The Spirit of Jesus Listening in Us
Listening in the spiritual life is much more than a psychological strategy to help others discover themselves. In the spiritual life the listener is not the ego, which would like to speak but is trained to restrain itself, but the Spirit of God within us. When we are baptized in the Spirit—that is, when we have received the Spirit of Jesus as the breath of God breathing within us—that Spirit creates in us a sacred space where the other can be received and listened to. The Spirit of Jesus prays in us and listens in us to all who come to us with their sufferings and pains.
When we dare to trust fully in the power of God’s Spirit listening in us, we will see true healing occur.
Absence That Creates Presence
It is good to visit people who are sick, dying, shut in, handicapped, or lonely. But it is also important not to feel guilty when our visits have to be short or can only happen occasionally. Often we are so apologetic about our limitations that our apologies prevent us from really being with the other when we are there. A short time fully present to a sick person is much better than a long time with many explanations of why we are too busy to come more often.
If we are able to be fully present to our friends when we are with them, our absence too will bear many fruits. Our friends will say, “He visited me” or “She visited me,” and discover in our absence the lasting grace of our presence.
Bringing the Spirit Through Leaving
It is often in our absence that the Spirit of God manifests itself. When Jesus left his disciples he said, “It is for your own good that I am going, because unless I go, the Paraclete [the Spirit] will not come to you. . . . However, when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth” (John 16:7, 13). It was only in Jesus’ absence that his friends discovered the full meaning of his presence. It was only in his absence that they completely understood his words and experienced full communion with him; and it was only in his absence that they could gather in a community of faith, hope, and love.
When we claim for ourselves that we come to our friends in the Name of Jesus—that through us Jesus becomes present to them—we can trust that our leaving will also bring them the Spirit of Jesus. Thus, not only our presence but also our absence becomes a gift to others.
From Henri J.M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith