Saturday, September 16, 2006

Musings on The Genesee Diary

This past week I've been reading Henri Nouwen's The Genesee Diary, which he wrote during the period June-December, 1974, when he was on retreat in a Trappist abbey in New York State. This is something I would love to do, even if only for a month. Actually, a week would suffice! Now that I've been back at work for a few days, I can barely recall that I was on retreat at all. Clearly this is something I should do a few times a year.

What I like best about Nouwen's diary is the essential humanity of the man that is evident no matter where you open the book! He writes about his own, most human, foibles, which he has brought with him even into this holy place: hurt feelings, petty jealousies, aggravation when assigned unfulfilling work; and about the niggling worry, as the term of the retreat passes, about whether what he has learned about God and about himself can be taken back and demonstrated in his normal daily life.

One passage I find particularly appealing deals with the author's observation of birds' habits in relation to some of his own:

"Sometimes it seems that every bird has institutionalized one of
my defense mechanisms. The cowbird lays her eggs in some other birds'
nest to let them do the brooding job; the Baltimore oriole imitates
the sounds of more dangerous birds to keep the enemies away, and
the red-wing blackbird keeps screaming so loudly overhead that you
get tired of her noise and soon leave the area that she considers
hers. It does not take long to realize that I do all of that and
a lot more to protect myself or to get my own will done."

This passage speaks to me particularly because I thought of the cowbird every time I dropped my children off at daycare! And how often have I picked a fight with someone I love for no good reason? If only we didn't leave our good intentions (and our good behavior) inside the church when we come back home after the service ...

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