In the great book, The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God Through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence by Henri Nouwen, he talks quite a bit about one’s “inner fire.” Last week I posted You Must Protect Your Inner Fire if You Live Online.
I want to pick up on that theme where Nouwen wisely observes how the great artist Vincent van Gogh cared for his “inner fire.” Nouwen says,
Our first and foremost task is faithfully to care for the inward fire so that when it is really needed it can offer warmth and light to lost travelers. Nobody expressed this with more conviction than the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh.
van Gogh states:
There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passersby only see a wisp of smoke coming through the chimney, and go along their way. Look here, now what must be done? Must one tend the inner fire, have salt in oneself, wait patiently yet with how much impatience for the hour when somebody will come and sit down– maybe to stay? Let him who believes in God wait for the hour that will come sooner or later.
Nouwen then continues:
Vincent van Gogh speaks here with the mind and heart of the Desert Fathers. He knew about that temptation to open all the doors so that passersby could see the fire and not just the smoke coming through the chimney. But he also realized that if this happened, the fire would die and nobody would find warmth and new strength. His own life is a powerful example of faithfulness to the inner fire. During his life nobody came to sit down at his fire, but today thousands have found comfort and consolation in his drawings, paintings, and letters.
As ministers our greatest temptation is toward too many words. They weaken our faith and make us lukewarm. But silence is a sacred discipline, a guard of the Holy Spirit (pp. 47-48).
I have been thinking a lot about what Nouwen says at the end there about ministers being tempted towards too many words. I think he is spot on in many ways. We are often paid for the ability to speak, teach, counsel, etc. Words, Words, Words. Add on top of that blogging, writing, Twittering, etc., and it’s an avalanche of words. And if we are not careful, it can leave us feeling burned out, empty, with little to say.
I have felt that way many times. I’ve been wondering how I guard my “inner fire” so that I may have the strength, courage and wisdom to offer others. I’m searching for a balance…a rhythm.