Sunday, September 14, 2014

Liberation Spirituality: Henri Nouwen and Gustavo Gutierrez in Dialogue

Liberation Spirituality: Henri Nouwen and Gustavo Gutierrez in Dialogue







Lecture Notes:

Presented by Michael J. Christensen, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Practice of Spirituality and Ministry, Drew University;  and International Director, Communities of Shalom, The United Methodist Church


Introduction

“There is a little man in Peru, a man without any power, who lives in a barrio with poor people and who wrote a book.  In this book he simply reclaimed the basic Christian truth that God became human to bring good news to the poor, new light to the blind, and liberty to the captives.  Then years later this book and movement it started is considered a danger by [the USA, or Rome], the greatest power on earth.  When I look at this little man, Gustavo, and think about [the President of the US, or the Pope], I see David standing before Goliath, again with no more weapon than a little stone, a stone called A Theology of Liberation (Henri Nouwen, Gracias!,1983, pp. 174-75)

This seminar draws water and wisdom from Gustavo Gutierrez, the “Father of Liberation Theology”, and one his most famous students, Henri Nouwen, acclaimed writer on the spiritual life, as they engage and reflect together on an emerging “liberation spirituality” for the people of God.  

Here are three Notions of Spirituality:

1.     “’Everyone has to drink from his own well’, observed St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who inspired many monastic orders.  Simply stated, each one of us must find our own well and drink the water of life that is right for us, both inside and outside the Cloister.

.     2. ’Everyone has to drink from his own well’… Yet no one drinks alone,” writes Henri Nouwen. “We all have drunk from wells we did not dig and enjoyed fresh water that is not entirely our own.”  Hence the need for community (Henri Nouwen, Discernment).  Simply stated: spirituality is not essentially personal, private or the product of individual pursuit and practice; rather, authentic spirituality is corporate and connected to all the people of God and practiced in community and compassionate ministry.

3.     “Spirituality is like living water that springs up in the very depths of the experience of faith,” writes Gustavo Gutierrez.  “To drink from your own well is to live your own life in the Spirit of Jesus as you have encountered him in your concrete historical reality.” (Gustavo Gutierrez, We Drink from Our Own Wells).  Simply stated: spirituality is not essentially personal, private, individualistic, or even the expression of community life; rather, authentic spirituality emerges from the struggle of the people of God and from the particular social context of that struggle for liberation.

So, how do we draw water and wisdom from our own personal experience of God, and our community of faith, and from the larger struggle of the people of God in the world as we seek the liberation of all?

Gustavo Gutierrez emerged as a popular theologian in Latin America in the late 1960’s, and represented Christianity as a “preferential option for the poor.” He became known as the “Father of Liberation Theology”--a practical theology and active faith born out of solidarity with common people and their struggles.  His books and courses became prophetic in liberation theology movements in Latin America and around the world.

Henri Nouwen attended one of Gustavo’s popular courses in Lima, Peru, in 1982. “I remember this course as one of the most significant experiences of my six-month stay in Latin America,” Nouwen writes in his journal.  What he learned from Gustavo was that “liberating spirituality” must be rooted in an active and reflective faith, and not a passive, private or privileged contemplative experience.

Although Nouwen remained critical of some aspects of Liberation Theology, what impressed him most was how Gustavo Gutierrez integrated mysticism and activism, the struggle for spiritual growth with the struggle for political freedom.  Although Gustavo remained critical of a purely personal, private, individualistic spirituality, he centered his own activist faith in a deeper spiritual and theological reflection. In the dialectic of Gustavo’s more activist faith and Henri’s more contemplative spirituality and, a new kind of liberationist spirituality was articulated which is reflected in Gustavo’s We Drink from Our Own Wells and Henri’s Foreword to the book.

Together, these two priests offer the world fresh perspectives on the “primordial waters of spiritual experience”–from oral tales and written texts, concrete lives and communities of faith–in the common struggle for freedom. “By dipping deeply into the well of our own lives [as the people of God], we can discern the movements of God’s Spirit in our lives,” writes Nouwen in Discernment (p. 170)

Liberation Spirituality is experienced in the creative tension, the life-giving dialectic, the quest for balance of praxis and theoria, action and contemplation.  
In a nutshell, that’s my seminar!  But it will take more time to crack that walnut.



PRESENTATION: Liberation Spirituality
by Dr. Michael J. Christensen, Ph.D.

Introduction

Check in

Part One:  We Drink from Our Own Wells

STORY  (Discernment:  pp 171-172)

Social Analysis and Biblical Reflection  (Exo 3)

PPT:  7 Elements of Liberation Spirituality

PART TWO   Discerning Vocation

Vocational Choices
  • What’s your Spiritual Type? 
  • Where are you on your journey?

Rule of One:  Action—Contemplation Continuum

Rule of Two:  Action Or Contemplation Dualism

Rule of Three:  Action-And-Contemplation Dynamic
  • ·      Contemplative Action
  • ·      Committed Contemplation


Conclusion:  Micah 6:8