I just finished reading Can You Drink the Cup? by Henri Nouwen. It took reading it all the way through before I understood just what he was writing about right from the very beginning – drinking the cup of life. We can choose to drink deeply, drink all that life gives us right to the bottom of our cups, living to the full the joys and sorrows that we find in it, savouring the taste of this life given to us by God, or we can struggle to drink it, never appreciating it’s taste; wishing we had some other drink. Maybe it was for me one of those epiphanies where the light bulb finally switches on. Maybe I, at last, was able to hear God teaching me this in the silence.
In one of the final chapters,To The Bottom, Nouwen talks about three disciplines that help us to drink our cup of life; our cup of salvation “all the way to the bottom.” He says,”Living a complete life is drinking our cup until it is empty, trusting that God will fill it with everlasting life.” The disciplines he speaks about will help us to “fully appropriate and internalize our joys and sorrows and find in them our unique way to spiritual freedom.”
The discipline of silence is where we face who we really are and “claim ourselves as a gift from God.” Nouwen says that at first in the silence we may hear dark noisy voices that accuse us and make us want to run back to the things that distract us – our busyness. But if we stay in the silence, those noisy voices will fade and we will begin to hear the “softer, gentler voices of the light.”
The second discipline he speaks about is the “discipline of the word”. He says, “As long as we live our deepest truth in secret, isolated from a community of love, its burden is too heavy to carry.” He goes on to say, “When we dare to speak from the depths of our heart to the friends God gives us, we will gradually find new freedom within us and new courage to live our own sorrows and joys to the full. When we truly believe that we have nothing to hide from God, we need to have people around us who represent God for us and to whom we can reveal ourselves with complete trust… Nothing will give us so much strength as being fully known and fully loved by fellow human beings in the Name of God.”
This is a truth I am beginning to learn. I am learning to trust the friends God has given me and as we share our struggles in life they become more bearable. And as we share our joys, we are all blessed. I don’t think God ever intended for us to live the Christian spiritual life alone.
The third discipline is action. The world around us urges us to do things. Being busy can distract us. Nouwen says that we have things we want to do that may distract us from doing what we are called to do. Being “committed to God’s will and not our own” will help us to discover that we don’t have to do everything that we see needing to be done.
This really seemed to help me understand some of the struggles I’ve had lately. “In a world that encourages us to avoid the real life issues, these disciplines ask for concentrated effort. But if we keep choosing silence, a circle of trusting friends to speak with, and actions that flow from our call, we are in fact drinking our cup, bit by bit, to the bottom. The sorrows of our lives will no longer paralyze us, nor will our joys make us lose perspective.”