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…
One of the reasons that hiddenness is such an important aspect of the spiritual life is that it keeps us focused on God. In hiddenness we do not receive human acclamation, admiration, support, or encouragement. In hiddenness we have to go to God with our sorrows and joys and trust that God will give us what we most need.
In our society we are inclined to avoid hiddenness. We want to be seen and acknowledged. We want to be useful to others and influence the course of events. But as we become visible and popular, we quickly grow dependent on people and their responses and easily lose touch with God, the true source of our being. Hiddenness is the place of purification. In hiddenness we find our true selves…
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…
When we enter into solitude to be with God alone, we quickly discover how dependent we are. Without the many distractions of our daily lives, we feel anxious and tense. When nobody speaks to us, calls on us, or needs our help, we start feeling like nobodies. Then we begin wondering whether we are useful, valuable, and significant. Our tendency is to leave this fearful solitude quickly and get busy again to reassure ourselves that we are “somebodies.” But that is a temptation, because what makes us somebodies is not other people's responses to us but God's eternal love for us.
To claim the truth of ourselves we have to cling to our God in solitude as to the One who makes us who we are.
Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey, by Henri J.M. Nouwen , © 1997 Harper San Francisco
I have found that these passages from the Henri Nouwen Meditation & Reflection emails over the past few days explain better than anything I’ve read why I’ve found myself increasing tending to withdraw slightly from public involvement with things, from blogging – at least as regularly as I sometimes have – and even from some bits of church life.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” (Matthew 5.3) When know we have nothing we have not been given, know we are nothing, then God can flood the heart with his mercy, with his Holy Spirit, with Christ to whom the Spirit bears witness (John 14.25), and there is the Kingdom of Heaven in all its now-ness, its kairos. This is why I have sometimes found it, odd though it sounds, hard to cope with good times. God’s presence is so obvious, so close, in times of real hardship and distress that it feels almost as if one may lose him in the days of wine and roses.
God grant me sufficient hiddenness always. As I said once, quite a while ago, I do long to be more like ivy, that flourishes in shadowed places.