In the mid-1980s, I was drawn to the teachings of a Catholic priest, Henri J. Nouwen, and a Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. Merton’s book, No Man Is an Island, became my handbook of sorts. I read it over and over, highlighting, underlining, and making notes in the margins. He communicated in to-the-point statements on human relations. “Some people never reveal any of the good that is hidden in them until we give them some of the good that is in ourselves” was an excellent workshop opener.
Nouwen was another great teacher who spoke in pithy statements. He had a way of communicating that immediately drew people in. He taught at the University of Notre Dame and the Divinity Schools of Yale and Harvard and was in constant demand as a lecturer all over the world. Yet with all this respect for what he had to say, he struggled his lifetime with self-doubt and depression. He also felt a great sense of conflict with his many speaking engagements, saying “Many people ask me to speak, but nobody as yet has invited me for silence. Still, I realize that the more I speak, the more I will need silence to remain faithful to what I say. People expect too much from speaking, too little from silence. . . .” . Quite a few of his personal journals went on to be books and people read them often feeling he was telling their stories. Nouwen was ever seeking Jesus and once someone said to him after a lecture, “When I look at you it is as if I am in the presence of Christ.” Nouwen’s response was quick: “It is the Christ in you, who recognizes the Christ in me.”
Another strong voice for me through the years has been that of Oswald Chambers. He was a profound messenger of God. His devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, is perhaps the most highly acclaimed devotional book ever written. Some pastors say it is second only to the Bible in influencing their relationship with Christ. I have several books written about this man who died young (43) due to untreated appendicitis. He was serving as a chaplain on a battlefield and would not put himself in the way of others he felt needed physician attention more. His wife recorded his sermons in shorthand and after his death published the devotional book as well as other books and articles. I have a book with some of his prayers and I particularly like this one: “O Lord, breathe on me till I am one with Thee in the temper of my mind and heart and disposition, unto Thee do I turn. How completely I realize my lost-ness without Thee.”
I owe a great debt of gratitude to the voice of Dr. Maxie Dunnam, for it was he who directed me to the likes of the three I’ve mentioned. Dr. Maxie Dunnam was my pastor from 1983 to 1994. When he preached Sunday mornings at Christ United Methodist Church, he could be counted on to tell about those who influenced his life, and how. Most Sundays I left with a note in hand of someone he had mentioned or a book he had read that impacted his life. Maxie, like Nouwen, is not slow to share personal failings when he believes it will benefit others. He still writes today and anything Maxie Dunnam says is worth hearing.
I’ve talked of the influence of two Catholics, a Holiness Movement evangelist, and a Methodist minister. I want to mention one other voice that stimulates my mind, that of Jewish rabbis. If you’ve never heard a rabbi speak as a guest lecturer at a seminar, you have missed gold! Their depth of knowledge and ability to bring you along with them to their final “aha” moment is something rich and beautiful.
Who are the spiritual giants in your life? Who do you credit with pouring into your journey? Who teaches you about purposeful living? I would love to hear. Maybe you will point me to a new favorite for 2019.