Monday, 23 July 2018


It’s raining gently outside. A moment ago it was pouring down in torrents. The water from the sky is forming large puddles on the road and in my garden. When it last rained properly, in the spring, the rain quickly sank into the earth but today the ground has been baked so hard by months of hot, sunny weather that it’s become as impervious as stone. I need the water to sink deep but it can’t.
         We hear the word of God from many sources: we hear the Bible as it’s read in Church and we study its ancient pages at home. We may have texts on the walls of our homes. But like the rain, it can either enter our soul or it can flow over us and collect elsewhere. It needs to sink deep if it’s to nourish and help the dry areas of a spiritual life, and help the seed of faith to come alive … but can it do so?
      Using the principle of water on my garden, the best way to promote the word of God sinking deeply into a human soul is frequent immersion, to avoid any period of spiritual drought. A sudden experience of God followed by a long time away from Him has the same effect as the rain in my garden today. It does not penetrate and the soul remains arid.
      We all need God, and we need Him deep down in the inner recesses of our spiritual lives. We need Him often. We therefore need to immerse ourselves in God as often and as fully as possible.

The book of Obadiah

The Book of Obadiah consists of a single chapter of 21 verses, making it the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible. The prophet’s name means ‘Worshipper of God’, and could be pronounced ĘżOvadyahu; in Modern Hebrew he is Ovadyah; ‘Slave of God’.
       Christians and Jews both attribute the book to a prophet who named himself in the first verse as ‘Obadiah’. Historical ambiguities in the text makes it difficult to date his ministry, but the prophecy itself implies a time after the Exile, so 586 BC seems a good guess. An ancient Jewish tradition said Obadiah was a convert to Judaism from Edom. He chose to prophesy against Edom because he had himself been an Edomite.
Petra was probably first settled in about 9,000 BC.
The current city in today’s Jordan was hewn from
the bare rocks of the cliffs in about 300 BC.

      In the book of Obadiah, the prophet describes an encounter with God concerning the mountain-dwelling nation of Edom. (This nation was located south east of Israel and includes Petra, a city hewn from rocks; its southern boundary was on the Gulf of Aqaba.)
      In this encounter, God talks against Edom’s pride and arrogance, then lists its violent actions against the sister nation of Israel: they refused to help Israel in their need, sold them as slaves, and even abused them while they were exiled to Babylon. In the prophecy, God promises to destroy Edom so completely that no remnant would remain. Egypt would take the Edomites’ land and the people would lose their racial identity. Its name will disappear. The children of Israel would eventually return from their exile and possess the land of Edom. In fact, Babylon overtook Edom 100 years later and it never recovered.
      We know almost nothing about Obadiah the man. He may be the same Obadiah who was the servant of Ahab (1 Kings 18:3,4), but few modern scholars hold this view.
      In some Christian traditions, Obadiah was born in ‘Sychem’, and was one of the soldiers sent out by Ahaziah against Elijah. And according to a very old tradition, he was is buried in the Palestinian village of Sebastia (near the West Bank), at the same site as Elisha and where later the body of John the Baptist was believed to have been buried by his followers.

For more information, go to:

The visitation of Mary to Elizabeth

Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen was a priest, professor, psychologist, theologian and writer. He was born in the Netherlands in January 1932. His father was a tax official while his mother was book-keeper to a small family business. His interests centred primarily around psychology, pastoral ministry, spirituality, social justice and community.
       Henri trained as a priest in the Jesuit (Roman Catholic) Aloysius College in The Hague, and was ordained in 1957. He was soon heavily involved in a ministry of healing.
       Henri was always eager to learn about himself and the people he helped, so he re-trained as a clinical psychologist, becoming one of the first priests to realise the power of psychology when exploring matters of faith. His doctoral thesis explored ways of integrating spiritual ministry and modern psychology.
       Nouwen became professor of pastoral theology at the Yale Divinity School (1971 and 1981) and wrote extensively about his own experiences. While there, he started a new dialogue between faith and psychology.
       During much of this time he also struggled with his own sexuality (he was gay, but secretly), which contributed to colossal feelings of self-doubt. The conflict between his priestly vows of celibacy and a sense of loneliness and longing for intimacy caused a series of depressive breakdowns, which also helps explain why his biography was called Wounded Prophet.
       One of the major healing encounters occurred during a long retreat at the Trappist Abbey of the Genesee in 1974, which lasted seven months. Although he concluded he was not suited for Trappist life, he remained heavily influenced by Trappist theology and its radical commitment to love: a second strand was emerging in his spirituality.
       Nouwen moved to Harvard after this retreat and, while there, met Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche movement. L’Arche cares for people with profound learning and developmental disabilities. (Today, L’Arche runs 147 communities in 35 countries across five continents.)
       Henri stayed for a another, long retreat with Vanier at the first ever L’Arche community and, while there, finally found the sense of purpose that was previously missing. As a friend commented, ‘Henri had always wondered what a Eucharistically centred community would be like; he now found one at L’Arche’. After decades of teaching at academic institutions, Nouwen left to join the L’Arche community in Ontario. As a priest there, he used his psychology training to explore the boundaries of sacrificial love.
       While visiting another L’Arche community in France, he saw a poster of Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son, which made a deep impression. He went to Saint Petersburg to see the painting for himself, and was captivated. He studied the painting for days then wrote his most famous book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, which is a masterpiece of psychological analysis. In it, he looks at Jesus’ parable in Luke 15, gently psychoanalysing all the major characters in the story. In 2014, the Church Times ranked the book among the most influential 100 Christian books in print today. In all, Nouwen published 39 books and hundreds of articles. They discuss issues of healing, community, and finding self.
       Henri Nouwen died in the Netherlands on 21 September 1996 from a sudden heart attack, while en route to Russia to participate in a Dutch documentary about his book The Return of the Prodigal Son.