1. From Solitude to Community to Ministry (1993), p. 1 to 15
2. Spiritual Formation and Community (1977), p. 16 to 24
3. Finding Solitude in Community (1978), p. 25 to 39
As we begin our Advent journey, my sincere thanks to those of you who introduced yourselves. We have a wonderful group of returning regulars and new participants gathering in this virtual space from across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. to discuss Henri Nouwen’s wisdom and insights in Community. As Henri says in Chapter 1, “Community is not an organization; community is a way of living: you gather around you people with whom you want to proclaim the truth that we are the beloved sons and daughters of God.” (p.7) By that definition (and my personal experience), the strength and durability of these book discussions is that 25 years after his death Henri continues to draw people into community where we are nourished, encouraged, and supported. We’re grateful to each of you for joining us this Advent.
Our readings this week provide a unique opportunity to explore how Henri’s thinking and writing evolved from his time in academia to his years as the pastor of the L’Arche Daybreak community. Chapter 1 is a talk Henri gave in 1993 after seven years at Daybreak. (This also the year after the publication of The Return of the Prodigal Son and Life of the Beloved.) It is immediately followed by two publications from 1977 and 1978 when he was teaching at Yale. As we read in Robert Ellsberg’s Forward, “(We) can see not only the continuity in Henri’s commitment to the pursuit of community, but his movement from an attitude that was arguably abstract and impersonal, to something concrete and real.” (p. xiii) You may also discover in comparing these essays how Henri’s language becomes simpler—but no less profound or impactful—in his later writings. Henri concludes his reflection on living a disciplined life in Chapter 1 saying: “Solitude, community, ministry—these disciplines help us live a fruitful life. (p. 15)”
a) Are there specific examples from these three essays of Henri’s changing attitude and simplifying language that touched you? Have you experienced similar changes in attitude on your spiritual journey?
b) How do you live the disciplines of solitude, community, and ministry in your life? What changes might you make after reading Henri’s essay?
In Chapter 2 Henri describes his understanding of community: “Christian spirituality is in essence communal. The prayer life of a Christian can never be understood independent of community life. Prayer in the Christian life leads to community and community to prayer. (p. 21) . . . (W)herever authentic spiritual growth takes place there is always a strengthening of community, and that wherever authentic community is found there is always a growing desire for the deepening of the spiritual life. (p. 22) . . . So spiritual life is always communal. It flows from community and creates community. It is the life of the Spirit in us, the Spirit of God who dwells in the center of our heart and in the center of our lives together. (p.23)”
Reflection Questions: Where have you found authentic community in your life? How has the life of the Spirit in that community influenced your spiritual growth?
The centrality of solitude to the spiritual life is another recurring theme in Henri’s writing; Chapter 3 explores the complementary relationship between solitude and community. Henri writes, “Solitude is not a private space over against the public space of community. . . . Solitude is essential to community life because in solitude we grow closer to each other. . . . We take the other with us into solitude, and there the relationship grows and deepens. (p. 30-31). . . . Solitude is inseparable from community because in solitude we affirm the deepest reality of our lives together, namely, that as a community we are like the hands pointing to God in prayer. (p.37)”
Reflection Questions: How do you practice solitude in your life? What is the role of solitude in the authentic communities to which you belong? What is your reaction to Thomas Hora’s symbol of the relationship between solitude and community (p. 37)?
We look forward to hearing from many of you this week. The reflection questions above may prompt your reflections, but pleased don’t be limited by them. Our community thrives and grows closer together when you share whatever touched you in the readings and respond to the comments of others. We are also grateful for those who are joining us for this Advent journey who may not choose to post comments. We are all God’s beloved sons and daughters and everyone is welcome here.
As St. Francis (Henri’s favorite saint) said to those he met, “May the Lord give you peace.”