Thursday, March 20, 2008

Nepsis: diagnosis and direction

In 1976 Henri Nouwen wrote a book on his 7 month stay in a Trappist Monastery in upstate New York. Each day's entries are full of insights into his wrestling heart, trying to be still, trying to come to peace with his vocation, trying to reflect God to others. 
Today's entry focussed on nepsis; the control of thoughts. Nouwen writes: "My thoughts not only wandered in all directions,but started to brood on many negative feelings, feelings of hostility toward people who had not given me the attention I wanted, feelings of jealousy toward people who received more than I, feelings of self-pity in regard to people who had not written, and many feelings of regret and guilt toward people with whom I had strained relationships. ...Nepsis means mental sobriety, spiritual attention directed to God, watchfulness in keeping bad thoughts away, and creating free space for prayer."
How quickly we go into those dark places of resentment, regret, jealousy, and self-pity. AsI read Nouwen's words, I went right to those places I go to sulk when left on my own. On this Maundy Thursday, the activity my heart and mind needs to aid nepsis is the washing of others' feet and lives, service, but more important servanthood, servitude; an identity of service versus consumption, of gratitude over entitlement, of letting go over clinging.


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