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,

17 Replies to “Sep 5th to Sep 11th: Prologue, The Accident, The Hospital”

  1. From Mary J
    Greetings from the Hudson Valley, 1.5 hours north of NYC. I was happy to see my book arrived today (7th), and look forward to reading it. I have read about 10 of Nouwen’s books, and often use them for discussion in our women’s prayer group. Enjoyed the last virtual group, and look forward to this “discussion”.

  2. I could relate to so much in this book. I also had a terrible, freak accident a few years ago. My titanium knee dislocated and I slipped on a damp garage floor because it had been raining that day. Down I went, smashing the main artery in my leg, resulting in no pulse in my foot.
    I remember chanting “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” the whole time the ambulance was racing to the hospital. I remember thinking, but I have to fly to St. Louis the next day to help my sister prepare for our dad’s funeral that weekend!
    Of course, that’s when I really felt I had no control. My life was literally in the hands of surgeons I had never met, as they reconstructed an artery from veins in my leg.
    I will say, I felt gratitude that my husband happened to be home and heard my cries, I didn’t hit my head, I had very skilled surgeons and loving family and friends who made me feel cared for. I was able to watch my Dad’s funeral on my iPad. I realized I could have lost my leg if all this hadn’t happened as quickly as it did,
    It made me realize that life is precious yet uncertain, encouraging me to be intentional in my life and seeking to listen to God. It reminded me of how important it is to show care for folks who are sick or in pain. It wasn’t easy for me to give up control of my plans for that summer, but it did remind me of folks who live much of their lives without control, similar to those in L’Arche who were cared for by Henri. It definitely gave me an opportunity to slow down and depend more on God.

    1. Wow, Janet, what a story! It resonates with the chapters that we read last week so well. In both cases, as helpless patients, you were blessed to get such timely professional help that also did not harm your dignity as human beings because you were treated as such in some of the darkest and uncertain hours of your lives. I, on the contrary, had a very different experience in some of the Soviet and post-Soviet clinics. Those experiences did not only harm my psyche; they also wounded my faith in God because when I was the most vulnerable and needed help, I was treated as an animal or even worse. The only question that rang in me after those “medical experiences” was: Why did God let it happen? It seemed like He abandoned me in the time of my greatest need. I know that He did not and that those things happened to me because of the poor choices of those “medical workers,” but still… Those are enormous wounds of mine that still need to be healed by God and may be healed completely only in heaven.

  3. “(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); These have “invited me to look in a new way at my identify before God” (p. 16).

    Over these last months I have become aware that I tend to plough past interruptions and stay focused on a goal. That can be a good trait for someone who is goal oriented. I can get a lot done with that stance. But, I’m coming to notice that this tendency makes me more reactive than responsive to people. I can easily ignore another’s need.

    When I think of Jesus who too was goal oriented…in other words He was clear on His mission and didn’t allow his disciples to dissuade him…but at the same time he paused when he encountered people. He listened and responded to their need rather than brushing them off to get on with what He was passionately pursuing.

    Noticing this about myself makes me see a self-centeredness that needs to surrender. To stop and make a conscious choice to say ‘yes’ to an interruption could be an invitation from God. As a mentor of mine said during my Spiritual Direction training: “There is something to be said about pausing deliberately and contemplatively…to break from life’s demands…which is to do with our abiding connection with our divine Source.”

    1. As I read your thoughts, Beverly, I must say those giving Henri both compassion and competence, included being treated with respect and dignity, treated as an intelligent adult, and permitted him to know everything he “wanted to know”…the results gave Henri a sense of being “completely cared for” and “of being taken so seriously.” p. 40&41 This is so helpful for me……

      I’m of no particular professional competence, however, I can give compassionate attention that may help others strengthen their ability to cope with their situations as Henri expresses so well, because of an abiding “connection with our divine Source”, as you remind me, Beverly.

      I, too, appreciated Henri’s sharing that Sue became his main link with the outside world. As my 44 year old daughter-in-law entered a nearby nursing home due to MS in July, this link to the outside world gets my attention as well.

      1. Thank you for your thoughtful response, Marge. I am sorry to hear of your daughter in law’s hospitalization just in July. No doubt your presence and prayer gives power and hope to her and your family.

  4. Hi, I am Beverly from Louisville. Henri Nouwen has served as a mentor and a patron saint to me for over 20 years. HIs book, The Living Reminder was a personal guide for me in the early years of ordained ministry. The Wounded Healer, The Inner Voice of Love and Reaching Out, bespoke God’s triune voice bringing me back to my belovedness. That movement shaped my vocation shifting me from pastoring to psychotherapy weaving researched based psychology with spiritual practices.

    Now I am facing another threshold moment that is forming both my work and where I will live. While I have faced physical death twice before, this mountainous move feels more threatening. Less like a leap of faith, it feels more like flinging myself off a cliff. Like Henri, “I felt as if some strong hand had stopped me and forced me into some kind of necessary surrender” (p. 31). So I think its fitting to stop, look and listen. I accept Henri’s invitation to Look Beyond the Mirror, as “I realized that the mirror of the passing van had forced me to look at myself in a radically new way” (p. 38).

    I look forward to what I will learn from Henri and this honest seeking audience pointing me more to our Lord and to faithfully live out my call in Christ in this threshold time.

  5. “……but I knew that something old had come to an end and that something new, as yet unknown, was about to emerge.” “Later I would be able to see clearly…..l realize that something strangely ‘good’ was happening….” p. 23&24

    Henri’s use of the descriptive word, “interruptions” gives me a sense of temporary, yet at the time I felt tossed about in a storm-filled sea of fearful emotions, thoughts, sadness, insecurity and the pervasive feeling that I had lived my life of 46 years in vain (1999), did not feel like an interruption, it felt more like an unwanted intrusion…every day and night presented me with challenges of fear, anxiety, lots of tears and my own personal ”inner shriek” (p. 30) became, How long, Lord?

    So, I was surprised this morning when my thoughts went to the 2 gas attendants that refused to help Henri and Jon, the driver of the van. How were their lives impacted? And even Sue’s plea for Henri not to go, p.26, did she too experience the “necessary surrender” that Henri later articulates and I, too, have to embrace for those I love and want to protect…..

    Henri is able to reach out to Jon initially. Grateful for his help, and Jon’s response of “….I hit a priest”……Henri likes and consoles him, inviting him to visit his community… such a redeeming element already introduced so early on (p.33). I wonder if Jon was able to recollect that conversation and invitation later….serving as a light for him to see beyond the mirror as well!

    During my own struggle to stay above water, I was surprised when God broke thru with His message of love thru the song, “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus”. One early, rainy, Sunday morning as I helped my youngest son with his paper route…”underneath me, all around me is the current of His love” played over and over in my mind, becoming a buoy, a springboard into the emerging new, the good God intended and had been tending to all along in many and various ways.

    I’m so encouraged by Nouwen’s “….deepest vocation is to be a witness to the glimpses of God I have been allowed to catch”. p. 18….so grateful for the collective glimpses of God shared thru this online community of faith!

  6. 4. Henri is incredibly honest about his humanity. He openly admits his trouble with ego, selfishness, self-righteousness, and delusions of grandeur. The ultimate gift is the hope that comes from the relatability of his human brokenness. So, when he responds with a passive energy, rather than his expected attitude of frustration and impatience, it shows a divinely-inspired acceptance of things as they are; not as he would have them be. My limited human-understanding might have once chalked it up to the hospital drugs to get him to that place of passive surrender. Ha! But, fortunately, I have come to believe (through my own ebb-and-flow experiences of resisting, surrendering and accepting) that it’s ALL a gift by the grace of God…a great reminder that all is well and all will be well.

    1. So True Amy! A gift of Grace from God. What a beautiful sentiment and truth that we can all cling to, each and every day. It is amazing to see how God works in our limited situations in life, where we think we are somehow creating deep action to something, but in reality we are passive participants. Being able to “let go and let God” is definitely harder said than done, but hearing Henri’s testimony in this regard is very invigorating to make me want to submit all the more.

  7. From Nadia
    My name is Nadiia which in Ukrainian means Hope. My husband of 20 years & I moved to the States seven years ago & now reside in Northern California, Rocklin. I’ve heard about Henri Nouwen for the first time from the church which we are currently attending. They have Soul Talk with Pastors series, and one of them is based on “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” I absolutely loved this book & its companion “Home Tonight,” which has some practical parts such as Journaling and other Spiritual Practices. I have just finished these two books & look forward to this online discussion about our true identity in Christ.

  8. From Amy
    Howdy from Texas! I’m a fan of Nouwen and all other fans of Nouwen. He taught me to identify foremost as a beloved child of God, for which I am forever grateful. In addition to that, my gratitude runs deep for my roles as mom of three children, wife to my childhood sweetheart, recovering attorney, mentor and mentee. Before my grandmother passed almost twenty years ago, she mentioned how special Nouwen’s work was to her. She was special to me, so I wanted to see what she found appealing about him. I would later find his work to ring so true that I often choose it as a favorite source of spiritual nourishment. I am overjoyed to be a student on this journey with you all.

  9. My husband of almost 55 years died unexpectedly right before covid caused a shut down of normal activities and interactions. I discovered God in loving, kind and generous friends who supported my in many ways during his death and aftermath. “ Love is everything, without love, everything is nothing. (Unknown).

    1. Barb,

      I am so sorry for the death of your husband on the threshold of such an isolating time as Covid. No doubt the generosity of friends stood out like stars in the night. I am so glad you were surrounded by a loving community in such a dark time bringing what sounds like, a lot of light.


  10. #3 – A necessary Surrender. In 2020, my word of the year was Surrender. After many years of dealing with various issues in my life in which I had a tendency to attempt to control and/or fix issues, I finally recognized the need for me to surrender SELF reliance and turn to God. The total surrender to God was a process. The concept of doing so was immediate, but it has taken many months for me to continue in that journey of total and complete surrender to my Lord. In hindsight, I see how silly my desires to control and fix things was, as if I had all the “power” to implement change to various issues. I found that through prayer and submission to the Holy Spirit, that I would be able to relinquish my need for control, and rest in His grace and mercy. I can really relate to Henri’s comments in this section in regards to having all my “ducks in a row” so to speak, and expecting others to line up with those expectations, too. The freedom I have now, in being surrendered to Christ, is full of peace, joy, and hope for a beautiful future with Him someday.

    1. Thank you Kim for starting our discussion with this wonderful sharing of your spiritual journey.

      The pandemic years of 2020 and 2021 have certainly challenged me–and I have been less willing than you to submit to the necessary surrender. I do find continued encouragement when I pray this prayer by Henri from one of his earlier books With Open Hands:
      Dear God. I want so much to be in control. I want to be the master of my own destiny. Still I know you are saying, “Let me take you by the hand and lead you. Accept my love and trust that where I will bring you, the deepest desires of your heart will be fulfilled.” Lord, open my hands to receive your gift of love. Amen.

      1. Ray,
        I love that prayer! I will have to adopt that into my journaling, and read that book next! Thank you for sharing from your heart. I think the pandemic has been challenging for everyone, the entire world, to recognize how “little control” we have over various things in life. Our hope is in the Lord, though, and for that, I am grateful. It makes me even more inspired to share of HIS hope to others, especially in this day and age we are in now. His love is for All. We must share of His love to all we encounter!

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