong to you without any reservation, forever. O Beloved of my soul! It is you only whom I want, and for your love I renounce all.” When she was 26 her legs became totally paralyzed, and soon afterwards her arms. From then on she did not eat, drink, or sleep. From 1928 to her death in 1981 she took no food other than weekly Holy Communion.

-excerpt from Letters to Marc About Jesus by Henri Nouwen

May these testimonies challenge and inspire you this season.