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References are to Henri J. M. Nouwen, Can Your Drink the Cup? Ave Maria Press, 1997.

Holding the Cup

Who I am

Good morning. Iím Hal Dendurent, a member of St. John the Baptist parish in Mount Vernon since 1985. Prior to that I lived in many places. When I was in my mid thirties and living in Bangor, Maine, I reflected that though this was not my native place I had lived there six years, longer than any other place. When I had the chance to come to Iowa, it was in part to put down roots Ė and Iím very happy to say this is just what has happened!

Iíve been a Catholic since 1970, since just before Sharon and I were married. We met at the Catholic student center at Northwestern University, w here we were graduate students. Sharon and I completed the Lay Formation program together earlier this year. We have two wonderful daughters. Cassie lives in New York City and was just married on August 30. Christy received her degree in journalism from the University of Kansas in May and now lives and works in Cedar Rapids. So itís been a big year for our family!

Iím 62. It so happens that Henri Nouwen wrote Can You Drink the Cup? at about the same age. Some of you are about that old too, and perhaps for that reason you might have identified with the book as much as I did. Itís truly marvelous, isnít it?

Looking critically at what we are living

Letís turn to what the book says for a moment. ďWhen we are crushed like grapes, we cannot think of the wine we will becomeĒ (49)./p>

Nouwen teaches us that ďholding the cup of life means looking critically at what we are livingĒ (27). This can be scary, because such an act confronts us with our radical aloneness. ďI am alone, because I am unique,Ē he says (28). No one else is or can be inside my head, except God. Though I may share my being and experiences with others, ultimately they are my own. We enter the world alone, and we die alone. Even those to whom we are closest in life are the other Ė they are not ourselves. In fact, sometimes even my very self seems removed from myself. I believe this is because my true self created by God has been overlaid by a false self oriented toward the world. So the cup of life is a complex mixture. As I hold the cup of my life it is a difficult challenge to look critically at what it contains and summon the courage to lift it and drink it to the lees.

Yet this is what we are called to do as Christians. As our retreat theme reminds us, we all share in the one cup of salvation through Jesus Christ. Our faith in this reality helps mitigate our radical aloneness. We each have our own cup which contains the reality of our own life mingled together with Godís will. Invited to taste and see the goodness of the Lord within ourselves, we trust (or long to trust) that ultimately the cup of joy and the cup of sorrow will be one, as it was for Jesus in the cross and resurrection.

Water and wine

Fr. Phil spoke last evening of the wine connoisseur and wove together that kind of discernment wonderfully with the spiritual discernment we are called to perform. Even if weíre not connoisseurs, even if we donít particularly care for wine, Iím sure we all love the story of the wedding feast at Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine.

Now water was not a very good thing to drink back in those days before water purification. Take a little wine, it will be good for your stomach, Paul advised his young protťgť Timothy (1 Tm 5:23). As Jesuit Fr. Richard Rice points out, the relationship of water and wine in the Cana story underlines the glory of Christ and his establishment of the new covenant., ďJesus replaces the water necessary for Jewish purification with the best of wines.Ē The bitterness of living under the Law, necessitated by the rule of sin, was replaced by the deep, inexhaustible joy of salvation. Note that throughout the gospels Jesus proclaims abundance, while his disciples are often mired in a mentality of scarcity. We have only to recall the feeding of the multitude, where the disciples wanted to send the hungry crowd out to forage, while Jesus saw that the solution was to share and that God would provide.

An epiphany

Thereís a little saying I like: If we know weíre going to laugh about it later, why not laugh about it now? The trouble is, we seldom trust enough to do so. By our own power we lack the perspective.

Since my twenties Iíve suffered from bipolar II disorder, also known as manic-depression. Medication keeps me stable, but bipolar disorder has side effects. A few years ago I discontinued the medication in hopes of functioning normally without it. This didnít work. After a fairly long period of rather pleasant hypomania, I suddenly found myself seriously depressed. Well... I went back to the doctor pretty quick to resume the meds! As you may know, it takes a while for most psychotropic drugs to kick in. I was able to work but felt awful, afflicted by gloominess, despair, lethargy, and a total lack of self-confidence. Perhaps the worst thing you feel when you are clinically depressed is a sense of hopelessness that crushes you down. You feel worthless and are convinced things will never change. Depression is a life-threatening condition because you may feel so terrible you want to end your own life. Many people do, or at least they attempt it.

My own state wasnít that bad, thank God. I was able to go to work. I tried to do my job, but felt not at all capable of doing it. This experience of feeling depressed and incompetent at work had actually happened before. Some twenty years previous to the time Iím talking about, I had voluntarily left the profession for which I was highly educated because I associated it with my depression.

Itís extremely important to me to feel that I do good work, to be competent, to excel. One day during this depression Iím speaking of Ė this was about five or six years ago Ė I was at my desk when a call came in asking for help. Someone I didnít know needed my expertise. Well, I didnít feel very expert or competent in anything at the time. But I did what I could. Later, the man called back, asking for my bossís name and contact information. I gave it, and asked what for. [pause] He replied that the solution I suggested had worked very well and he wanted to tell my boss what a good job I had done.

I was astonished. First of all, most people in that situation donít call back to say thanks, much less to pass on compliments to your boss. Second, it hadnít occurred to me I had done anything exceptional. My own sense of the situation was that I was struggling through the day, barely getting by, doing a mediocre job.

But when I thought about what had happened, it was like an epiphany. Contrary to the way I felt, I didnít need to worry about whether I was doing a good job or not. Instead, I could say a simple YES to the Universe, to the way things were. In spite of a deep desire to do outstanding work and to be recognized for it, which I recognize as almost a compulsion, I understood I really donít have to do or accomplish anything. I felt my desolation turning into consolation. I took courage and felt a profound sense of gratitude to God.

The burden lifted

Since youíre not me, you may not appreciate how much of a load was lifted off my shoulders when I grasped that reality. The cup of sorrow became, at least briefly, the cup of joy. Iím OK as I am; I donít have to accomplish anything. As a result, I can remove the focus from myself and my self-consciousness and let the task unfold itself naturally.

I shared the experience and my feelings about it with my closest friends. Some of them understood. What a blessing! Even though sometimes Ė much of the time, really Ė Iím still driven to some degree by this compulsion of my false self, I thank God for such a bright insight gained during a dark time of my life. I - donít - have - to accomplish - anything. God loves me just as I am, whatever I may think of myself. This experience showed me what is really real and revealed the sacredness of whatís inside me, giving me precious self knowledge of who I really am which I can never, ever forget.

I had had an experience like those who witnessed the miracles at Cana or the feeding of the multitudes, an experience of unexpected abundance in the midst of personal scarcity and poverty, a sudden deep enjoyment of God and life, overcoming despair and shame and transcending worldly busyness. Just a few months before this time I had begun the practice of centering prayer, and I clung to it during this time. It was my refuge. Being faithful to the discipline was really very helpful. In this form of prayer, you silently invite God to work Godís will within you. A core belief of mine is that God wishes what is best for me and for all the world. As I figuratively held my cup of joy and sorrow and sat quietly in centering prayer day after day, recovering from the effects of depression, I began to connect my life with the Paschal mystery. Though we may feel forsaken, God is in solidarity with us; indeed, as the mystics teach us, the darkness and dryness we experience is a sign that God is calling us to a higher dimension. God assists us in discerning the interior call to which God draws us. This call becomes attractive, compelling to the soul. When we respond truly, it is out of love.

Flowing over into life

I think of two events I was initiating and leading in volunteer organizations at that time. Itís amazing that I was able to carry through when I felt as bad as I did, though the depression was not nearly as disabling as it is for some. Iím positive the insight that I donít have to accomplish anything helped me not to be overcome by what seemed then to be overwhelming burdens. When I was weak, I was strong. Thereís a spiritual truth there. That year, too, I was asked to run for the parish Religious Education committee and was elected. I had a clear ďplatformĒ of fostering and promoting adult faith formation, which I was able to carry out during my term. This of course has continued with Lay Formation and into my participation as a team member for this retreat. In addition, after a long struggle I was able to move into a different assignment at work Ė the old job had been a major trial for me.

The cup I hold is still filled with both joy and sorrow. I continue with centering prayer, and over the past few years, in large part because of the spiritual growth and opportunities for service Iíve experienced in Lay Formation and in my parish volunteer work, my prayer life has deepened. I continue to listen for the interior call by which I know Godís calling. Iím still radically alone but closer to the Lord and I think also to my fellow creatures.

Iíve had a few more glimpses of my true self. Most of these have been reflected through the eyes of others and, Praise God! [pause] I see a nobler self than I ever dared to see before. This is the Hal God is creating, what I truly am and what God is calling me to be, rather than what the world wants to make of me, the Hal who is both whole and holy, moving toward oneness with God as he becomes more and more attuned to the Mystery and the will of God and lives it in service, the Hal who has become and can be a more faithful disciple.

The love of Christ

And so I feel far more courageous than ever before. ďIf God is for us, who can be against?Ē cries Paul in that wonderful passage from Romans 8. The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness and even intercedes for us ďwith inexpressible groanings.Ē I just love that language; it so powerfully expresses the love of God. Hereís more: ďWe know that all things work for good for those who love God.Ē

ďWhat will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?Ē

ďNo, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.Ē

Sisters and brothers, this is what is in the cups we hold, our individual cups and the one cup we share. The cup we share is the world of our common experience, which is filled with the joy and sorrow of the whole human race, but transfigured by Christ, man and God, in his death and resurrection. God bless each one of you.