With Open Hands

Once upon a time I was a minister to a congregation which had suffered much in the little local difficulties referred to more generally as "The Troubles." Their once thriving congregation had dwindled to a mere handful meeting behind locked doors on a Sunday; their youth organisations had long since stopped meeting for fear of what might happen on dark winter nights; their premises had been fire-bombed and vandalised in many ways, and had fallen further into disrepair as income shrank with the numbers attending worship; and the local area had changed from one which was inhabited by both Roman Catholic and Protestant, to one where some of both communities had been driven out of their houses and there now existed a large wall that ran straight through the church premises themselves. The only problem was that the front door to the church building was on the "Catholic" side of the wall, and most of the congregation now lived on the other side.
But despite these adverse conditions, the church continued to function. They held on.
Time passed and by the time that I was appointed minister conditions were changing. Whereas in previous years all they could do was hold on, there was now a chance to open up and reach out. But as I gradually learned, and I believe my successor has also learned, all those years of holding on tight had produced such a rigor that encouraging that congregation to open up was difficult, if not humanly impossible. And as someone who had not been through all that they had, I had and have absolutely no right to criticise them.

However, recently I have been reading Henri Nouwen's classic on prayer called "With Open Hands" and in it I was reminded that the experience of my old congregation can be the experience of us all. He writes:
"To pray means to open your hands before God. It means slowly relaxing the tension which squeezes your hands together and accepting your existence with an increasing readiness, not as a possession to defend, but as a gift to receive."
Let us open our hands to receive...

By the way for another reflection stimulated by Henri Nouwen's book read the brief post by Angela Stewart at http://sittingtherealone.blogspot.com/2007/05/and-my-shoes-are-size-nine.html


Angela said…
heh. "man free zone" that's funny. i'm glad you bravely wandered in, and thanks for the link.
i'll be back here, too.

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