The Beauty of Shyness

I’ve been using Henri Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey recently for my devotions. This was the passage for today:

There is something beautiful about shyness, even though in our culture shyness is not considered a virtue. On the contrary, we are encouraged to be direct, look people straight in the eyes, tell them what is on our minds, and share our stories without a blush.

But this unflinching soul-baring, confessional attitude quickly becomes boring. It is like trees without shadows. Shy people have long shadows, where they keep much of their beauty hidden from intruders’ eyes. Shy people remind us of the mystery of life that cannot be simply explained or expressed. They invite us to reverent and respectful friendships and to a wordless being together in love.

Nouwen’s wisdom is so enriching here, especially since I’ve been making a conscious effort to practice the exact opposite in my life. I’ve been trying to be more vulnerable, more open, confessing my sins and weaknesses—less shy, in other words. These are good things, but there is a fragile beauty in its opposite as well.

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The Gift of Community

Since chapel yesterday I’ve been thinking on the life of Christian community. Whenever I get to thinking about this, my mind goes to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together. In particular, I often think of this passage, which I’ve shared before:

Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with them a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams [….] Whoever loves their dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. (26-27)

I was reminded of this passage again as I was reading Henri Nouwen on solitude:

In solitude we become aware that we were together before we came together and that life is not a creation of our will but rather an obedient response to the reality of our being united [….] In solitude we indeed experience that community is not made but given. (Clowning in Rome, 14, 13.)