Dec 5th to Dec 11th: Second Week of Advent

4. The Faces of Community (1978), p. 40 to 45
5. Called from Darkness (1982), p. 46 to 56
6. The Broken World, the Broken Self, and Community (1987), p, 57 to 65

A warm welcome to those of you who have joined our community during the First Week of Advent. The first three essays prompted a week of rich and enlightening discussion. Thanks to those of you who shared comments.

The essays we will discuss this week were written over a nine year period where Henri’s search for community intensified and led him to answer the call to L’Arche Daybreak. The essay in Chapter 4 is the one mentioned by Robert Ellsberg in his Foreword. It was written while Henri was teaching at Yale. In this essay, Henri writes, “to live the Christian life therefore requires radical conversion. It requires us to look for our identify not where we are different our outstanding but where we are the same. (p. 42) . . . (L)iving according to the gospel, living with the mind of Christ, leads to community. (p. 43). . . So sameness and uniqueness can both be affirmed in community. We need to recognize the illusion that we are the difference we make and come together on the basis of our sameness. (p. 45)”
Reflection Questions: Consider the longstanding communities (e.g., marriage and family, church, community) to which you belong. How are sameness and uniqueness affirmed in those communities. Does your sameness or your uniqueness bind you to those communities?

Henri resigned from his position at Yale in 1981 to explore life in a missionary community by working with the Maryknoll brothers and sisters in Peru. The address in Chapter 5 was delivered in mid-1982 and it is based on Henri’s continued interest in social justice and peacemaking (he participated in the 1965 march led by Martin Luther King, Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama and was in Atlanta to march King’s funeral in 1968) and his recent experience living in a barrio in Peru. Henri’s understanding of community continued to evolve and deepen, as we read: “Community is the place of prayer and resistance. . . . Community is a new way of being together and living together in which that peace becomes visible as a light shining in the midst of the darkness. . . . Community is that place where we remain vulnerable to each other. In shared vulnerability we make love visible to the world. ‘Look how they love each other.’ ‘Look how they work together.’ ‘Peace is possible, because I’ve seen it.'” (p. 54-55)
Reflection Question: Where have you experienced community as a place of prayer and resistance in which peace becomes visible? When have you shared vulnerability in a community to which you belong? Share your experiences to the extent you are comfortable.

By the time Henri gave the 1987 address in Chapter 6, he had discovered he was not called to become a missionary, he accepted a position at Harvard where he taught for one semester per year and continued his Latin American outreach, he resigned his position at Harvard where he had never felt at home, he spent a year living in the L’Arche in Trosly, France, to experience their community of people with intellectual disabilities, and their assistants, and he accepted the invitation to become the chaplain at L’Arche Daybreak in Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto. At Daybreak Henri was beginning to allow himself to be accepted as a member of a community for who he was and not for what he did. Henri’s spiritual journey since the 1982 talk is evident throughout Chapter 6: In the first few sentences we read, “We live in a broken world. You have seen broken bodies, broken by hunger, broken by sickness, broken by physical and mental abuse. . . . What I start seeing is that Christ is being crucified again.” (p. 57) But as we know, Good Friday is followed by Easter Sunday. Here is Henri’s response to the broken world. “All over the gospels you hear that voice: ‘Brothers, sisters, do not be afraid, it is I. You don’t have to live in the house of fear. . . . John says, ‘Let us love one another, because we have been loved first by God.’ It is precisely this first love that enables us to let go of our fear. You are loved. You are accepted, long before you could receive or give love. That is the great news of the gospel. You are fully, totally loved. (p. 58-9). Henri then revisits the importance of solitude and community how they are related.
Reflection Questions. This talk was given eight months after Henri’s arrival at Daybreak (and six years before the talk in Chapter 1). What is Henri learning in his new community? How does his thinking evolve from 1987 to 1993? How do Henri’s insights relate to your life journey?

We have another week of fruitful reflection and discussion ahead. We look forward to hearing from many of you in response to the reflection questions or whatever touched your heart this week. We’re grateful to everyone joining us on this Advent journey whether you post comments or follow along quietly.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,


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23 Responses to Dec 5th to Dec 11th: Second Week of Advent

  1. Christopher Ciummei says:

    The major theme for me in this week’s readings were the differences between solitude and silence, as well as how solitude can lead to community and hope. As a naturally quiet person by nature, it’s very easy for me to slip into a cycle where my alone time can quickly become “loneliness time”, so to speak, if I’m not careful. Sharing our trials and tribulations with one another seems to be the way forward to God and His hope for yo ur success in life.

  2. Charles says:

    I usually respond by commenting on the questions that are so thought provoking . Again this week the questions are that. However, I was drawn by the interweaving of Henri’s writing on prayer ,resistance, solitude , community , and peace.As he wrote Prayer is moving away from our needs into the light of Christ that allows us to act out of a new freedom .It is indeed the beginning of all peacemaking as we become a manifestation of God’s love.He states that prayer is a resistance to say no to all the forces of death and say yes to the God of life.Resistance is a prayer because it is a proclamation and confession of the living God.It is liturgy ,worship.It is the work of the people of God . Whatever form of resistance we are involved in ( demonstration,picketing,civil disobedience) they all can be forms of liturgy,of praising God. If you see it as prayer then you won’t be preoccupied with what the effect of it are. You believe it will be fruitful in its own way in its own time.How true are his words for our present post Christian times.Without God in the center of all the social issues of our day forces of death win out.yet one soul at a time reverses this. My solitude as being loved ,greets your solitude as being loved- solitude greeting solitude forms a new home , a new house of love. In this house there is space to welcome others. Space for a stranger to feel welcome.Space for the poor and the broken to receive hospitality . This is community. How Henri’s words are so deeply meaningful for our New Evangelization!

  3. Marge says:

    Interesting, a bit amusing and sobering to think and realize that I am prone to this insight, “…..choosing to prefer the security of misery above the insecurity of happiness.” p. 50

    The little boy story in conversation with prophet p. 53….helps me understand the “core of resistance”…rather than berating myself when “no, no, no” surfaces from deep within, experiencing such as a “Yes” to Who God is and being made in the image of God. also helpful..liturgy explained far more personally than I have ever heard or known before…”It is the work of the people of God: liturgia”….and taking it to “the streets”, not “so preoccupied with what the effects of it are” but believing it will be fruitful in God’s way, in God’s time…..certainly bringing me into a much wider space of being and doing, especially within community, whatever form it takes!

    • Mary J says:

      Marge, I found this especially helpful, when the prophet said “…I’m not doing it to change the world. I’m doing it to prevent the world from changing me.” (p. 53) When I have felt particularly discouraged, I have found solace in being part of a community of resistance, knowing what we were doing may not make a major impact or result in lasting change. What it did is give me the ability to continue following Jesus’ work for justice, and not be changed by the ugliness of the world. The concept of this being a form of liturgy is encouraging.

  4. Robert Morgan says:

    I needed Henri’s words on solitude. I will have no deep transformation without it.

    • Christopher Ciummei says:

      I feel the exact same about Nouwen’s views on solitude! He makes an everyday thing holy by simply explaining it in a different way. Amazing… and truly a sign of God’s work in the man!

  5. Barry Sullivan says:

    Hello everyone.

    First, it is most helpful to have the background from Ray regarding when these various writings were developed by Henri. Ray’s information about Henri’s experiences at the time along with his insights about the evolution in his thoughts is a fine addition!

    To start in the middle of the readings (chapter 5)! One of my favorite books from Henri was Gracias!: A Latin American Journal. I no longer have the book on my shelf; I think I may have given it to my daughter who had just graduated from college and was traveling to Juarez, Mexico, to do some missionary-related work. Like Henri, she was searching for the presence of God among the poor in our neighbors south of the U.S. while trying to figure out the path that God was calling her. Sidenote: She ended up marrying a wonderful Mexican man, Juan, and together with their children they help run a Christ-centered children’s home in Ciudad Juarez, described as “a place of refuge built on Christ’s love (Adulam Ministries).”

    My daughter (a double major in Spanish and Biology) was considerably younger than Henri when he was trying to learn Spanish. If I recall correctly from his book, learning another language was difficult for him at his age. Definitely a challenge for me at my age!

    I found “called from darkness” (chapter 5), an address marking a UN session on disarmament, of particular interest as he develops his reflections on spirituality and peacemaking. Ray has some fine quotes from the essay, which I won’t repeat here. Henri’s thoughts about prayer are especially noteworthy, it seemed to me. In prayer we must move away from our needs “into the light of Christ,” which will enable us to act out of a “new freedom.” Entering that “inner dwelling place where the spirit of God lives…is indeed the beginning of all peacemaking” (p. 48).

    One other highlight for me from that chapter is Henri’s assertion that “community is to be a eucharistic community.” That is, a community of “thanks-giving.” Too easily I forget this. But as Henri maintains, “the core Christian attitude should be gratitude always, in whatever we do whatever we say, whatever we think. Gratitude is to be the basic disposition” (p. 55).


    • Barry Sullivan says:

      An addition to the above: I should have added for those who didn’t read Ray’s background to chapter 5 that Henri’s Gracias!: A Latin American Journal was based on his experiences exploring the missionary life in South America, which took place after he left Yale. This would be about the time he wrote the essay in chapter 5.

  6. Glyn Davies says:

    Good questions.
    If my wife was the same as me our marriage would be terrible. If my church was the same as me it would split. If everyone in my ministries were like me then disaster would occur. God has given each one of us different gifts which complement each other. In a healthy community each person’s uniqueness dovetails each other so that the whole is greater than its parts. And more often than not that uniqueness can only find true expression in community. Yet in a community we share something in common on a deeper level which we instinctively recognise in each other, individuals who are different culturally and socially and politically. It is love – a need to give and receive love, not just to each other but to the image of God that you see in others.

    The opposite of love is not hatred but fear because love demands vulnerability which fear cannot live with. I remember refusing admission to this guy at our church’s drop-in centre because he was off his face. For ages he stood by the door threatening me with violence, screaming curses at me. I chose to swallow my own anger and take it. The abuse went on for ages. Those inside saw I was struggling and upset although I tried to hide it. Some of my co-workers prayed over me which I appreciated. But it was the response of the other homeless guys that I will never forget. They tried to cheer me. Some of them were going to beat the other guy up but I stopped them. I found greater consolation in them than my fellow church members. There was a sense that instead of me ministering to them, they ministered to me. I’ll always remember that.

    Maybe that is what Henri Nouwen discovered at the L’Arche community. It was where he, the great cleric and academic and writer, could be vulnerable and accepted by those whom this fallen world saw as somehow less. The old power relationships became irrelevant. Like Toni Morrison said, true friendship can only exist between equals.

  7. Suzanne Shaffer says:

    Chapter 4 reflection: Ray pulled out these quotes which really struck me

    “It requires us to look for our identify not where we are different or outstanding but where we are the same. (p. 42) . . . (L)iving according to the gospel, living with the mind of Christ, leads to community. (p. 43)”

    Having worked in higher education at a secular institution for the last 18 years, I can see why building true community (the lack of which people often lamented) was so difficult. The very nature of academia is to excel beyond your peers. The poor faculty are set hurdle after hurdle to “prove” themselves intellectually and those on tenure track even lose their positions after many years of work if they don’t “perform”. It can be a cruel system. I can see why Henri eventually followed a different path.

    Having been a religious sister before working in academia, I came to my work with a different approach, but really on the down low. I never talked about my background, but somehow it snuck into my daily work it seems. My official job description was to help faculty with their teaching, but my day-to-day work really turned into listening and being present to people – and how needed and appreciated that was. As I prepared to retire, I started to realize how precious and sacred the conversations had been over the years.

    The time we got closest to building community I felt was a two-year span where I arranged workshops and weekly gatherings on self-care and mindfulness. People were so hungry for it and so grateful. It provided a place for them to be vulnerable and human – OK not to be superhuman and infallible! And OK to need help and each other! I never brought religion into the mix, because of the secular nature of the institution and my job, but I knew Christ’s love was present and could heal just the same. It was an amazing gift for all of us.

    • Suzanne,

      Your response resonated with me. I am a retired ordained pastor and now a licensed psychotherapist who treats adult survivors of sexual trauma. Because of professional ethics, I too can’t bring “religion into the mix. ” But as you point out, I too know Christ’s love is present and can “heal just the same.”

      That said, it’s hard for me to see people struggle and not speak directly about God’s love. It is so necessary to know and practice the love of Jesus by remembering my baptism and sitting with the Sacred in silence. Only in that place, held at the Center, can I give my agenda to God and come closer to peace.

      But maybe this daily practice itself, is a form of peacemaking. Henri speaks of the spirituality of peacemaking (46), unfurling from prayer, saying ‘no’ from a a greater ‘yes’ (51) and coming to community (in your words): “on the downlow.”

      Thank you for your honest words.

      • Suzanne Shaffer says:

        Thank you, Beverly!
        I recently had lunch with a professor from that time who said, “You helped so many people!” and I think “It wasn’t just me!” Now being retired I feel more free to talk about life and work more broadly with people. And as I think and pray about next steps, I am considering a pastoral care program at our local hospital. I feel there is such a need among a vast majority of people in our area who are not practicing any formal religion and need a caring compassionate ear. I am wondering if perhaps the previous work has prepared me uniquely to be with these folks in a way that might eventually bridge into a discussion of God’s care amid their suffering. Still praying about it. Thanks for sharing your story and insights!

  8. Sherman Bishop says:

    “I became deeply aware that a lot of my actions, a lot of the things I was doing came forth out of my needs, and my needs quite often were related to deep, deep hurts that somewhere were hidden far away in my own history.“ (pg. 49 in my Kindle edition) For me this is a most relatable statement. In fact I could have written it myself. The issue of acting out of our needs and hurts has been rolling around in my head a lot reading this chapter (#5) and the last. Perhaps this is one reason I find Henri Nouwen so relatable.

    In my formative years, and into young adulthood, I reinforced my doubts and fears by constantly comparing myself to others. In high school I was an athlete, a good athlete but not great. I was a musician, a good musician but not great. A scholar, a good student but not great. There was always someone else who excelled at least a little more in any activity, and my response was to compare myself to them, and of course rate myself as “coming up short” in the comparison. That led to resentment deep inside, and not to thanksgiving. Or as Henri might have framed it, I was choosing isolation and death over community and life. Perhaps that is a story line with some truth for anyone who has lived through their teenage years, where so much within our bodies are changing, and we become aware of how much in the world is changing. I went through my teen years in the 60’s, so changes in our society and world were very pronounced.

    The truth I hear in Henri’s writings is that only in prayer and in solitude do we afford ourselves the opportunity to have an encounter with the Living God. That encounter is able to bring us to the journey of transformation of discovering the primacy of knowing whose we are, and put aside (slowly I might add) an identity built on what we do, accomplish and for which we are praised.

    That slow transformation of self is, I am convinced, only possible in community. For as I increasingly know myself as one deeply and completely loved by the One who is love, I find it possible to not be jealous of the accomplishments of others, but to be grateful for them and free to celebrate with them. As Henri said, “ And the fruits (of prayer) are very clear. The fruits are joy, peace, freedom, gentleness, tenderness, care, and real creative human relationships.” (pg 50 in my Kindle edition. Note: I don’t know how to bold text using this format, but if I did I would have bolded “and real creative human relationships”.)

    Henri said that life is always changing. The world around us is always changing, a reality for any living in this moment of human history. And we, as individuals are always changing as well. A part of that necessary change and growth is to discover that as an individual, the greatest and most fruitful expression of that is found in community. To use Pauline language, we are the Body of Christ, and individually members of it. Not the same, but each and every one of us making our contribution to a healthy, functioning community poised to witness to life, to hope and to the present and still coming reign of God.

    So it’s not ALL about me, but the One who loves me is also the One who values me. This One gives me the freedom to also love and value others, a gift best practiced in community. “Soli Deo Gloria!”

    • Suzanne Shaffer says:

      Hi Sherman,
      Thanks for your post and sharing – What keeps coming across to me is a reminder that if we give God space and time to act, he’ll build up in us that sure knowledge of being loved and valued!! That word, “value”, really hit home. The more I let that reality sink in, the more able I am to see that my life has been such a GIFT! And that gives me confidence and energy to share that love out to the world.
      Thanks for that, Sherman…you’ve given me my meditation for today… loved and valued…

  9. Dana McGowan says:

    A lot to ponder in relation to my own life. Being honest here, I found myself thinking, “Oh, I experienced that”, ” I did that” and not in a humble way either. And I could write about all of those extraordinary experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met like Adam. All I can say is the individuals I met and taught and hung out with who had a variety of disabilities is the closest I’ll ever get to solitude. The broken who I could be myself with and vulnerable with. There are no words to describe my love for them and their innocence and beauty. Patty, Franklin, and Bob all were called to Jesus. Alice no longer knows who I am.
    My real work is in my community of marriage! Ongoing confession and forgiveness? What work…lol. Lastly, I thought about if I stopped talking there’d be nothing to say because its so much nonsense. Prefer security of misery? Ugh.
    Deo gratias!
    I felt so close to God in those times with these individuals. I have been blessed to know them and be acknowledged unconditionally by them.

    • Marge says:

      Thank you, Dana…you remind me of the gift of being with my friends who lived with dementia/Alzheimer’s. I, too, experienced an awareness that I was so free to be me and found that through my relationships with them, I often felt like my best self! Most often when our time together came to a close I would say, “I’ll be back”. To hear their response of “Oh, I hope so” was enough. True gift!

      For the first time, I, now think of that in my relationship with God…saying to God after time each morning with Him, “I’ll be back,” and hearing God respond with, “Oh, I hope so”! So simple, yet profound revelation for me personally and giving me a sense of bringing and living that into “community” in whatever varied shape and form it may take on.

      I appreciate the wisdom of not limiting the concept of community that Henri expresses so clearly in chapter 4, “Community starts becoming visible as soon as we perceive ourselves as fellow travelers, as people on the same road.”
      Adding, “It all depends on the way we come to each other. Human beings are created for each other, and are alive to give and share.”

      Brings me a lighthearted spirit, yet gravity of purpose….grateful that God came through Jesus as a fellow traveler for a time, and indwelling Holy Spirit continues to lead and guide, give comfort and counsel, and so much more….

  10. Patricia Hesse says:

    I am not a fan of the word, “vulnerable,” yet feeling vulnerable is an emotion that is often mine. It is uncomfortable and shouts that I am not in control, despite what I sometimes think. My aversion to admitting I am vulnerable is, in itself, another sign of my vulnerability.

    On page 54, Henri states: “Without vulnerability, confession, and forgiveness, we grow more and more defensive, distancing ourselves from one another.” …and then he goes on to say, “Community is that place where we remain vulnerable to each other. In shared vulnerability we make love visible in this world.”

    I excel at covering up my vulnerability –when problems arise (and they do), I easily compartmentalize events, paste on the smile, keep going, and no one is the wiser. Of course, if we are honest –the rumor mill is much more effective than even Amazon Prime delivery in getting the word out despite what we believe. Vulnerability is a challenge that several years ago I forced myself to face. I imagine God decided it was time and broke through my prideful veneer.

    Twenty years ago, my oldest daughter who was in law school at the time “got pregnant”; I think that’s the correct term. I handled that in my prideful, stoic manner –but it definitely caused my vulnerability to fester. Ten years passed and I heard that a childhood friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in several years, was having a hard time because her son had “gotten” his girlfriend pregnant. She handled it by isolating herself in anger at his irresponsibility and not discussing it. I thought about that and decided to butt in (God had finally broken through). I called her and was surprised she answered. We talked a bit and then I blurted out, “I heard you are going to be a grandma!” Complete silence on the other end. Then I said, “Wait. They aren’t married, are they? Oh, my! I know you must be devastated.” (I waited for the expected hanging up.) She then expressed her disappointment and how they had ruined their young lives. I let her rant –sometimes ranting is good. Then I said, “Oh my! Wait a minute! It seems I remember my oldest daughter being pregnant and not married either! Good grief! That’s not what I had planned for her. Yes, seems I remember that. I worried and stewed and cried and grieved over something that has brought me the greatest joy. I can’t imagine my life without that precious baby girl who blesses us all and has each and every day of her life.” She didn’t say a word –silence, but she didn’t hang up either. Finally, she said, “Thank you. I needed to hear that.”

    I don’t know what she felt, said, or did later, but that conversation worked wonders for me. I like to think it did for her, too. Since then, with God’s help, I try to look for ways my vulnerability might find community with someone else. Do I always succeed? No –remember I said that I excel at covering up my vulnerability, but I am getting much better at finding common vulnerability with those I know and doing what Henri tells us is part of community: “In shared vulnerability we make love visible in this world.”

  11. Ray Glennon says:

    From Anna Katherine Montgomery
    My name is Anna Katherine and I have been meaning to leave a Hello comment here. Hello! I joined the study last week and am getting caught up with the readings. I first heard of Henri Nouwen and his lovely writing about two years ago, and I have his book In the Name of Jesus. I thought that the subject of this book is particularly needed and poignant at this time. I currently live in North Carolina where I have several relatives including some who have been ill, and have also recently lived for many years in Massachusetts where I worked part time in ministry and in editorial and music work. I am a little homesick for Massachusetts so happy to hear of many from there too! Henri Nouwen’s writings are so clear and often so meaningful. I am excited to learn mo

  12. Sharon K. Hall says:

    For me, the part I chose to reflect upon was chapter 6 and then relating to chapter 1. Fear, it is so prevalent—I have been trying to extricate myself from it for years and welcome being able to benefit from Henri Nouwen’s insights about the importance of solitude and authentic intimacy and community forming as solitude greeting solitude. The apology he wrote about “I’m sorry brother, I’m sorry, sister. I’m sorry that I am not the way that you want me to be,” I don’t know if I’ve ever expressed and I’m trying to examine myself if I’ve felt this apology or have been too busy defending myself or too distrustful that some other person wouldn’t respond “That’s all right. I love you.” This is simple stuff but often the simplest reconciliations are the most profound and highest, in my opinion. In chapter 1, “To forgive other people for being able to give you only a little love—that’s a hard discipline. To keep asking others for forgiveness because you can give only a little love—that’s a hard discipline too.” Especially, I can relate when Henri writes, “Those who ministered to me were those who were not afraid to be with me.” Page 13. I have experienced that, my sort of leperous life story, some insightful and gifted clergy and friends but what has been sort of hard has been a feeling I try to deal with that some naysayers would like to deconstruct this help really from God through some of His people, a person has to stand in the truth and not be afraid of other people’s fears too. Goes back to Jesus’s story which is foundational.

    • Dana McGowan says:

      Gosh Sharon, So relatable. I’ve had such an awful time forgiving those who could only give me a little love. Didn’t know forgiveness was the answer at the time. Awful to harbor resentment and anger (and for more than one person!) Thank goodness lesson learned. I’m at peace. Thanks for your share.

  13. Ray Glennon says:

    Nadiia, Connie, Chris, and I have added comments to the post from last week. You can read them by following this link or going to the Recent Posts area in the upper right hand column and clicking on Nov 28th to Dec 4th: First Week of Advent.

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