Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Famous,” by Naomi Shihab Nye
The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.
The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.
The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.
The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.
I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.
I would like to add some thoughts to my previous post about my back, and Ben’s subsequent post. Over the years, I’ve read and re-read a book called Life of the Beloved, by Henri J. M. Nouwen. In it, Nouwen says some things about brokenness that continue to reverberate for me.
In short, he says that being broken is part of being human, and each of us — every single person you know or see — is broken in a unique way. People like me tend to see their brokenness as being tied to my feelings about myself; my brokenness confirms my negative feelings. To begin dealing with the brokenness, I have to not run away from it or fight it, but begin to embrace it and see it as an essential part of who I am.
Even more, as a Christian, my brokenness is a way of bringing me closer to Christ, my imperfections providing a stage for His blessings to shine. If I was perfect, I wouldn’t need Christ. It’s through my imperfections that His grace is shown the most. My back may never be pain-free, but I have this opportunity to claim and rejoice in the blessing of health and strength that He has given me.
Below the fold are some citations from the Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, by Henri J. M. Nouwen, published in 2002 by The Crossroad Publishing Company.
“…our brokenness reveals something about who we are. Our sufferings and pains are not simply bothersome interruptions of our lives; rather, they touch us in our uniqueness and our most intimate individuality. The way I am broken tells you something unique about me. The way you are broken tells me something unique about you.” (87)
“It is where we are most needy and vulnerable that we most experience our brokenness. (91) …the first step to healing is not a step away from pain, but a step toward it. …Yes, we have to find the courage to embrace our own brokenness, to make our most feared enemy into a friend, and to claim it as an intimate companion. I am convinced that healing is often so difficult because we don’t want to know the pain. (93)”
“Our brokenness is often so frightening to face because we live it under the curse. Living our brokenness under the curse means that we experience our pain as confirmation of our negative feelings about ourselves. It is like saying, ‘I always suspected I was useless or worthless, and now I am sure of it because of what is happening to me.’ There is always something in us searching for an explanation of what takes place in our lives and, if we have already yielded to the temptation of self-rejection, then every form of misfortune only deepens it. …It is very tempting to explain all the brokenness we experience as an expression or confirmation of this curse. Before we fully realize it, we have already said to ourselves: ‘You see, I always thought I was no good…. Now I know for sure. The facts of life prove it.'” (96, 97)
“And so the great task becomes that of allowing the blessing to touch us in our brokenness. Then our brokenness will gradually come to be seen as an opening toward the full acceptance of ourselves as Beloved. This explains why true joy can be experienced in the midst of great suffering. It is the joy of being disciplined, purified, and pruned. …Joy and sorrow are no longer each other’s opposites, but have become the two sides of the same desire to grow to the fullness of the Beloved.” (99)
“Befriending [pain] and putting it under blessing do not necessarily make our pain less painful. In fact, it often makes us more aware of how deep the wounds are and how unrealistic it is to expect them to vanish. …Our wounds are often an essential part of the fabric of our lives.” (100)
“It seems that there is a cry reverberating through the large, empty spaces of our society: It is better to die than to live in constant loneliness.” (92)