In the solitude of the heart we can truly listen to the pains of the world because there we can recognize them not as strange and unfamiliar pains, but as pains that are indeed our own. There we can see that what is most universal is most personal and that indeed nothing human is strange to us. There we can feel that the cruel reality of history is indeed the reality of the human heart, our own included, and that to protest asks, first of all, for a confession of our own participation in the human condition. There we can indeed respond.
A few years ago, I wrote 365 meditations on passages from the Psalms. What did I learn? This at least--that the power of the psalms may not be as much prescriptive (telling us how to live), but descriptive (as in being shown how all of us do muddle through life). There's a difference. The psalms show us that no less a man that King David could grab a chair at our kitchen table some late night, pick up a cup of coffee, and tell us that he understands what we're going through because he's been there. The psalms say what most of us feel, for better and for worse. That human generousness may well be their greatest gift--they let us know we're not alone.
Maybe that's why Henri Nouwen's words, above, from The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, seemed to be so highlight-able to me. While I know I'm not "there," sometimes I think I've come closer to wherever "there" is because of the phenomenon Henri Nouwen describes--whatever vision of things I can comfort myself with begins in the knowledge of God that arrives only, and initially, with a perception of self--and that perception arrives, as Calvin says in the Institutes and AA says every week, with the realization that I can't, and only God can.
If I've become more accomodating toward other views of life, other world religions--and I have--it's because I believe I've dug deeply into the faith culture that is my own birthright--Calvinism. Strangely enough--and it seems a paradox--my appreciation for other views of life and eternity has not diminished my appreciation for my own, but deepened it.
At the bottom of all of this, according the Nouwen and Calvin, is a honest view of the self: "the cruel reality of history is indeed the reality of the human heart." Mine too.
To me--and to Nouwen and King David, not to mention the anthologists that put the scripture together--that's the knowledge where vision begins. I'm a beginner.