Sep 19th to Sep 25th: Epilogue, Preparing for Death

Reading: Epilogue, Preparing for Death, p. 83 to 93

I am like them: weak, broken, and totally dependent. It is the place of
true poverty where God calls me blessed and says to me, “Don’t be
afraid. You are my beloved child, on whom my favor rests.” (p.87)

In our reading this week, Henri reflects on his glimpse “beyond the mirror” a few months after his recovery and then again two years later following another life-threatening illness. In the Epilogue Henri writes: “. . .now that I am again fully immersed in the complexities of daily living, I have to ask myself, ‘Can I hold on to what I learned?'” (p. 83) Henri laments “the demands of our hectic society” (p. 83) where “Competition, ambition, rivalry, and an intense desire for power and prestige seem to fill the air.” (p. 84). By the time of his accident he had found his home among the community of handicapped people and their assistants at L’Arche Daybreak. It was by sharing his life and love in community that Henri understood, “(I)n the midst of this power-hungry milieu, our community holds so much weakness and vulnerability that God continues to remind us of the love that was shown to me in the portal of death.” God’s love that was shown to Henri is given to each one of us. Henri’s core insight is that the reality of God’s love is best expressed in these five words, “You are my beloved child.”

Writing in April 1992 after another serious illness, Henri states what might be his personal creed: “I believe that my life, whether is it long or short, is a gift from God. I believe that God, who has given me life, loves me with an everlasting love. I believe that this everlasting love is stronger than death, and I believe that everything that happens during my life offers me an opportunity to let my death become a rebirth.” (p. 93)

In this final week of our September book discussion, you are invited to reflect on the entire book. Here are a few questions you might consider to help you get started, but we are most interested in whatever touched your heart..

  1. In the Foreword, Robert Durback writes: “We gaze into mirrors to see what we look like, to discover who we are.” (p. 9) How have Henri’s reflection on death and life altered the way you gaze into the mirrors in your life. What new insights have you gained?
  2. Near the end of his recovery Henri writes, “Having come to realize that my death could have been a gift to others, I now know, too, that my life still to be lived is just as much a gift. . .” (p. 79) Reflecting on Henri’s experience, can you understand how your death could be a gift to others? Are there steps you can take to live your life as a gift and to prepare for your death as a gift?
  3. In the Epilogue Henri writes, “Since you are healed and have taken on your many tasks again, much of your old restlessness and anxiety has reappeared.” (p. 83) Have you had a similar experience in your life (e.g., returning from a retreat, a peaceful vacation)? How did you counter the return of the restlessness and anxiety?
  4. What are your thoughts and reaction to Henri’s personal creed (p. 93, last paragraph). What relation might it have to your life?

If you haven’t already done so, you are encouraged to sign up for the free webinar Remembering Henri: The Gifts of a Fruitful Life that will take place this Tuesday, September 21st—the 25th anniversary of Henri’s death. Click here for more information and to register.

As we conclude this special September book discussion, I want to thank each of you that has journeyed with us. We are grateful for your presence and participation. Looking ahead, the book selection for our Advent discussion that begins on November 24th is the newly released book Community by Henri Nouwen, edited by Stephen Lazarus. We hope you will join us.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sep 12th to Sep 18th: The Surgery, The Recovery

Reading: The Surgery, The Recovery, p. 45 to 80

“In case I die, tell everyone that I feel an immense love for all the people
I have come to know. . . Tell them to celebrate with me and

be grateful for all that God has given me.” (p. 54)

In our reading last week, Henri tells us the story of the accident and his time in the hospital prior to surgery. He shares how this experience differs from those times in the past when he had “experienced immense inner anguish and turmoil” and now he “felt only peace, joy, and an all-pervading sense of security.” As we read this week, it was while he was awaiting surgery and during his recovery that Henri understood the source of his peace and joy. “(W)hat I experienced was an intensely personal presence, a presence that pushed all my fears aside and said, ‘Come, don’t be afraid. I love you.'” (p. 47)

Henri describes a deeply personal encounter with Jesus writing, “All was well. The words that summarize it all are Life and Love. But these words were incarnate in a real presence.” (p. 48) And it was during his recovery that Henri came to his life-changing insight that “the words spoken to Jesus when he was baptized are words spoken to me and to all who are brothers and sisters of Jesus.” (p. 69) And what were those words? “‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17). The words reveal the true identify of Jesus as the beloved.” (p. 68) Henri concludes describing “the great spiritual task facing me” (p. 70) and asking “whether my encounter with death has freed me enough from the addictions of the world that I can be true to my vocation as I now see it ‘sent’ from above.” (p. 74) From our vantage point three decades later, he most assuredly did—as manifest in the many books published in the last six years of his life.*

Before moving on to the discussion questions, I want to express my gratitude for the thoughtful and personal comments posted last week. I also want to acknowledge several of our regular participants including Janet, Beverly and Marge. As always, your presence and contributions are greatly appreciated. For new contributors, we’re very glad for your participation. Keep it up. For those that are following along in silence, we’re glad that you are here too. Finally, I hope that all of you will join us for our Advent book discussion that begins on Wednesday, November 24th. We will be reading the newly released book Community by Henri Nouwen, edited by Stephen Lazarus.

As always, please share your thoughts, feelings, and personal experiences related to the readings this week. What touched your heart? What spiritual insights or inspiration did you gain? How might you choose to change your life? You might consider the following:

  1. I, myself, however, kept feeling that dying was possible and that I had to prepare myself and my friends for it. (p. 46) Have you ever had a similar feeling? Please share to the extent you are willing.
  2. What most prevented me from dying was the sense of unfinished business, unresolved conflicts with people with whom I live or had lived. (p.50) Is there unfinished business in your life that keeps you from being ready to die (or at peace)? What steps can you take to resolve the situation?
  3. I realized on a very deep level that dying is the most important act of living. (p. 64) Do you agree with Henri? Why or why not. (Note: Henri discusses this idea in more detail in his book Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring.)
  4. Henri asks, Can I become like Jesus and witness to what I have seen? (p. 71) How would you respond to Henri’s question?

We look forward to your comments and another week of fruitful discussion.

May the Lord give you peace.

P.S. Be sure to register for the free webinar Remembering Henri: The Gifts of a Fruitful Life that will take place on September 21, 2021—the 25th anniversary of Henri’s death. Click here for more information and to register.

*Books published after The Recovery include: Life Of The Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World (1992), The Return Of The Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (1992), Here And Now: Living in the Spirit (1994), Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring (1994), The Inner Voice Of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom (1996), Can You Drink The Cup? (1996), Sabbatical Journey: The Diary of His Final Year (1997), Adam: God’s Beloved (1997), Bread For The Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (1997)

Sep 5th to Sep 11th: Prologue, The Accident, The Hospital

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.

  1. “(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?
  2. “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.”
  3. “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.
  4. “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,