The largest part of Jesus’ life was hidden. Jesus lived with his parents in Nazareth, “under their authority” (Luke 2:51), and there “increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with people” (Luke 2:52). When we think about Jesus we mostly think about his words and miracles, his passion, death, and resurrection, but we should never forget that before all of that Jesus lived a simple, hidden life in a small town, far away from all the great people, great cities, and great events. Jesus’ hidden life is very important for our own spiritual journeys. If we want to follow Jesus by words and deeds in the service of his Kingdom, we must first of all strive to follow Jesus in his simple, unspectacular, and very ordinary hidden life.
Hiddenness is an essential quality of the spiritual life. Solitude, silence, ordinary tasks, being with people without great agendas, sleeping, eating, working, playing… all of that without being different from others, that is the life that Jesus lived and the life he asks us to live. It is in hiddenness that we, like Jesus, can increase “in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with people” (Luke 2:51). It is in hiddenness that we can find a true intimacy with God and a true love for people.
Even during his active ministry, Jesus continued to return to hidden places to be alone with God. If we don't have a hidden life with God, our public life for God cannot bear fruit…
If indeed the spiritual life is essentially a hidden life, how do we protect this hiddenness in the midst of a very public life? The two most important ways to protect our hiddenness are solitude and poverty. Solitude allows us to be alone with God. There we experience that we belong not to people, not even to those who love us and care for us, but to God and God alone. Poverty is where we experience our own and other people's weakness, limitations, and need for support. To be poor is to be without success, without fame, and without power. But there God chooses to show us God's love.
Both solitude and poverty protect the hiddenness of our lives.
Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey
I said a while ago:
All this stuff about prayer boils down to this. What I am really doesn't matter. There isn't any holiness in me. Of myself, I really am not, truly, anything more than little, and ordinary; and anything praiseworthy about me only consists in the extent to which I am prepared to acknowledge that, and to live in the shadows, quietly, like the ivy I love so much. All my health and growth depends on accepting that.
There is no struggle in this now, but a blessed hope, and a kind of love that wells up and catches my breath, and fills my eyes with tears. Most of my life I haven't really known what love is, and still I don't; but in me now Jesus loves, and all I feel are the eddies of that deep current.
It's time to let go of a lot of things; and yet it isn't a time for heroic gestures, grand austerities, but for little turnings to that hidden track that leads out between the trees, away from the lights and the music and the excited voices.
It feels odd to be writing this in such a public place, somehow, rather than in a letter to a close friend or spiritual director. I have thought about this; and it's not an appeal for warm, supportive comments - I honestly am trying to think this through.
It’s even more true now. I couldn’t have known, over a year ago, how prophetic those words were going to turn out to be. Much of that “thinking through” has been done for me by circumstances beyond my own immediate control. The protection of solitude and poverty calls to me more and more strongly, to the point where it’s an eagerness, a longing, a hunger really, at the very centre of who I am. I know that it is only in that solitude, that hidden simplicity, that I can draw as close to God as my heart yearns to do.
Very wisely, the Principles of the Third Order, Society of St. Francis, state in today’s reading:
We as Tertiaries desire to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, whom we serve in the three ways of Prayer, Study, and Work. In the life of the Order as a whole, these three ways must each find full and balanced expression, but it is not to be expected that all members devote themselves equally to each of them. Each individual’s service varies according to their abilities and circumstances, yet as individual member’s our Personal Rule of Life must include each of the three ways.
The need to give the Way of Prayer priority among the various bits of my life just grows stronger by the day. Pray for me that I may be able to be obedient to it…