Day 35 – Can You Drink the Cup? – Henri Nouwen

Day 35

Can You Drink the Cup?

Henri Nouwen

The enormous powers of our world keep drowning out these gentle voices. Still, they are the voices of truth. They are like the voice that Elijah heard on Mount Horeb. There God passed him not in a hurricane, an earthquake, or a fire but in “a light murmuring sound” (1 Kings 19:11-13). This sound takes away our fear and makes us realize that we can face reality, especially our own reality. Being in silence is the first way we learn to drink our cup.

The second way to drink our cup is with the word. It is not enough to claim our sorrow and joy in silence. We also must claim them in a trusted circle of friends. To do so we need to speak about what is in our cup. As long as we live our deepest truth in secret, isolated from a community of love, its burden is too heavy to carry. The fear of being known can make us split off our true inner selves from our public selves and make us despise ourselves even when we are acclaimed and praised by many.

To know ourselves truly and acknowledge fully our own unique journey, we need to be known and acknowledged by others for who we are. We cannot live a spiritual life in secrecy We cannot find our way to true freedom in isolation. Silence without speaking is as dangerous as solitude without community. They belong together.

Speaking about our cup and what it holds is not easy. It requires a true discipline because, just as we want to run from silence in order to avoid self-confrontation, we want to run from speaking about our inner life in order to avoid confrontation with others.

I am not suggesting that everyone we know or meet should hear about what is in our cup. To the contrary, it would be tactless, unwise, and even dangerous to expose our innermost being to people who cannot offer us safety and trust. That does not create community; it only causes mutual embarrassment and deepens our shame and guilt. But I do suggest that we need loving and caring friends with whom we can speak from the depth of our heart. Such friends can take away the paralysis that secrecy creates. They can offer us a safe and sacred place, where we can express our deepest sorrows and joys, and they can confront us in love, challenging us to a greater spiritual maturity. We might object by saying: “I do not have such trustworthy friends, and I wouldn’t know how to find them.” But this objection comes from our fear of drinking the cup that Jesus asks us to drink.

When we are fully committed to the spiritual adventure of drinking our cup to the bottom, we will soon discover that people who are on the same journey will offer themselves to us for encouragement and friendship and love. It has been my own most blessed experience that God sends wonderful friends to those who make God their sole concern. This is the mysterious paradox Jesus speaks about when he says that when we leave those who are close to us, for his sake and the sake of the Gospel, we will receive a hundred times more in human support (see Mark 10:29-30).

When we dare to speak from the depth 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. That gives us the courage to drink our cup to the bottom, knowing it is the cup of our salvation. It will allow us not only to live well but to die well. When we are surrounded by loving friends, death becomes a gateway to the full communion of saints.
The third way to drink our cup is in action.

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