March 21st to 27th: Lent Week 5 – Adam, Lorenzo, Vacation with Father, Flying With the Rodleighs, and Nathan

Reading: May 19 to July 31 entries, pages 168 to 207

The love of God, neighbor, and self is one love. This great commandment
is a call to the most profound unity, in which God, God’s people,
and we ourselves are part of one love. June 6, p. 179

In our readings this week, as we near the end of our Lent journey, Henri continues to travel extensively, write regularly, meet with friends both old and new, vacation with his father, visit the Flying Rodleighs, and celebrate the Eucharist daily–all while anticipating the end of his sabbatical and his return to L’Arche Daybreak. Henri’s life sounds exciting, fulfilling, and exhausting, as Henri himself readily acknowledges.

But in the entry for July 31 we learn there is more. Henri tells “my best friend” Nathan that he has been plagued by anxiety for the past several month. And then he writes, “I somehow wonder how I am going to survive emotionally.” (p. 207) Perhaps Henri’s frenetic pace and seeming need or desire to be “always in the center of things” is a response to his anxiety and a way for him survive emotionally. This likely took a terrible toll, knowing as we do, that Henri died less than two months later from a massive cardiac arrest. Of course, Henri knew nothing about this. He was planning with his friends “on what to do with our lives between sixty and eighty” (p. 168) and wondering “where we will be and what we will be talking about five years from now.” (p. 204)

As is always the case, there is much to reflect upon in our reading this week. You are invited to comment on whatever touched your heart. Or you may choose to consider one of more of the following excepts that were meaningful to me.

  • In the entry for May 20 (p. 170), in response to Jim’s question about what is most important life, Henri said, “Well, three things: living a vision inspired by the Gospel of Jesus; being close to the poor, the handicapped, the sick, and the dying; and finding a way to satisfy my deep yearning for intimacy and affection.” (Note: Henri’s “three things” answer is typical Henri. He grouped his ideas into groups of three points.) What is most important in your life?
  • On the Feast of the Visitation (May 31st), Henri writes, “I can hardly think about a better way to understand friendship, care, and love than “the way of the visitation.” In a world so full of shame and guilt, we need to visit each other and offer each other a safe place where we can claim our freedom and celebrate our gifts.” (p. 176). How have you experienced the “way of the visitation” in your life?
  • Following a dinner party on July 25th where the influence of politics and religion was discussed, Henri wrote, “For me it is not a question of how we can most influence others. What matters is our vocation. To what or whom are we called? When we make the effect of our work the criterion of our sense of self, we end up very vulnerable. Both the political and ministerial life can be responses to a call. Both too can be ways to acquire power. The final issue is not the result of our work but the obedience to God’s will, as long as we realize that God’s will is the expression of God’s love. (p. 205) How are Henri’s words relevant to the role and influence of politics and religion our world today?

As we have done throughout Lent, you might consider using the process shown below to guide your reflection.

  1. For the journal entries mentioned above or any others that stand out to you, consider:
    1. The experience, thought, or concept that stands out to you
    2. How does it relates to your personal experience?  Look at your experience with the benefit of Henri’s insight.  Does that help you to see things differently or to know yourself better?
    3. What is God speaking to your heart through Henri’s experience and words? How have you been touched, inspired, challenged, and comforted on your spiritual journey.
    4. How you will respond?  Carefully (prayerfully) consider how your heart responds to the insights you gained. Are there small steps you can take to incorporate these insights and to move toward spiritual freedom in your life?  What changes will you make?
  2. Please share your reflection and insights with the group to the degree you are comfortable.

We look forward to another week of fruitful discussions. Be blessed and be well.
Ray

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27 Responses to March 21st to 27th: Lent Week 5 – Adam, Lorenzo, Vacation with Father, Flying With the Rodleighs, and Nathan

  1. Ray Glennon says:

    Friends,
    I have just re-read all of your entries for this week. It is a privilege and a joy to share my Lenten journey with a group of spirit-filled and insightful Henri Nouwen readers such as yourselves. It is through people like you that Henri’s enlivening words continue to speak to the world today. You have enriched my Lent and my appreciation of Henri’s Sabbatical (or not-Sabbatical, thanks Sandra) Journey.

    We have one more week to reflect together. Don’t forget to check back on Sunday, March 28th for a final post as we begin Holy Week.

    Blessings,
    Ray

  2. Marybeth says:

    Thanks again to all who have shared! These weeks have gone too fast… but reading your comments along with Fr. Henri’s fast moving Sabbatical has given me a time to keep close in my journey, and deepen my spiritual path. I’ve been thinking about Ray’s question from the journal entry on July 25, about how Henri’s words are relevant to the role and influence of politics and religion today. “What matters is our vocation. To what or whom are we called?” My first thought was that (in most instances) we don’t “call” to ourselves, so it comes from something other than our finite selves, right? I believe a true calling is from God! The details may be influenced by our own tendencies, but rooted in God’s Love, thus following Jesus’s path of compassion, caring for others, helping them and our planet as servant leaders in many occupations. Not to acquire power, but to be “obedient to Gods Will in the “expression of “God’s Love” as we work in our various professions. I know from a young age that I wanted to help people and I believe that God has guided my path along the way.

    How can Fr Henri’s words be relevant in the roles of politics and religion in our world today? I looked back through this week’s reading and found entries where Fr Henri mentioned vocation: May 19 “What does it mean to be faithful to my vocation? Does it ask me for the courage to move in new directions even when doing so may be disappointing for some people?” June 1 Lorenzo’s life and vocation “fruitful because it was taken in great faith and with deep love…. reveals God’s gentle guidance in our lives” June 3 “He is gentle, kind, faithful and upright in everything he says and does… a man of stability, determination, and clear goals… that simplicity is one of his main characteristics.” July 2 Igor Sikorsky “against all odds… with incredible tenacity and will power… If I could be half as determined in realizing my vocation as Igor was in realizing his dream- I would be able to help a lot of people to fly!!” July 29 “Bill is a professional listener… a great desire to offer vision to the American culture… humble man truly interested in other people and more concerned with service than fame.” I see these attributes as the qualities that leaders of today, both political and spiritual, will shine forth when their work, as vocation, is a True Calling. And it’s clear that Fr Henri knew a lot of such people. Those who strive for power will be unveiled; And hopefully the eyes of the people will be opened to see that Truth… in the fruits. May 25 “Jesus answers, Don’t worry about all that. Trust me, follow me, and all will be well” The world of politics and religion are never ending, it is in our faith and hope that God and good prevails

  3. Nicola Santamaria says:

    Since others have mentioned Henri’s preference for ‘threes’ I am going to mention three entries that resonated with me this week.
    First on May 31st, the Visitation, he says “In a world so full of shame and guilt, we need to visit each other and offer each other a safe place where we can claim our freedom and celebrate our gifts.” This reminds me how much I am missing the company of close friends because we have not been able to meet for so long. Yes we keep in touch on WhatsApp but it’s not the same as meeting face-to-face. From 29th March we can meet up to 5 other people (it’s called the rule of 6) in an outdoor space. I am hoping that the weather will be kind to us.
    Second, on June the 5th Henri, whose life was so full of activity, realises that “Simplicity is finding pleasure and enjoyment in the small and ordinary things of life. Simplicity is the total surrender to that inner core where the spirit of each being exists. It enables us to experience being part of creation and its beauty.” I am glad that during Lockdown I have been able to take pleasure from simple things like Spring flowers blooming in the sunshine.
    Third, again on the subject of simplicity Henri writes:
    “How then can we prevent ourselves from being so ” wise and intelligent” that we are not truly free to let the simple but difficult message of Jesus penetrate our hearts? How can we become “infants” who witness to God’s love?” (July 17th)
    I am still not sure how to answer this question in my own life. I am very drawn to people who are wise and intelligent. I am inspired by clever rhetoric. I like grappling with learned and clever arguments. It is a challenge for me to become an infant again.

  4. Sandra Dickau says:

    I have loved reading everyones entries, there is so much to ponder in all your postings. I am somewhat gobsmacked that tomorrow is the beginning of Holy Week. Time has flown.

    I found it interesting that this book was chosen for Lent. Like LA I am exhausted
    reading Henri’s diary. That is one Sabbatical disaster if you ask me. Perhaps I have a romanticised view about such things. When I go to the Genesee Abbey in UpState New York for a week of silent retreat and writing keeping the rhythms of the monks -days in praying lots, eating some, playing some, working some- THAT is an approach to a sabbatical. Henri jammed sooooooo much into his life, his inability to say no and his hunger to belong, satiating his need for acceptance was his nemisis.
    (I am curious to hear others thoughts on my comments above)

    So now my reflections on the parts of Henri’s offerings in this book that resonate, inspire and challenge me this week. June 6, I have read this over and over this week and wrote on this in my journal. What is it to love God, self the other- our neighbours, family, friends? On Wednesday I sat in my living room after work – a rare very warm Spring day- I think every neighbour in our 8 house cul-de-sac was outside. Chatting, children riding bikes, chasing our little white fluffy dog, raking, clipping. My partner was also out there , pruning, and as I was pondering Henri’s words – “First when we direct our whole beings toward God, we will find our neighbour and ourselves in the heart of God.” Really?? How??? As I sat and observed each person out on my court and reflected on the life God has given me, where our home is, the deep love of God for me (the hinge-pin of being able to love at all) I had a glimmer of it all coming together for a brief whiff. An ah ha- ok I get it, I see how it all hangs together- God loves me, I love me, I love others- ONE LOVE. The mystics (who I am pretty sure didn’t live in Toronto, and have to sit on the Gardiner Expressway in rush hour grid lock and work 10 hours a day etc…) had time to ponder and maybe lived in this love for more than a whiff, a glimmer a day.
    How was Henri able then to find the depth of the profound in his seemingly crazy frenetic life portrayed in the ‘not-Sabbital Journey’ (my nickname for the book). The Eucharist! I surmise this grounded him every day back to the heart of God.
    One last musing- when I watched my neighbours and my partner outside I found it easy to love my neighbour- they are at arms length, my partner however who walked in the house with muddy shoes- well that’s a whole different story 🙂 Lest you think I don’t love my partner of 39 years – I do.

    So I give Bob Marley the last word:
    One love, one heart
    Lets get together and feel alright
    As it was in the beginning (One love)
    So it shall be in the end (One heart)
    Alright, “Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right”

    • Barry Sullivan says:

      Hi Sandra,
      I loved your musings as you reflected on the readings. Yes, I can agree that it seems much easier to “love our neighbor” in the abstract, while nagging our partner who has just walked in our clean house with muddy shoes!

      Your nickname for Henri’s book, ‘not-Sabbitical Journey,’ is a good one. I too am amazed (and alarmed) by his frenetic pace at the same time he seeks time for solitude, prayer, and writing. This is made even more alarming when we know that death was waiting at the door. The “I am so tired” entries reminds all of us that our bodies may be trying to tell us something. But that was Henri, and without his particular tendencies we may not have all the insights from his books and articles.

      Thanks
      Barry

    • Nicola Santamaria says:

      Several times I have been amazed that Henri could call this time a Sabbatical. How many weddings does he go to? How many flights does he take? These days we are so used to hearing that flying is bad for the planet yet Henri thinks nothing of jumping on a plane one day to fly to Toronto, or New York, or wherever, and then flying back the next day, or very soon after. He was a real jet-setter and he was on Sabbatical!

  5. Connie says:

    On July 31st Henri wrote “Today at the Eucharist we talked about the Kingdom of God as a reality among us. The Kingdom of God is at hand, at our fingertips. Jesus calls us to repent, which means to have a contrite heart, a heart broken open by the plow of suffering, a heart able to receive the seed of the Kingdom, a heart able to see the treasure in the field, a heart capable of hearing the soft voice of love. Even though we live in a violent world, full of hatred and war, we can already enter the Kingdom now and belong to a community of faith, hope, and love.”
    This entry stood out because I so want to enter the Kingdom of God and create a distance from our violent world full of hatred and war. In reality I am far from the violence, hatred, and war but feel as if I’m in its midst every time I turn on the news I have been fortunate to of belonged to a few small groups who shared meals, prayers and good conversations and can understand the growing attendance at Henri’s morning Eucharist. I signed on for this Lenten book study as a means of finding such community and will miss it when we are done.

  6. Mary Roth says:

    I just want to thank everyone for their reflections . You bring to my attention introspections that I did not see. This is my second time reading the Sabbatical Journey and noticed where I have dog eared {!} certain pages from the past reading.
    I am a week behind and what Henri has made me realize is how thin I have spread myself out. I committed to do too much for this Lent and in doing so have not completely delved into anything. I have a few days and Holy Week to really center myself into Drinking From This Cup and enriching my relationship as the Beloved
    Also I like Henry get easily hurt by friends and appreciated his introspection on his relationships. I so relish his openness in writing about his sensitivities.

  7. LA says:

    I am exhausted just reading about Henri’s many friends, trips, and luggage, events,etc that I have lost count! No wonder he was tired all the time. He had become sort of a celebrity and so many wanted to be with him. He couldn’t say NO! Again and again Henri expresses how tired he was and his desire to have time for his passion to write. Did all this busyness cause his anxiety?
    I list examples:
    December 8 “I realize on these trips how much I miss solitude and time to write.”
    April 8 “I am still planning much more than is good for me.”
    May 15 “the year has been different from my expectations and has been one of the busiest and most involved years I can remember.”
    May18 “traveling gives me a rubbery feeling inside, a feeling of belonging nowhere.”
    June 12 “the constant going from place to place somehow makes me lose my sense of belonging and gives me a feeling of alienation.”
    June 13 “can’t get rid of my fatigue….”I just want to be alone, sleep, pray, and write.
    But I’m always in the center of things. I can’t just be a simple guest who is too tired to show up for an event. I am not sure what my problem is.”
    July 31st. “I sometimes wonder how I am going to survive emotionally.”

    Also through the book he mentions the Rodleighs and their importance to him.
    July 11 “being with the Rodleighs is one of the ways for me to experience relaxation and restoration”
    I quote the following from “Writings” By Henri and Robert Jonas
    “One day, I was sitting with Rodleigh, the leader of the troupe, in his caravan, talking about flying. He said, ‘As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher. The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump.’ ‘How does it work?’ I asked. ‘The secret,’ Rodleigh said, ‘is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me safely over the apron behind the catchbar.’
    ” ‘You do nothing!’ I said, surprised. ‘Nothing,’ Rodleigh repeated. ‘The worst thing the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher. I am not supposed to catch Joe. It’s Joe’s task to catch me. If I grabbed Joe’s wrists, I might break them, or he might break mine, and that would be the end for both of us. A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him.’
    “When Rodleigh said this with so much conviction, the words of Jesus flashed through my mind: ‘Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.’ Dying is trusting in the catcher. To care for the dying is to say, ‘Don’t be afraid. Remember that you are the beloved child of God. He will be there when you make your long jump. Don’t try to grab him; he will grab you. Just stretch out your arms and hands and trust, trust, trust.’ ”

    Finally on July 10th he was able to grab the bar and make a swing himself.

    • Connie says:

      For anyone who might be interested, the Santa Monica Pier actually has a trapeze that people can sign up for a session on. I never really understood the appeal until now.

  8. Elaine M says:

    Perhaps one of the most impactful passages in the whole book is Henri’s empathetic response to the image of the defeated goalkeeper: “All his past performances will be forgotten in light of the one mistake” that cost a victory for his team, his past accomplishments now paling in comparison. In today’s world, that one error would be replayed endlessly on sports talk shows and social media, where the player would be subject to the rude comments and “thumbs down” ratings of perhaps thousands of people. Would his manager, teammates, and fans forgive him and help him to put the defeat in proper perspective? Would he allow himself to be ruled by public opinion, and could he forgive himself? My first thoughts are these: Do we instantly rush to judgment, or do we give people the benefit of the doubt? Do we take the time to get the full picture? Do we offer comfort and consolation and attempt to salvage the self-esteem of family members, friends, and associates who are psychologically beating themselves up over their presumed failures?

    As someone who is prone, especially in the last stages of my own life, to fixate too much on some of my failings, the second part of Henri’s commentary provides much needed inspiration and consolation: “God and only God knows us in our essence, loves us well, forgives us fully, and remembers us for who we truly are” (p. 189). If I err, do I ask for forgiveness? If I err, do I try to do better the next time? Do I live with the INTENTION of doing what is right in the eyes of God?

  9. Sherman Bishop says:

    The journal entries for June 19 and 20 hold a common theme. On the first of these days Henri addressed a group of Catholic laymen who had been meeting for 20 years as a spiritual support group. Their response to Henri’s presentation prompted, “Good questions … such as, How should I pray? How can I keep focused on God? How can we live spiritual lives when we have very competitive jobs? What disciplines can be of help?”. Henri wrote of the bond he felt between himself and these men, and the wish that he might be able to know them better. The next day he met with church leaders, in this case the deans of the Utrecht archdiocese, and spoke to them of “prayer, community, and ministry in the context of my own life”. Again there were good questions indicating an interest in this topic.
    What struck me was the similarity of interest between a committed group of the laity in following Jesus and deepening their experience of God, and a group of church professionals in the same topic. This life of connecting with God is indeed a mystery, and we perhaps never outgrow our desire to experience the Divine more deeply. As many others have written this week about the command of Jesus, that we love God completely, may be most relevant here. What is the desire to experience this connection with God other than our need to be loved. This is perhaps the “emptiness” in ourselves that can only be filled by God. Are our efforts and experiences of prayer, finding community and doing ministry in the world merely three expressions of our deepest need of being drawn to love the One who loves us?

  10. Sharon K. Hall says:

    I have experienced “the visitation” in my life. Just re-read the scripture from Luke and I must admit that seeing it from Henri’s observations make me appreciate much more deeply how relevant it has been in my life. And what particularly strikes me about Henri Nouwen’s observations is the possible abuse in the story without any good reason. “Both (Mary and Elizabeth) feel misunderstood.” “And the women themselves, do they know? Hardly. They are puzzled, confused, and somewhat lost.” “Two women who felt oppressed and isolated suddenly realize their greatness and are free to celebrate their blessing.” I still have vivid memories of my mother having what she called a “menopause” baby and how full of shame she was, believing that people everywhere were gossiping about her. And yet it was a very natural blessing from God and hard to understand why there was so much sensitivity to late pregnancies then. It’s interesting when people feel stigmas about anything having to do with the body, the world is often hostile to bodies, Black bodies, now Asian bodies, Jewish bodies and certainly differently gender expressions bodies and feelings of shame can be based on no real reality but simply on as Henri Nouwen writes “suspicious voices and angry looks.” I think that is why people do gather with others who offer understanding, affirmation, and love because no one can do well in a hostile environment for very long. We all need those visitation oases. Always hope it’s getting better but then some violence against a specific group of people will arise and cause me to despair some about humanity again. That journal entry is a very good description of Mary and Elizabeth that I hadn’t thought so much about before.

    • Elaine M says:

      Sharon, your insights and Henri’s have put an entirely different spin on the story of Mary and Elizabeth. Traditionally we were to see the story of Mary’s selflessness, that, despite her own pregnancy, she traveled to tend to the needs of her older pregnant cousin (with the additional important lesson for us that Elizabeth acknowledged Mary’s unborn child for who he really was). As a teenager, I was reminded of other teens, who, like Mary, left town for a relative’s house when they discovered they were pregnant. I remember pregnant married teachers being asked to quit their jobs before the pregnancy became obvious. As a young adult, I found it interesting that Mary sought the company of another pregnant woman rather than Joseph as she attempted to sort out the mystery of what was happening to her and in her.

      Sharon, your commentary on attitudes about the body also brings to mind Susan Sontag’s book ILLNESS AS METAPHOR in which she challenges age-old thinking that diseases like cancer were somehow an indictment of the “cancer victim.” I am reminded of the “gospel of prosperity” and the accompanying indictment of the poor as being “less blessed” by God. Your focus on society’s “hostility to the body” just shakes me to my core as I think of the suffering both psychological and physical, the judgements, the discriminations imposed on those who don’t meet certain acceptable physical and social standards. I am heartened that more people today are telling their stories, claiming their identity, proclaiming their worth, and finding others who are willing to stand with them. I love that you see such moments of solidarity as “visitation oases.” I fervently pray that there will be more of them!

  11. Sandra Dickau says:

    I have found all the entries here very thought provoking and I appreciate the openness to share our struggles in our human frailty. Along with this practice of the bookclub I have been listening to James Findlay on the mystics.
    Along with a creative practice journal.
    The convergence of all 3 has been the beginning of what I expect to be a a jolt in my spiritual growth. My pattern is I drift along and then have these leaps in understanding of love/Christ/ the duality of our lives all intertwined with true self vs false self.
    Like some of you I am in my 60’s working as a Director in a busy Toronto hospital. I am constantly asking ” What is most important in my life?” My partner of 39 years is a minister and we talk of these things often.
    So for me how I would answer that question as I ponder from one of Henri’s earlier entries- “Can you drink the cup?” I am landing on the following:
    Embracing love/God in the everyday of life
    Nurturing the deep bonds of family, friends- our community of people
    Serving others as God leads- the little tiny things, the big things we are lead to respond to
    Create daily- we are made as creatives- God in us- this gives us and God deep pleasure- (paint/dance/sing/write/garden and on and on and on it goes)

    • Marybeth says:

      Thank you, Sandra. I’m going to write those very important words in my journal as a reminder and guide for when I begin to go astray, trying to do too much, and at times forgetting the things that really matter…

  12. Neil Fraser says:

    In the June 30th entry there seemed to be parallels between the Rodleigh troupe and the Czech goalkeeper. Both touched his heart. Though he did not seem drawn (or simply didn’t have an opportunity) to meet the goalie, or write about him. Both situations did make him think about his own life, and life lessons for himself and many others.

    Toward the end of his sabbatical, Henri was at a real peace concerning his multiple desires for deep fellowship, Eucharist, and ministry to people as well as solitude, prayer, reading, and writing.

  13. Barry Sullivan says:

    Greetings to all!
    I will note three diary entries that, at least for me, are closely related and important to my goals as a Christian.

    This first one is from May 20 entry (p. 170) and mentioned by Ray, where Henri responds to Jim’s question about what is most important in his life. Henri’s first of three points: “Living a vision inspired by the Gospel of Jesus…”

    This connects to the June 2 entry about the Trinity. I know we discussed this briefly last week as well, but the Gospel vision and Trinity are related. As Henri explains the mystery of the Trinity, “all human relationships are reflections of the relationships within God. God is the Lover, the Beloved, and the Love that binds us in unity. God invites us to be part of that inner movement of love so that we can truly become sons and daughters of the Father, sisters and brothers of the Son, and spouses of the Holy Spirit” (pp. 177-178). This concept of “loving relationship” is a key (maybe the key) vision of the Gospel.

    Finally, following Henri’s pattern of “threes,” the third entry I connect with the central Gospel message or vision is from his reflections on Jesus’ Great Commandment on June 6 (p. 179). See Mark 12:29-31. As Henri notes, “The love of God, neighbor, and self is one love. This great commandment is a call to the most profound unity, in which God, God’s people, and we ourselves are part of one love.”

    Living out the profound Gospel vision of unity by reflecting the loving relationship of the Triune God seems to me the goal of all Christians. In our time of deep polarization, when we can’t even seem to agree on basic scientific facts or clear Gospel messages (such as loving God and neighbor as ourselves), these three diary entries provide foundational spiritual guidance.

    Thanks
    Barry

    • Marybeth says:

      Thanks Barry! I really like the way you put those (3) diary entries together for a wonderful conclusion of the Gospel vision and a life offered to all Christians today. Our world is so divided these days, and unity, love and true relationship certainly could be the keys for a better future… How did we get so lost?

      • Barry Sullivan says:

        Good morning, Marybeth!
        Thanks for you kind comments. We have indeed, it seems, lost our way in many ways. The divisions have been around for a long time, of course, but in my humble opinion, they have become much worse in the past four years as certain politicians (federal and state levels) sought to seek ardent support from their constituents if they could create fear and hatred directed at others.
        Anyway, let’s pray for a return to the true Gospel message (loving God and others), which was so eloquently advocated by Henri.
        Blessings!
        Barry

  14. Sherman Bishop says:

    I sat down early this Sunday morning to read Henri’s journal. I found myself unable to move beyond the May 19th entry. “What (should we) do with our lives between sixty and eighty?”. I am also in my 60’s, but had not framed that question for myself. I was forced into retirement last fall, not because a job ended, but because it ended while I was beginning to live with cancer. I’m 67 and work has always been important. I intended to continue that for another couple of years at least, but suddenly found myself existing in another reality. What plans I had for the first experience of retirement were unavailable because of the pandemic, and then there was the disease diagnosis that brought definition to my schedule in terms of medical appointments and treatments.
    Henri’s struggle with the question of what to do in this stage of life seems to orbit around the tension of what others expect of him, and the pull of something new, formed by new questions he is asking, but perhaps not wanting to answer. He writes, “So I find myself asking, ‘What is my responsibility to the world around me, and what is my responsibility to myself? What does it mean to be faithful to my vocation? Does it require that I be consistent with my earlier way of living or thinking, or does it ask for the courage to move in new directions, even when doing so may be disappointing for some people?’” I wonder if, when we find ourselves wrestling with powerful questions such as this, if it is the Spirit with whom we are contending. Could Henri here be truly wrestling with God, with the outcome perhaps to be given a new name, which marks the beginning of a new way to follow God in this moment? (i.e. Jacob to Israel, Henri to ???)
    Our culture strongly suggests that in our sixties we will retire and “start enjoying our golden years”. Not always an easy decision when one has enjoyed and found fulfillment in one’s working years. One in his/her sixties can likely anticipate another decade or two or three of relatively good health, enough energy to strike out on a new path, and a life time of experience to make it a fruitful journey. Even with my cancer diagnosis, that is true for me. (My cancer is not curable, but all the doctors say it is very treatable, and should be looked at as a chronic illness.). For me, the treatments have interrupted my work, and have given me the perfect opportunity to try something new. But I identify with Henri’s struggle. That “opportunity for the new” is powerful, but so is the (self-imposed?) expectations of so many others. Starting over is far from easy, and itself a step of great courage.
    I so resonate with Henri’s questions: “How can I be free enough and let the questions emerge without fearing the consequences? I know I am not yet completely free because the fear is still there.“ And so I wonder what will become of me? And what might have become of Henri had he had all those years between sixty and eighty?

    • Neil Fraser says:

      I am in my sixties, and had a major life transition around the time I had my sixtieth birthday. It is wonderful.

    • Sharon K. Hall says:

      Glad to read your cancer is very treatable, that is a blessing as you do all the work of considering what to do with your opportunities now. Your identifying with Henri’s struggle resonates with me as my husband also is now in a struggle I think like Henri’s too. During the pandemic his company was forced to downsize and he was forced to retire. My husband is pretty quiet with his struggle, maybe because he doesn’t know how to express himself like Henri does, and you are here too, but he seems to be exhausted all the time and quite a bit of sleeping. After a lifetime of working for others and always trying to meet the expectations of others, “How can I be free enough and let the questions emerge without fearing the consequences? I know I am not yet completely free because the fear is still there.” Thinking about your family members and also about our family here and I realize myself, especially from reading Henri Nouwen’s journey that my responsibility to my husband is to be supportive (and prayerful) but not believe I can be the problem solver in this instance, it would only mean my husband having me now impose my expectations upon him, not being able to be patient and confident or something that he will be free enough to forge his own expectations for his future years. A person almost never realizes how hard these life changes are until one actually gets there and has to face the requirements to be courageous in making decisions of a sort one isn’t used to yet. I appreciate your post, Sherman Bishop, and wish you all the best for all the future.

  15. Elaine M says:

    In just this week alone, the news included stories of eight murders in Georgia, children at the US border fleeing violence in Central America, and the arrests of hundreds who are alleged guilty of violence in the Jan. 6 US Capitol riot. The pandemic has brought a rise in domestic violence, and fearful people sometimes play out their negativity in road rage or bullying. In this section of our reading, Henri discusses the atrocities of Hitler during World War II and the history of violence in Colombia, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, and the Middle East in the late twentieth century. Yet Henri offers the perfect antidote to a doomsday mentality: “The Kingdom of God is at hand, at our fingertips. Jesus calls us to repent, which means to have a contrite heart, a heart broken open by the plow of suffering, a heart able to receive the seed of the Kingdom, a heart able to see the treasure in the field, the heart capable of hearing the soft voice of love. Even though we live in a violent world, full of hatred and war, we can already enter the Kingdom now and belong to a community of faith, hope, and love” (p. 207). I see in this quotation the wisdom of one who sees himself as a wounded healer, one who has an understanding that the Jesus who gave himself over to violent suffering will help us to rise above it with the support of a peaceful, loving community

    • Sherman Bishop says:

      Elaine, I agree with your reflections. In every age there are signs of brokenness, causes of injustice, experience of violence. In the mid-80’s my wife and I were in Germany (both East and West). Near the end our our trip we were staying with a family in West Germany, the wife in the house, very active in efforts to advocate for ending the treat of nuclear war, taught a song, “Herr gibt us Dinen frieden.” She translated the prayer as “Lord, give us peace and justice.”. There has always been a need for this prayer. Finding so many “new” reasons to pray it today makes me want to add, “How long Lord?”. But I know the answer is not to expect God to immediately mend all brokenness, end all injustice and do away with all violence. The answer is found in the commandment to love. Love understood through the sacrificial lens of Jesus’ story. For it is love (as Paul says) that never ends.

      • Barry Sullivan says:

        Sherman,
        You provide us with thoughtful reflections regarding the ongoing crises and causes of injustice from history, as expressed in that German prayer translated “Lord, give us peace and justice” from the 1980s. As you note, while God will not immediately end all manifestations of our brokenness, we must always remember the commandment to love, which “never ends.”
        Barry

    • Barry Sullivan says:

      Elaine,
      I too am disheartened by the fears, violence, and hatred expressed in our times. This would include the murders in Atlanta, Boulder, and (last night) Virginia Beach; the families seeking safety at our borders; the outrageous voter suppression, Jim Crow-like efforts in Georgia and other states; and many other injustices from our time that we might add here. Henri’s examples from the time he wrote this book remind us that injustices and violence, in general, are not new. But as you expressed it: “Even though we live in a violent world, full of hatred and war, we can already enter the Kingdom now and belong to a community of faith, hope, and love” (p. 207).

      We all must do what we can to bring about social change by making Jesus’ teachings relevant now. In doing so, I think Henri provides important guidance when we try to influence others. “When we make the effect of our work the criterion of or sense of self, we end up very vulnerable…the final issue is not the result of our work but the obedience to God’s will, as long as we realize that God’s will is the expression of God’s love” (p. 205).

      That last quote from Henri, I think, is important for me to remember when making efforts to bring God’s love to the world in addressing current political-social issues, whether it is showing love for our neighbors who are seeking safety at our southern borders, passing even half-way rational gun control laws (as in other nations on earth), or addressing our many other problems this year.

      Thanks
      Peace!

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