Henri Nouwen spent a lifetime praying and writing about prayer. He was a Catholic priest and taught theology at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard. Then for the last season of his life, he was the pastor at l’Arch Daybreak in Toronto, Canada which was a community where the mentally disabled shared life with those who cared for them. In one of his last publications before his death, he stated,
“Prayer, then, is listening to that voice—to the One who calls you the Beloved. It is to constantly go back to the truth of who we are and claim it for ourselves. I’m not what I do. I’m not what people say about me. I’m not what I have. Although there is nothing wrong with success, there is nothing wrong with popularity, there is nothing wrong with being powerful, finally my spiritual identity is not rooted in the world, the things the world gives me. My life is rooted in my spiritual identity. Whatever we do, we have to go back regularly to that place of core identity.”
Those who knew this man viewed him as a giant among the prayer giants. And after a life of seeking God, he viewed prayer as hearing God’s words “My Beloved.” He saw prayer as returning to hear that he is loved of God. This is the same message that the newest of Christians needs to hear. This is the basic message that the worst of the worst sinners needs. No one outgrows this. Not the Pope. Not the greatest preacher. Not even saints like Mother Teresa.
True prayer brings us back to the place of hearing this true voice about our core identity. This is the message that we will not hear from the daily grind of the world. There we learn about how we need to perform for our self-image. We try to find life by seeking power, prestige and possessions, what one spiritual writer calls the three great obsessions of our culture.