A little book I’ve come back to off-and-on over the years, since the publication of the revised edition in 1986, is the Henri Nouwen introduced Rule for a New Brother. It’s a small format book of only 80-pages, but its opening pages remain deeply captivating and important for those on a journey of exploration in relation to religion and spirituality; for those searching for “God”; searching for their deepest selves.
In this specific case it’s a “rule” “for [Catholic] men desiring to enter into a religious community.” However, I think, as with St. Benedict’s ancient “rule”, that its application is far broader.
Nouwen opens his introduction with these words, “This is a rule. Not a rule that restricts freedom but a rule that wants to offer freedom.” This is a “rule”, Nouwen writes, “that wants to teach our heart to love.”
That’s always a statement worth pondering, especially as we begin to reflect on and name the many many non-religious ways by which people lose their freedom. Very few of us lead a life that is deeply characterised by freedom; and freedom in this sense, doesn’t mean freedom from our relatedness to the “other” – whether a spouse, children etc. What it is talking about is deep existential and human freedom to be truly ourselves and truly (and fully) human – fully alive and fully free! Free from our ever present fears, from anger, from self-hatred, from the past – the list goes on… Freed to love and be loved. Freed to become more fully human and alive, as we have already noted.
To give you a flavour, Chapter 1 is titled “Seeking God”, and begins:
you want to seek God with all your life,
and love Him with all your heart.
But you would be wrong
if you thought you could reach Him.
Your arms are too short; your eyes are too dim,
your heart and understanding too small.
To seek God
means first of all
to let yourself be found by him [isn’t it so true that our native instinct is to hide or avoid God?]
He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
He is the God of Jesus Christ.
He is your God,
not because He is yours
but because you are His.
To choose God
is to realise that you are known and loved
in a way surpassing anything we can imagine…”