I am reading this tiny little book by Henri Nouwen called Out of Solitude. It is thin enough to be a tract, handed out by knocking religious types: 61 pages. It might as well be Moby Dick. Sometimes the simplest of things carry tremendous weight. It is not dense or a cumbersome. Nouwen’s words are direct and simple. This is no Hemingway sentence contest. Yet, I read and re-read the same passages over and over, as if a mantra. They sink in. Maybe that is it. The words are like fish flakes sprinkled onto the surface of the water….it takes a moment or two to saturate, then they start sinking. But the current can change the speed they sink. And like the little guppies in a fish tank, even if I gobble the words off the surface of the water, I cough them back out so I can redigest them.
Nouwen focuses on Jesus and the paradox of Jesus. Over and over again, Jesus did return to the lonely place to think. He required it. He separated himself to think? To feel? What I am wrapping my brain around is this idea that we separate ourselves and go to the lonely place to care for ourselves. We get so trapped in the doing of life that in all the doing we don’t have time to care. And we say it alot, “I don’t care.” I have heard these three words come out of my mouth or ring silently in my head in the last week since reading this book. I am eager to not care. Please let me not give a crap about that! Let me stop caring. The frightening thing is that my heart rails against some of the things that I really don’t give a crap about. I feel guilty about not caring enough or at all.And in this I am a paradox.
In what was meant to be helpful, a friend recently chastised me for letting something “get to me”. I pushed back, annoyed at this idea that someone has that kind of power over me. What I have discerned is not that I care about this person or the situation any longer. It is that I am disturbed that I don’t care. I am a caring person. I care for people. It is not a job. It is my vocation. I have deep empathy. So, when I assess this blank area….and apathetic space…where I do not care….I balk. How can it be? And this is what I rail against. It is not that I still care but rather that I don’t care at all.
But in the Nouwen argument, we get lost in the doing for others and forget to just be with others. I can care for you and not do a thing. I can care for you by just meditating with you in my thoughts. I can care for another by sitting quietly with them and listening to the birds or watching the moon rise. I don’t have to cook or clean or talk or solve or carry or entertain. And when it is the doing that people want from us and they discredit the being with us, that we may discover who really cares about US. And I can care for a stranger. And like Jesus, I want to be able to care for even the “worst” among us. To care freely means to have a loving heart. I want this apathetic scar in my heart to go away. And THAT I care very much about.