August 3rd to 9th: Conclusion & Epilogue

Reading: Conclusion–The Answer & Epilogue–One Cup, One Body
“As we drink the cup, we drink the cup that Jesus drank, but we also drink our cup.”

We have been on an incredible and spirit-filled summer journey together, and I am deeply grateful to each and every person who has travelled with us, both actively and silently.  We have all been blessed by your participation, your sharing, and your prayers.

And as we complete our journey, it is important to take the time to reflect on the experience to see where we have been, to treasure what we learned, and to understand how we have grown so that our time together with Henri as our guide may be truly memorable and, perhaps, even life changing.

In my professional life I am often called on to prepare PowerPoint®  presentations that attempt to show in a few words the highlights of work we accomplished (note: work that is never as meaningful, enlightening, or rewarding as reading and reflecting on the the writing of Henri Nouwen).   It occurred to me this week that Henri himself poses Jesus’ question “Can you drink the cup?” and then he provides us with the PowerPoint highlights of his answer if we simply use his chapter titles.

We can drink the cup that Jesus drank by…

  • Holding… The Cup of Sorrow …The Cup of Joy
  • Lifting… The Cup of Blessings… To Life
  • Drinking… The Cup of Salvation… To the Bottom

Like many things in the spiritual world, it is both that simple and that difficult.   Henri reminds us that Jesus’ question will have a different meaning for us every day of our lives and he asks, “Can we embrace fully the sorrows and joys that come to us day after day?”  Then Henri assures us that if make the commitment and persevere in the three disciplines  “…we are transformed into the one body of the living Christ, always dying and always rising for the salvation of the world.”

I invite you to take some time to look back over our time together and remember the most important things you learned or heard in your reflections.   If you are willing, please share with us the one or two things that you really want to take with you and integrate more fully into your life from here on in.

In closing I would like to thank Maureen at the Henri Nouwen Society, regular book discussion facilitator Brynn Lawrence, and in a special way each of you for making this summer discussion such a rewarding experience for us all.  If you have found this to be worthwhile, I encourage you to participate in the next book discussion this Advent.

And in the words of St. Francis, “May the Lord give you peace.”


August 8th Update:  As we come to the end of the final week of our discussion I once again want to thank each of you that travelled with us on this spirit-filled journey.   It has been a blessing to read and reflect on the heartfelt sharings.  I have spent this week at the Deer Valley YMCA Family Camp with my wife Dawn, my daughter, son-in-law and three grandsons.  This was my 11th summer here.  I was led to Deer Valley in 2004 at a very difficult time in my life–and the experience of returning each year has been transformative.    We are Week 8 campers and we have a very special summer “community” here.   Arts and crafts is one of the many family-friendly activities at DV.  In 2004 I painted a bisque cup that I later realized accurately portrayed the challenges I was facing at that time.  This year–10 years later–I am in a much different and better place, and sharing the  writing of Henri Nouwen in online discussions with people like each of you on this journey had a lot to do with it.  So I decided to paint another bisque cup that illustrated where I hope I am heading on my spiritual journey.  It is shown in the photo below.

Thanks again for your presence and participation.


July 27th to August 2nd: Drinking the Cup

Reading:  Part Three— Drinking the Cup
I shall take up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. (Psalm 116:13)

Henri beautifully captures the shared experience of this extraordinary online community when he writes: “When we are fully committed to the spiritual adventure of drinking  our cup to the bottom, we will soon discover that people who are on the same journey will offer themselves to us for encouragement and friendship and love.  It has been my most blessed experience that God sends wonderful friends…”  Thus far on our journey we have held our cup–and seen our joys hidden in our sorrows in the cup of blessings; and we have lifted our cup–for the community to see and celebrate the cup of life.   This week Henri encourages us to drink the cup of salvation to the bottom and he offers three disciplines to lead us to this spiritual freedom.

Here are three thoughts you may find helpful to begin unpacking the reading.  As always, please feel free to respond to any of the ideas below, to share your reflections on something that touched you,  or to read and reflect silently.  We are blessed by your presence.

1.  Henri writes, “Spiritual greatness has nothing to do with being greater than others… True sanctity is precisely drinking our own cup and trusting that by thus fully claiming our own, irreplaceable journey, we can become a source of hope for many.”  (p. 89)  Sounding a similar theme, Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”  Consider your own journey–the joys and the sorrows–and reflect on those times when you did small things with great love and became a source of hope for those whose lives you touched.

2.  Henri tells us, “Jesus drank the cup of his life… He knew that drinking the cup would bring him freedom, glory, and wholeness” and offer all humanity the promise of salvation and life everlasting.   Consequently, Henri can confidently write, “Drinking the cup of salvation means emptying the cup of sorrow and joy so that God can fill it with pure life.”   This “pure life” is real freedom from our addictions, compulsions, and obsessions, or our self-indulgence.   Henri reminds us that “…this freedom comes to us every time we drink from the cup of life, whether a little or much.”    Look back on your life experiences and examine those times when you chose to drink from the cup of life you were holding at the time and identify and be grateful for the freedom that resulted from your choice.    How did God take the cup that you emptied and fill it with pure life?

3.  At the outset of this crucial chapter, Henri writes: “It is important, however, to be very specific when we deal with the question, ‘How do we drink the cup?’  We need some very concrete disciplines… to find in them our unique way to spiritual freedom…  the discipline of silence, the discipline of the word, and the discipline of action.”   Henri emphasizes that these are the disciplines we should follow to “drink our cup of salvation.” Prayerfully reflect on Henri’s description of each of the three disciplines and assess how well you are are living that discipline today.   For each discipline, identify the areas where you are the most comfortable and self-assured in your practice of that discipline and how that leads you to spiritual freedom.   Then consider the uncertainties, insecurities, or questions you may have in the practice of each discipline.  What concrete, specific steps can you take to make the practice of that discipline a more meaningful part of you life?  You might write those steps down for yourself and place them at the foot of the cross to ask Jesus for assistance.

We are all called to drink the cup.  Henri Nouwen points the way.  We look forward to hearing from you this week.

July 29th Update: Maureen at the Henri Nouwen Society found the photograph of Henri and his close friend Trevor (see Chapter 5) shown below.  Enjoy!

Henri Nouwen and his close friend Trevor.
“When you’re happy and you know it… lift your glass.” 

WithTrevor1987 (1)May the Lord give you the same peace that Henri found with his friends at Daybreak.


July 20th to July 26th: Lifting the Cup

Reading:  Part Two — Lifting the Cup
We lift the cup of life, to affirm our life together and celebrate it as a gift from God.

The beautiful, poignant, and compassionate sharing among those gathered here has already demonstrated that we are, as Henri writes, willing to “…lift up our cup in a fearless gesture, proclaiming that we will support each other in our common journey…”    In this virtual space we are already creating community.    This week Henri challenges us to grow in our understanding of the nature of community and its importance to the spiritual life using three memorable examples.

1.  According to Henri, “Community is a fellowship of people who do not hide their joys and sorrows but make them visible to each other in a gesture of hope.”  And what does community look like?  He uses the example of “one big mosaic portraying the face of Christ…(where) each little stone is indispensable and makes a unique contribution to the glory of God.”

Mosaic icon of “Christ Pantocrator”  in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul (Details shown at left) Source: Wikimedia Commons
Mosaic icon of “Christ Pantocrator” in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul (Details shown at left)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Henri reminds us, “…when we live our life for others we not only claim our individuality but also proclaim our unique place in the mosaic of the human family.”  Then he asks a probing question:  “Do we have a circle of worthy friends where we feel safe enough to be intimately known and called to an always greater maturity?”   Henri concludes, “We need community, a community in which confession and celebration are always present together.  We have to be willing to let others know us if we want them to celebrate life with us.”

In this section you might review Henri’s words and the mosaic as they may apply to your life experience.    Look at the groups to which you belong, and consider which of them are communities as described here.   Reflect on the times when you have lifted the cup of your life with those communities and the blessings that you have received.   Looking ahead, are you prepared to trust in the love of God and “…willing to let others know us”  so that true community can result?  What steps have you taken or can you take to build community in you life?

2.  Henri illustrates the power of community by telling the wonderful story of lunch with Trevor.   According to Henri, “Trevor’s toast radically changed the mood in the Golden Room…. Trevor did what nobody else could have done.  He transformed a group of strangers into a community of love by his simple, unself-conscious blessing.”
You might want to think about the players in this story — Henri, the hospital chaplain, the hospital staff, Trevor, and each of us as the readers.  How do the various players view and experience community?  What do we learn about them, and ourselves, as the story unfolds?  Did you develop any new insights about community?

3.  Henri concludes his reflection on “Lifting the Cup” with the example of Bill’s Life Story Book.  Henri writes of Bill, “Over the years he has created a life worth living.”  Henri describes the celebration of Bill’s life that accompanied the completion of Bill’s book.  He asks us to look at our own lives and dare to say, “I am grateful for all that has happened to me and led me to this moment.”  Moreover, he challenges us to “take all we have ever lived and bring it to the present moment as a gift for others, a gift to celebrate.”
To begin you reflection you could consider the celebration of Bill’s Life Story Book.  Then take a look at your life experience. How have you created a life worth living?  Reflect on your life–the joys and the sorrows–and lift it up, ponder it, and find cause for celebration and gratitude.

Once again, the reading this week is deceptively simple and rich in meaning.  The three topics just discussed are merely suggested reflections for your consideration.  We are interested in your comments on these suggestions or something that touched you.  Of course, you are also welcome to follow along silently.  We are blessed by your presence.

May the Lord give you peace.