Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

With Open Hands

Written by: on September 12, 2019

In the house where I grew up I remember there was a book on a shelf in the upper hallway that had a picture on the front cover that often caught my attention. The picture was of open hands covering a woman’s face. ‘With Open Hands’ is the title of the book and, Henri Nouwen the author. Books and reading were not my thing growing up, no matter how much my dad had hoped to find me from the corner of his eye, deep into a Hardy Boys mystery novel. This one however, was strikingly different.

Many years later, I was in my twenties, studying at university and beginning to find my feet on the streets of the city. The book popped out to me once again and I had to take a closer look. Lots of pictures and words on faith and Christianity written in a way that I had not encountered before. It was deep and poetic and calling for an encounter with my soul. What was happening here? Who is this guy writing? I was facing a new Christian paradigm, it was spiritual, I found my heart-opening in new ways and my soul expanding.

A new kind of attention seemed to be waking up within me. Faith became not so much about doing stuff anymore, just whatever, as much of it as possible, preaching loudly and praying last with melodic eloquence. There was a coming to life everywhere. My hands were opening.

In his book Discernment, Nouwen writes that “Apart from the love of God in our lives, we are people lost at sea, without anchors. We stand alone without supporting walls, without a floor to walk on, without a ceiling to protect us, without a hand to guide us, without eyes that look at us with love, without a companion to show the way.” [1] The presence of God meets us with practical support. At this meeting point, confusion turns into trust and fistful of pride opens with a deep breath and new opportunity. Questions are answered without a striving but by simple surrender to Kairos, an opening up ‘to endless new possibilities’ [2].

Discernment and Connection.

We have to make decisions fairly quickly sometimes, so quick it almost seems like a bit of coin flip. Every decision is important because there is an effect (not always lasting) imposed through each one, let’s hope to a greater extent positively. Slowing in the moment and being patient, listening and waiting for direction. Spiritual discernment streams from relationship and sound connection with God, ‘that place where the Holy Spirit lives, knows, loves and guides from within our own awareness.’ [1]. We live in the midst of rush and chaos, stillness and silence call for us to wait, to be still, to pray. While we are in His presence, patient, listening our hearts are set in the care of God. Nouwen encourages that discernment is a call to be in the Love of God. Slow down. Take a deep breath into Kairos.

Street culture in the inner-city contains different flavours and languages, style-of-dress and drama. To survive on the street, it is vital to think and act quickly at times. There’s an edge that we can find ourselves trying to balance on, there’s a struggle that thrives in the chaos and that bends to breaking if one’s guard is let down. A man who I used to work with, a huge guy with teardrop tattoos who guzzled power shakes by the gallons, often succumbed to the tsunamis we face in the lives of those we serve and wore the destruction of the streets. Seeing this, listening, I would with care motion for quiet in our souls as we served by putting my finger to my mouth and pointing upwards. The next signal, like a third base coach to the batter, to my heart and then, to him. This was us, in care and discernment for one another and his signals in moments of distress lifted me. There was such relief in his big smile.

Do we have time to listen to the inner voice of Love?

‘Deep silence leads us to suspect that, in the first place, prayer is acceptance.’ [2]


[1] Nouwen, Henri. Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life. New York. Harper One. 2013.

[2] Nouwen, Henri. With Open Hands. Notre Dame, Indiana. Ave Maria Press. 1972.

About the Author

Chris Pollock

Dad of Molly Polly Pastor at the Mustard Seed Street Church Trail Runner

8 responses to “With Open Hands”

  1. Shawn Cramer says:

    Chris, I was encouraged to hear about your topic of study this week. I could see how Nouwen would be a great guide for you in this study. From the over-achieving circles of Ivy League Academia, to serving “the least of these.” Who else might you consider guides, whether people you know personally, authors, or thought leaders?

    • Chris Pollock says:

      Hi Shawn, thanks for touching base. Nouwen continues to inspire and his journey is filled with credibility. An authentic one, honest about the struggle and one who saw through the ugly to see such beauty and hope (potential). Sweet to be in your Peer Group! The support is so appreciated and I look forward to being there for you and Simon along the way too. Finding the path toward a brief statement to describe the NPO is going to be a challenge and once accomplished, relieving I think for the direction it will bring. There are a few guys in Victoria and Vancouver and, perhaps a couple from further off I would like to call who may or may not have time to spend with me! Maybe we can find some time to think creatively together considering each others work in London?

  2. Dylan Branson says:

    “Do we have time to listen to the inner voice of Love?”

    With the busyness of every day life, we miss those moments of listening to that inner voice (though sometimes I wonder if we miss it or just choose to ignore it). What do you think assuming a posture of listening looks like in the day to day?

    • Chris Pollock says:

      Hi Dylan, thank you for taking the time with the comment!

      I was just reading Steve’s blog post. How we are challenged and pushed to ‘do something’. I remember when I was a kid just standing and watching and wondering, perhaps day-dreaming a tad and hearing the voice through the clouds, “Are you just going to stand there, do something!” I get it, that action is important at times however, perhaps a vital aspect of discernment and listening closely is to ‘just stand there and do nothing’.

      Maybe we can practise this as we tour around the streets of London or when we find a free moment to just stop and think about some of the things that are going on for the people there?

  3. Greg Reich says:

    “Apart from the love of God in our lives, we are people lost at sea, without anchors…”

    As believers it is easy to take for granted the stabilizing factor that our relationship with God brings. The love of God doesn’t make us perfect or without problems but is does anchor us to a fixed point of reference. As an avid outdoor enthusiast a compass is one of my greatest companions. I like the simplicity and reliability of the compass compared to my GPS. I don’t have to worry about batteries or whether I am in a location that can allow a satellite to triangulate a reading to give direction. A compass relies on one thing, magnetic north, a fixed point of reference that never changes. To survive in todays culture with constant change and moral lines being blurred on a daily basis we all need a fixed point of reference, an anchor to hold us fast and to keep us centered. I have the privilege to preach periodically at an inner city Church of God in Christ all black church. One of the things I love is the common response I get when I ask people how they are doing. No matter the response it always starts with “Thank God for Jesus!” Thank God for Jesus, my rock, my fortress and my anchor! Without Him we as Christ followers would have a hard time being ambassadors of reconciliation.

    • Chris Pollock says:

      Jesus, our point of reference, fixed point, true north! Knowing how to use the compass out there, especially off-trails in the wilderness is key. Exploring off-trails, where others haven’t yet gone, not necessarily to make new trails but, simply to see what’s ‘out there’ can be exciting I’m sure. With Jesus, our compass for the way home at the end of the day, our very lives are set and safe. Thank God for Jesus (our way home) because, there’s such beauty to explore and learn from ‘out there’. Greg, thanks so much for commenting and helping perspective!

  4. Darcy Hansen says:

    I so appreciate your reflection. Thank you for sharing, especially the story of your co-worker with teardrop tattoos. The beauty of you simply reminding him to breathe in the moment, to settle, and trust is such a perfect reminder of moment by moment discernment amongst the fullness of our days. Your profile says you are a trail runner. Do you find greater clarity of thought and God’s Presence when you are out on the trails? And if so, how does that impact the ways you navigate the everyday of life?

  5. John McLarty says:

    There’s a certain irony about an assignment of a book that encourages us to slow our pace and open ourselves the subtle signs of God’s work around us at the very beginning of a program with a syllabus filled with dates and deadlines and other assignments on top of a long international trip and all of the logistics that come with that, not to mention all of the things that have to be done at work and home and such before such a trip can be taken…!!!

    Perhaps that’s the point.

    Thank you for the reminder to stay grounded in God’s love and to trust God to work in this process to lead me beyond just checking the assignments off of the list, but to what God truly wants me to learn on this journey.

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