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.

7 Replies to “Sep 19th to Sep 25th: Epilogue, Preparing for Death”

  1. I admire Henri’s awareness of the pull of external life and the resulting temptations of restlessness and anxiety. I can so easily become unconscious of the Truth reflected in the one, crystal-clear mirror that I am the beloved, and instead be swept away in the exhausting, cloudy reflections society would have me be. Henri reminds me that whatever I’m delusionally seeking from an imperfect world is already provided to me by an infinitely loving source. And, perhaps best of all, Henri’s shared experience inspires me to have compassion for myself, and consequently others, when I struggle to remember who and whose I am. Thank you, fellow beloveds, for your inspiring shares, as well!

  2. I just want to take a moment to say thanks to all, especially for the Nouwen Society for inviting us to remember Henri’s life and death, how he ministered so faithfully, vulnerably, and fruitfully, allowing himself, his life to be available for others so as to witness to and give glimpses of all Jesus can do….truly what is most personal is most universal!

    The added zoom opportunity became, for me, a demonstration of the words Sue Mosteller, C.S.J. shared in the webinar clip and more fully in his funeral eulogy….”Henri brought us together. Each of us met him, or heard him, and we said, “It is good. Give us more.” We read his books and we said, “It is good. Give us more.” Thank you, Ray, for giving us the opportunity for something more!

    Truthfully, I found this time of reflection, retreat and refocus quite life-giving, and perhaps “a call to step out of our (my) spiritual adolescence into maturity”….Henri’s legacy, challenge, gift…my prayer request has become, “How might I speak and do ‘the love of God in a new way’?

    I so look forward to reading “Community” for Advent with you all…..autumn blessings.

  3. In many ways I have felt on retreat…..this week it has occurred to me that I, too, want to be ever mindful of my own lack of focus on God “when the demands of our hectic society make themselves felt once again.” p. 83 Already I too am wondering, “Can I hold on to what I learned?” I pray that I continue to learn as Holy Spirit leads!

    As I look beyond the mirror, I am particularly drawn to Henri’s gratitude for those who visited him in the hospital – “most life-giving experiences.” p. 85 people with time to spare…..nothing more important to do…..just be there. And especially the most handicapped being present to him….”they have nothing to prove, nothing to accomplish…no success to achieve, no career to protect, no name to uphold….always dependent.” My own special needs grandson, Henry, now 11 years old reminds me of all that Henri shares so poignantly.

    I find this so freeing….”I simply have to open my eyes to the world in which I have been placed and see there the people…..” p.88….makes me think in terms of vocation and purpose for this season of life!? Even saying yes to Life and Love in the Name of Jesus, both here and beyond, for me, will require an on-going, necessary surrender to the ways of Jesus…I’m most certain there will be many opportunities/challenges for continued learning ahead.

    But thank you all for reminding me that the God Who made us all speaks so very personally to each one of us, what an encouragement it has been!

  4. Reminder: The free webinar Remembering Henri: The Gifts of a Fruitful Life marking the 25th anniversary of Henri’s death this Tuesday, September 21st at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. To register follow this link or copy and paste into your browser:

    Something New: We’re going to try something new this Wednesday evening, September 22nd at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. We’re going to host a September book discussion Zoom get together to talk about the book Beyond the Mirror and 25th anniversary webinar. If you would like to join us for this first ever Henri Nouwen Society book discussion Zoom gathering, you can email me at or submit a comment indicating you would like to participate. I will send you an email with the link to the Zoom meeting.

    I hope to see many of you at the webinar on Tuesday in the Zoom gathering on Wednesday.


  5. We gaze into mirrors to see what we look like, to discover who we are. – Love this message in the Forward and also the thoughts to ponder of how my thoughts of death and life have impacted how I gave into the mirrors in life. In the book of James, chapter 1 verses 17 reflects on God’s goodness and how “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above (God), and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” When I think of Henri and his view of impending death and his current life, it makes me think of this verse and what this means for us. The section of “with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” reflects the trait of constancy of God. He does not change. He never displays a “shadow” because He is Light. In verse 18, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures”, shows again His consistent character, and the truth that He gives us salvation as a free gift.. His own will, He brought us forth.. He has chosen us as His Beloved and when we accepted that free gift of salvation from Him, He delighted because He is Love. He is our Redeemer. So in looking into that ‘mirror’ and gazing intently on the life I have lived and the future (unknown) days that I have left on this earthly time, this gives me Hope in knowing and discovering that who I am is His Child, His Chosen, His Beloved. There is beauty in knowing my eternity is secure with my Lord, and I choose to live each day to the fullest, walking in humble obedience to Him. I will mess up, as we all sin (Rom. 3:23), but I will confess any mistakes and repent of those areas, and pray for God to continue to mold me more and more into His image, until we meet one day, face to face. What a glorious day that will be!

  6. I have been absent from this discussion, but following the comments. Much of that was due to some time in Ontario’s cottage country where access to the internet is limited. I want to thank all of you who have commented in “real time” with the assigned readings.
    It was a year ago this week that I began a series of doctor appointments and medical tests that led to a cancer diagnosis. While making this journey I did not travel alone.
    Support was present from family and friends, from a skilled and caring medical team, and from two particular spiritual resources. One was this book study during the Lenten season. The other was the Psalms. I choose to read the Psalms daily, in order. 1 to 150 and then back to the beginning. One in particular speaks to me in a way that connects to the insights of Henri in this study’s book.
    He speaks eloquently about the sense of peace that enfolds him as he wanders around the portal of death. Psalm 139 finds the poet acknowledging that there is no place, and I would add no experience, that is able to separate one from God. “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day for darkness is as light to you.”. And then the poet follows with this credal statement, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
    When Henri speaks of the peace he felt in the face of death, his awareness seems to ring harmoniously with that sentiment from the Psalmist. Early on in this year’s “journey with cancer” I found myself not wanting to say to others that I was “fighting this disease”. That is not a statement of passivity, for I have willingly let my medical team “fight this disease” and they have done that very well so far. But for me, I saw the cancer cells in my body as, well my cells. I produced them and genetically they are me. And yes, they are a threat to my life. The sentiments of the Psalmist however offered a different perspective. “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”. Just on a biological level human life is incredibly complex, “wonderfully made”, with the possibility of so many things that can go awry, “fearfully (or awesome)”. One thing biological life is not, is permanent. Death comes for us all.
    However, wherever death will find me, God is there. The One who waits for me in death is the One who loves me, the One who made me and knows me best. The One who forgives me and delights when I forgive “those who trespass against me”.
    Henri wrote of experiencing a “presence” of this One while wandering around the portal of death. As I have reflected on Ps. 139 I have also “felt” that presence. Death will visit me one day, but love will not end. And so what to do with the time between now and then?
    “I realized on a very deep level that dying is the most important act of living” Henri’s words have been a compass reading for me, pointing me to a profound truth. If one lives with the scriptures, especially begin attentive to the story of Jesus, the secret of life is not a well kept secret at all. Love God, love neighbor. Humbly be a champion of reconciliation, both accepting forgiveness from others and being forgiving of others. Cherish family and friendships, but always make time for “the foreigner in your land” who is also made in God’s image. Not a secret, but a way of life lived in gratitude and joy.
    And as Henri so importantly wondered, knowing this, having experienced this, will I be able to maintain this commitment when the business of life seeks to crowd out such a spiritual journey?

    1. Great insight Sherman and thank you for sharing your journey. I commend you for your astute reflections of the Psalms. The Psalms are such an encouragement in many phases of our lives, in suffering, in pain, in hardships, and in the closeness of death. What a comfort! I agree with your statement that Jesus’ secret of life was not really a well kept secret – Love God, Love Neighbor. That is the Gospel. We are to love one another, so that in doing so, we not only reflect the image of God, but we share that Love of Him to others. In doing so, our hope would be that those we encounter will also come to know Him in a personal and intimate way. This is our purpose. And I feel after reading your message above, you are sharing the Light of Jesus to whomever you encounter, and for this, you fulfill the purpose that God has given to each of us. Praying for your complete healing and enjoy the week!

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