Reading: Prologue, The Accident, The Hospital, p. 15 to 42
My accident brought me to the portal of death and led me to a new experience
of God. Not writing about it would have been unfaithful to my vocation
to proclaim the presence of God at all times and in all places.
Prologue, p. 15
Thank you for all the wonderful introductions as we gathered. We welcome friends old and new from across North America and United Kingdom to our virtual community for this special book discussion as we prepare for the 25th anniversary of Henri’s death. We are enriched by your participation and the presence of those who are following along silently.
No one can accuse Henri Nouwen of burying the lede. In the excerpt from the first paragraph of the prologue shown above, Henri clearly states why he wrote this little book. Henri felt compelled to share this new experience of God—an experience that influenced him and his writing for the remainder of his life. In our reading this week, Henri tells us the backstory that led to the accident, he reflects on why he writes, and he describes the events of Thursday, January 26, 1989 from when he left his house at 6:00 a.m. until early-evening in the hospital intensive care unit in critical condition with five broken ribs and a bleeding spleen. More important, Henri shares how his state of mind changes from stubborn determination, anxiety, and anger before the accident; to powerlessness in its immediate aftermath; to one of “peace, joy, and an all-pervading sense of security” (p. 42) despite the danger of losing his life.
You are encouraged to share and discuss whatever came up for you in the readings. You are also welcome to share your reflections and insights prompted by the comments of others. Here are a few questions that may help to start the discussion, but please don’t feel bound by them.
- “(I)t has been the interruptions to my everyday life that have most revealed to me the divine mystery of which I am a part.” (p. 15) Henri goes on to say that these interruptions “invited me to look in a new way at my identify before God.” (p. 16)
Have there been interruptions in your life that have “presented themselves as opportunities” (p. 16) for your personal and spiritual growth? What was your response and the outcome?
- “It had been a very busy week, filled with many little things, none of them terribly important, but still taking up every hour of my time and leaving me quite tired, even somewhat irritated. There never seemed to be the space to come into direct contact with my own inner source.” (p. 24)
How does Henri’s experience compare with your own? What do you do when facing similar circumstances? What steps do you take to come in contact with your “inner source.”
- “I felt as if some strong hand had stopped me and forced me into some kind of necessary surrender (p. 31). . . I realized that the mirror of the passing van had forced me to look at myself in a radically new way.” (p. 38)
Have you had a similar experience in your life? If so, please share to the extent you are comfortable.
- “I had become truly ‘passive.’ . . . . I expected this new situation to be extremely frustrating. But the opposite occurred. . . . I had a completely unexpected sense of security.” (p. 39) Why do you think Henri responded in this way? How would you respond?
We have a rich week of discussion ahead. The thoughts and insights you share are the heartbeat of every Henri Nouwen book discussion. We look forward to hearing from you.
Peace and all good,