Tag Archives: oppression

Prayer Beyond Activism

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Sunday, November 25, 2018

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Prayer Beyond Activism

Activism is quite important to Henri Nouwen. He spends a lot of time describing the critical prophets who cry out in the wilderness. He also details those who are threatened by these prophets. Oh, these prophets in the wilderness too often receive “a stifling oppression at the hands of those who consider themselves the protectors of order and the upholders of peace and calm.” [1] Denial, verbal attacks, imprisonment, even execution—how badly the visionaries are treated. Yet, they persist. These earnest critics must keep preaching.

That is so often and so sadly true. Yes. We can see this kind of mistreatment of visionaries happen again and again. But, as Fr. Nouwen perceptively asks, what does this have to do with prayer?

“Prayer means breaking through the veil of existence and allowing yourself to be led by the vision which has become real to you….The praying person looks on the world with compassion, penetrates its hidden meaning, and calls it to an always deeper conversion.” [2]

What power does regular prayer give to a spiritual person? I think Fr. Nouwen is stating the pwer of prayer is similar to the power of a prophet and visionary. If through prayer I receive increased clarity of a vision from God, then I will look on the world with increased compassion. It will then be possible for me to penetrate deeper and deeper (I am thinking like peeling an onion). Going deeper and deeper means penetrating further into the spiritual life.

Going deeper into the spiritual life is so appealing to me, on some hidden, secret level deep within. When I hear the words “be in the world without being part of it,” I have almost a prickly kind of feeling inside. I want to experience this kind of life, this kind of deep understanding of God and of other humans.

Alas, I can get only brief glimpses of this shining spiritual life. I feel like a mere spectator most of the time, looking in a storefront or shop window. I still haven’t figured out whether I am scared to try to go deep into the spiritual life, or whether I think this kind of spiritual living is just for other people. Grown-up people, not for me.

Yet, reaching towards the spiritual life is not my doing. (Isn’t that what Fr. Nouwen says?) This wonderful power comes from above, from the Father, from the Unseen Reality. That is a great relief, and it also fills me with reassurance. God, I am not alone here. Thank God.



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[1] With Open Hands: Bring Prayer into Your Life, Henri J. M. Nouwen (United States of America: Ave Maria Press, 2005), 112.

[2] Ibid, 114.