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)

8 Replies to “Sep 12th to Sep 18th: The Surgery, The Recovery”

  1. Henri’s question, p.66, becomes my question, “Do I want to be visible or remain hidden?” I prefer remaining hidden even as I write this response. Perhaps it gives me a false sense of safety? Yet, at the same time, I turn back to p.56, and read Henri’s thoughts concerning Mary, Mother of Jesus…”It seemed that she wanted to remain in the background.” Thus, the tension for me… I ponder how to address the unfinished business that I so desire and feel challenged to address, how might I speak and do “the love of God in a new way”? p. 67

    Hesitantly sharing….I’m reminded of a quote by Annie Dillard, “I cannot cause Light. The most I can do is to put myself in the path of its beam.” And, I might add, invite others to join me there…somehow that releases me to abide in Christ more completely for the task ahead, and trust that Christ abides in me…to remain cautiously conscious of my need to control and, specifically, to demonstrate rather than persuade and to avoid offering answers before questions are raised.p.71&72

    I’m so grateful for Henri staying true to his vocational calling of pastoral care….I am so grateful to be a recipient of such care, and Nouwen’s strong testimony at the end of “Recovery”, “….I now know, too, that my life to be lived is just as much a gift because both dying and living find their true meaning in the glory of Jesus Christ.”

    I’m surprised as the message of a song comes to mind as I finish this response, “How Clear is Our Vocation, Lord”…….pondering…

  2. Henri’s writing about facing death reminded me of my Uncle George, my mother’s brother. He suffered brain damage during his birth since the family lived out in the country and his mother delivered him, her firstborn, at home after a difficult time. He always had issues with his speech and vision. In addition, he had diabetes as well as other health issues. Surprisingly, though, he remembered the dates of every family member’s birth, marriage and death.
    My parents were his caregivers for the last several years of his life. When he was in the ER waiting for a bed in the hospital and knowing he didn’t have long to live, he made it a point to turn to my mother and thank her for all that she and my dad had done for him. He thanked the nurses for every little thing they did for him. They were clearly moved. He let us know that he knew he was going to be with Jesus in Heaven and exhibited such peace and love for all.
    It could be said that he had not been dealt the best hand in life and had to suffer much. But he always exhibited such gratitude, gentleness, peace and faith. I think of him as a Saint and he continues to inspire me.
    I remember Henri writing about how our death can be a gift to others. Uncle George’s simple life and death were a gift and a model for me. He reminds me of some of the folks at L’Arche that touched the life of Henri.

  3. Kim, Beverly, and Marge,
    Thank you for your deeply personal sharing. Each in your own way, you have challenged and inspired me to, once again, turn to my own “unfinished business.” Like Beverly I try to “Push past it and work harder to look perfect and and be productive. But wearing that mask only works so long.” And as Kim wrote, “Having a tendency to be self-reliant. . .”, , my unfinished business is to do what Kim has done “. . .fully surrender to God, give up control, and walk the journey of Life that He gave me.” And for me, wearing a mask or running away from the “unfinished business” in my life leads, like Marge, to “feeling a bit overwhelmed.”

    I am grateful to each of you for prompting me to look more closely at myself with the benefit of the insights you have shared. It’s a blessing to share this book with each of you and everyone else that following along.

    Peace and all good. (The Franciscan motto)

  4. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed this morning as I read “The pain of forgiveness withheld, by me and from me, kept me clinging to my wounded existence.” This follows Henri’s thought that Ray lifted out, “unfinished business”, “unresolved conflicts” (#2 question).
    “By not truly forgiving them from the heart, I gave them power over me that kept me chained to my old, broken existence.” p.50

    Then Henri proceeds to entrust Sue with telling persons of his immense love for them, telling them not to feel anxious….but to let him go “into the house of my Father”, telling them to celebrate him and all that God has given him. p. 54&55…but not only was Sue able to RECEIVE Henri’s words and wishes with a very OPEN HEART, Henri KNEW that Sue would let them bear fruit. Wow, what a true friend and coworker ….and Jesus, as friend, but also Saviour and Lord helps me feel the safety that Henri expresses. Beyond that sense of safety, for me, comes the sense of “binding and loosing” lifted out out in Matthew 16:19 following Peter’s confession and 18:18, that seems to lead to Jesus sharing the parable of the unforgiving servant in following verses.

    Seems forgives/unforgiveness is key for Henri’s experiencing peace/or not, in his preparation of dying/or not, and his desire for “true spiritual freedom” he speaks of. p. 64….embracing freedom for himself and desiring that for others.

    I really am taking this all to heart, I pray my heart is open to receive (like Sue’s) and then apply in my own life, taking care of my own unfinished business. The challenge is on and encouraging is the musing: to die powerless-live powerless, but live empowered by Jesus, Holy Spirit. So glad I chose to look “beyond the mirror”, rather than avoid the mirror as I felt inclined to do at the beginning of this reading. God is so good! So very grateful!

  5. I am finding Ray, that your writing prompts invite us not only to sprirtual reflection but therapeutic re-telling of our stories. These questions invite me on a healing journey during Ordinary Time in the church calendar. So it is with your question #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).

    “Unfinished business” is the resonant phrase here for me. I’m in both feet with Henri’s comment that “what most kept me from dying was…unfinished business.” My unfinished business has to do with a trauma I experienced over 20 years ago. The unprocessed feelings calcified into personal triggers that kept parts of myself hidden to myself and unavailable to others. This trauma effected my relationship with our whole family and in particular relationships with my children. Once very close and with communication flowing easily, now the space between us is blessed but tense.

    Speaking for myself, I tried to forget it. Push past it and work harder to look perfect and and be productive. But wearing that mask only works so long. The corners crack with tears that come unexpectedly sabotaging peace within. So revisiting the wound, sitting with the pain and seeing it with eyes wide open, rather than running away is the remedy. But it’s uncomfortable for most of us living in a culture that papers over pain and opts for success to soothe our sufferings.

    Henri’s authenticity allowed him to not only be present to others and to God, but to himself. He was able to come to the truth about his traumas whether they were relational with his father or Nathan. He was not ashamed to say he had a need and spent time journaling his depression in Genesee Diary and the Inner Voice of Love. It’s easy to forget how hard it must have been for him to be authentic as a public Priest open to the scrutiny of the church and the shame that can come from family when we speak truth.

    So I am grateful for his compelling invitation to do the same; both in Henri’s life and in his death to Go Beyond the Mirror, leaning in to see more truth and be Beloved.

  6. Yes to your question #1, Ray. Very recently and at the same time that I am hoping to move from Louisville to CA, I feel exactly like Henri did: “I, myself, however, kept feeling that dying was possible and that I had to prepare myself and my friends for it” (p. 46).

    While my thought of dying has come into sharp focus on the threshold of a major move, it also comes as I age and approach a decade Birthday. Add to that a life threatening diagnosis that could have taken my life 5 years ago which has to be regularly revisited as a “rare condition” that could recur. These scary things keep me on my tip toes living in a liminal space. For all these reasons I rewrote my will while reflecting on our book study last week. Remembering that I am going to die is a humbling thing that to Kim’s good point in her post: “Dying to Self is essential to Live for God.”

    For these reasons, I am indebted to St. Benedict’s Rule for inviting me to “Keep death daily before your eyes” (4:47). And I am grateful for the Monks at St. Meinrad with whom I pray the Daily Hours reminding me of my mortality on a regular basis. I invite any here who would like to join us for Vespers at 6 pm EST:

    Esther de Waal, making connections between Christian scriptures, St. Benedict’s Rule, and a contemplative lay life, writes:
    “Present … in their daily celebration of the Eucharist and at the saying of their daily offices is this reminder that death is part of life. It is of course a vivid visual statement of what St. Benedict is saying in the Rule. “Keep death daily before your eyes” (4.47) and, simultaneously, “Look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing” (49.7). …
    “He expects us to hold two things in tension. Death and life are inseparable. Dying and behold we live. Here is the ultimate in contradiction. Here is utter foolishness to the point of absurdity. We lose our life to gain it. But how right St. Benedict is in insisting that we remind ourselves of this every day.”
    Source: Esther De Waal (1997). Living with contradictions: an introduction to Benedectine spirituality. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publ., pages 113-114.

  7. Briefly this morning, I am so touched, deeply touched by Henri thoughts and emotions as he awaited surgery. I hope to excavate what remains deeply hidden within, but for now, the song “Go, Silent Friend” comes to mind…a song text written by John L. Bell……seems to gird up so much of what Henri shares, and allows me to sit in contemplation for a while, in the company of such profound and invaluable insight, sights……one line of this song particularly gets my attention in response to Henri’s writing….”God, who before birth called you into being, now calls you hence, his accent still the same.”

  8. I absolutely love the book and reading everyone’s comments! Thank you to all of you, for the time and details in your sharing! So in this section, I have experience a scary medical situation myself, in which I wondered how my family would survive without me! I am married and have 3 kids, and at the time was homeschooling them all. Plus one of my kids has a life-threatening medical condition, that requires a lot of assistance and care from me. Being his caregiver is a full time job and more now part-time, as he is getting older and is a young adult, but he still needs help. So back when I faced a life-threatening situation myself, I just prayed to God to keep me alive so that I would be here for my kids. I honestly would have been thrilled to be with the Lord himself, but I could not (at the time) imagine how everyone would function if I left this earth. God graciously saved my life and in His Mercy, he also showed me what it meant to truly trust in Him and rely on Him for all things. Having a tendency to be self-reliant, I learned to depend on GOD for all things and also depend on others for help and assistance. It was a big life-lesson for me. Years later, I went through a program at our church called Regeneration, which is really a discipleship program disguised as a recovery program. Through that program, I understood more what it meant to fully surrender to God, give up control, and walk the journey of Life that He gave me, in His Plans, Timing, and Will. Another breakthrough moment for me to understand what it meant to die to self and to live the life God has given me, for HIS GLORY. I think Dying to Self is essential to Live for God. Thanks for letting me share!

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