Volume > Issue > Saying a Humble, Compassionate & Joyful “Yes” to Life

Saying a Humble, Compassionate & Joyful “Yes” to Life


By Henri J.M. Nouwen | November 1985
The Rev. Henri J.M. Nouwen, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, is currently working for L’Arche communities in France. This article is the third installment in a three-part series.

In discussing our “No” to death in all its man­ifestations (see Part II of this series in the Oct. NOR), I have already alluded to the “Yes” we must say to life. Resisting the forces of death is only meaningful when we are fully in touch with the forces of life we want to uphold. What is finally important is not that we overcome death but that we celebrate life.

I have found that total concentration on fighting the forces of destruction is dangerous and can be very damaging. When I allow my mind and heart to experience what a nuclear holocaust will do to our planet, it often seems that a deep dark­ness starts to surround me and pull me into a pit of depression and despair. When I try to confront the powers of death that already have a hold on me, I often feel so powerless that I lose contact with the source of my own life. How easy it is to become a victim of the very forces I am fighting against! When all my attention goes to protesting death, death itself may end up receiving more attention than it deserves. Thus my struggle against the dark forces of death becomes the arena of my own se­duction.

There is a very old piece of wisdom that comes from the fourth-century monks of the Egyp­tian desert: “Do not combat the demons directly.” The desert fathers felt that a direct confrontation with the forces of evil required so much spiritual maturity and saintliness that few would be ready for it. Instead of paying so much attention to the; prince of darkness they advised their disciples to focus on the Lord of light and thus, indirectly but inevitably, undo the power of the demon. The des­ert fathers thought that a direct confrontation with the demon would give the demon precisely the at­tention he is trying to get. Once he has our atten­tion he has the chance to seduce us. That is the story of the fall. Eve’s first mistake was to listen to the serpent and consider him worthy of a response.

This early Christian wisdom is very important for peacemaking. As a peacemaker, mv temptation is to overestimate the power of the forces of death and thus attack them directly. Precisely because I am such a sinful, broken person, these forces have many handles on me and can easily pull me into their network. Only the sinless Christ was able to overcome death. It is naïve to think that we have the strength to face death alone and survive.

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