Tag Archives: Henri Nouwen

Imago Dei Resources

This past weekend, Becky and I (and our fabulous co-horts, Lisa Wells and Amy St. John) were privileged to lead our church’s women’s retreat.  The vision for the retreat came to Becky last year and through much prayer and many, many hours of planning, coordinating, etc., she saw her vision come to fruition in a beautiful way.

Becky chose the topic of living imago dei (as image bearers of God), and early in the summer in one of our leaders meetings, I was chosen to teach a session Saturday morning and preach Sunday morning.  So I started the absorption phase of teaching and wanted to share the resources with you that were helpful to me this summer as I prepared.  I’ll share my Saturday morning in another post soon.  There is a link to purchase these books on Amazon if you click on the pictures.

made for more

The first book I came across was “Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image” by Hannah Anderson, which happened to turn up on my Facebook newsfeed the day before I was heading off on vacation, so I purchased it on my Kindle.  It was providential, because I actually had time to read it!  In this interview, Hannah explains that she wrote the book because she observed the struggle that many Christian women were having “to find fulfillment in their roles and family structures alone,” and the sheer majority of women’s Bible studies are framed entirely around gender so that essentially, we are being taught “that sanctification means becoming a certain type of woman, not being conformed to Christ’s image.”  The book explores how living imago dei means finding our supreme source of identity and existence “from Him and through Him and to Him” (Acts 17).  Hannah includes an excellent study guide in the indexes that could be used for group study or individuals.  I highly recommend this book.

designed for dignity

When I finished “Made for More,” Becky loaned Richard Pratt’s “Designed for Dignity” to me with the promise that it would be one of those rare, life-changing books.  Pratt is Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, but he writes deep theological truths “with great humility, simplicity, and honesty” (Steve Brown quote on the back of the book).  The book is essentially about realizing your full potential to live out God’s image by living with dignity, and by bringing glory to God.  Each chapter develops a different aspect of living with dignity, as the Bible reveals what it is to be human, and there is a concluding paragraph with study questions for each chapter, enhancing personal or group study.  Unlike Hannah Anderson’s book, this one was not geared specifically to women and it was helpful to frame the dialogue on living imago dei apart from gender.  Another high recommendation.

mans search for meaning

I came across this book on the used bookstore porch and picked it up for a whopping 25 cents.  I vaguely remember hearing a reference to Frankl’s writing in a Tim Keller sermon, so I was curious.  The first half of this short book describes Frankl’s horrifying experiences as a Jewish prisoner in four concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau (two profoundly moving stops my brother and I made during our backpacking tour in 2002).  As a doctor of psychiatry, Frankl was able to study the mental condition of his fellow prisoners, as well as his own stages of shock, distress, numbness, etc.  He observed that man could live with dignity despite his circumstances if he had a meaning to cling to, and post-war, he developed a new school of psychiatry called logotherapy, which the American Journal of Psychiatry called “the most significant thinking since Freud and Adler.”  On the back of book, it reads “A profound revelation born out of Dr. Frankl’s years as a prisoner in Auschwitz and other concentration camps, logotherapy is a modern and positive approach to the mentally or spiritually disturbed personality.  Stressing man’s freedom to transcend suffering and find a meaning to his life regardless of his circumstances, it is a theory which, since its conception, has exercised a tremendous influence upon the entire field of psychiatry and psychology.”

I couldn’t put “Man’s Search for Meaning” down!  Frankl’s description of suffering in concentration camps was so riveting, and the shorter second part describing logotherapy was equally fascinating.  Towards the end, Frankl says, “As logotherapy teaches, there are three main avenues on which one arrives at meaning in life.  The first is by creating a work or by doing a deed.  The second is by experiencing something or encountering someone; in orther words, meaning can be found not only in work but also in love….Most important, however, is the third avenue to meaning in life:  even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing, change himself.  He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.”

In addition to those books, I also found the following sermons and articles helpful in thinking through living imago dei.  This sermon, “Healing Our Image of God and Ourselves,” by Brennan Manning, was probably more influential than any other resource I turned to, as it crystalized the message of living in the image of God with the emphasis on God’s love for us:

And also Henri Nouwen’s beautiful sermon series on The Life of the Beloved (please pardon the long intro and breaks in between his 8 short sermons):

Finally, “Ex Good Christian Women” is a fantastic article by Pastor Kathy Escobar that discusses how women are hurt and enslaved by the cultural constraints on what it means to be a “good Christian woman.”  Her descriptions of “good Christian women” and “ex-good Christian women” struck a nerve with the retreat ladies.

I’ll share how these resources came together into a talk on living imago dei soon. 🙂

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Searching Where It Cannot Be Found

looking for love
I love this Henri Nouwen quote from The Return of the Prodigal Son (Nouwen’s insights into Rembrandt’s painting of the same name):

Searching Where It Cannot Be Found

“At issue is the question: ‘To whom do I belong? To God or to the world?’ Many of my daily preoccupations suggest that I belong more to the world than to God. A little criticism makes me angry, and a little rejection makes me depressed. A little praise raises my spirits, and a little success excites me. It takes very little to raise me up or thrust me down. Often I am like a small boat on the ocean, completely at the mercy of its waves. All the time and energy I spend in keeping some kind of balance and preventing myself from being tipped over and drowning shows that my life is mostly a struggle for survival: not a holy struggle, but an anxious struggle resulting from the mistaken idea that it is the world that defines me.

“As long as I keep running about asking: ‘Do you love me? Do you really love me?’ I give all power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with ‘ifs.’ The world says: ‘Yes, I love you if you are good-looking, intelligent, and wealthy. I love you if you have a good education, a good job, and good connections. I love you if you produce much, sell much, and buy much.’ There are endless ‘ifs’ hidden in the world’s love. These ‘ifs’ enslave me, since it is impossible to respond adequately to all of them. The world’s love is and always will be conditional. As long as I keep looking for my true self in the world of conditional love, I will remain ‘hooked’ to the world — trying, failing, and trying again. It is a world that fosters addictions because what it offers cannot satisfy the deepest craving of my heart.

” ‘Addiction’ might be the best word to explain the lostness that so deeply permeates contemporary society. Our addictions make us cling to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink, and sexual gratification without distinguishing between lust and love. These addictions create expectations that cannot but fail to satisfy our deepest needs. As long as we live within the world’s delusions, our addictions condemn us to futile quests in ‘the distant country,’ leaving us to face an endless series of disillusionments while our sense of self remains unfulfilled. In these days of increasing addictions, we have wandered far away from our Father’s home. The addicted life can aptly be designated a life lived in ‘a distant country.’ It is from there that our cry for deliverance rises up.

“I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found. Why do I keep ignoring the place of true love and persist in looking for it elsewhere? Why do I keep leaving home where I am called a child of God, the Beloved of my Father? I am constantly surprised at how I keep taking the gifts God has given me — my health, my intellectual and emotional gifts — and keep using them to impress people, receive affirmation and praise, and compete for rewards, instead of developing them for the glory of God. Yes, I often carry them off to a ‘distant country’ and put them in the service of an exploiting world that does not know their true value. It’s almost as if I want to prove to myself and to my world that I do not need God’s love, that I can make a life on my own, that I want to be fully independent. Beneath it all is the great rebellion, the radical ‘No’ to the Father’s love, the unspoken curse: ‘I wish you were dead.’ The prodigal son’s ‘No’ reflects Adam’s original rebellion: his rejection of the God in whose love we are created and by whose love we are sustained. It is the rebellion that places me outside the garden, out of reach of the tree of life. It is the rebellion that makes me dissipate myself in a ‘distant country.’

“Looking again at Rembrandt’s portrayal of the return of the younger son, I now see how much more is taking place than a mere compassionate gesture toward a wayward child. The great event I see is the end of the great rebellion. The rebellion of Adam and all his descendants is forgiven, and the original blessing by which Adam received everlasting life is restored. It seems to me now that these hands have always been stretched out — even when there were no shoulders upon which to rest them. God has never pulled back his arms, never withheld his blessing, never stopped considering his son the Beloved One. But the Father couldn’t compel his son to stay home. He couldn’t force his love on the Beloved. He had to let him go in freedom, even though he knew the pain it would cause both his son and himself. It was love itself that prevented him from keeping his son home at all cost. It was love itself that allowed him to let his son find his own life, even with the risk of losing it.

“Here the mystery of my life is unveiled. I am loved so much that I am left free to leave home. The blessing is there from the beginning. I have left it and keep on leaving it. But the Father is always looking for me with outstretched arms to receive me back and whisper again in my ear: ‘You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.’ “

You can purchase your own copy of this book here.

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