July 27th to August 2nd: Drinking the Cup

Reading:  Part Three— Drinking the Cup
I shall take up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. (Psalm 116:13)

Henri beautifully captures the shared experience of this extraordinary online community when he writes: “When we are fully committed to the spiritual adventure of drinking  our cup to the bottom, we will soon discover that people who are on the same journey will offer themselves to us for encouragement and friendship and love.  It has been my most blessed experience that God sends wonderful friends…”  Thus far on our journey we have held our cup–and seen our joys hidden in our sorrows in the cup of blessings; and we have lifted our cup–for the community to see and celebrate the cup of life.   This week Henri encourages us to drink the cup of salvation to the bottom and he offers three disciplines to lead us to this spiritual freedom.

Here are three thoughts you may find helpful to begin unpacking the reading.  As always, please feel free to respond to any of the ideas below, to share your reflections on something that touched you,  or to read and reflect silently.  We are blessed by your presence.

1.  Henri writes, “Spiritual greatness has nothing to do with being greater than others… True sanctity is precisely drinking our own cup and trusting that by thus fully claiming our own, irreplaceable journey, we can become a source of hope for many.”  (p. 89)  Sounding a similar theme, Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”  Consider your own journey–the joys and the sorrows–and reflect on those times when you did small things with great love and became a source of hope for those whose lives you touched.

2.  Henri tells us, “Jesus drank the cup of his life… He knew that drinking the cup would bring him freedom, glory, and wholeness” and offer all humanity the promise of salvation and life everlasting.   Consequently, Henri can confidently write, “Drinking the cup of salvation means emptying the cup of sorrow and joy so that God can fill it with pure life.”   This “pure life” is real freedom from our addictions, compulsions, and obsessions, or our self-indulgence.   Henri reminds us that “…this freedom comes to us every time we drink from the cup of life, whether a little or much.”    Look back on your life experiences and examine those times when you chose to drink from the cup of life you were holding at the time and identify and be grateful for the freedom that resulted from your choice.    How did God take the cup that you emptied and fill it with pure life?

3.  At the outset of this crucial chapter, Henri writes: “It is important, however, to be very specific when we deal with the question, ‘How do we drink the cup?’  We need some very concrete disciplines… to find in them our unique way to spiritual freedom…  the discipline of silence, the discipline of the word, and the discipline of action.”   Henri emphasizes that these are the disciplines we should follow to “drink our cup of salvation.” Prayerfully reflect on Henri’s description of each of the three disciplines and assess how well you are are living that discipline today.   For each discipline, identify the areas where you are the most comfortable and self-assured in your practice of that discipline and how that leads you to spiritual freedom.   Then consider the uncertainties, insecurities, or questions you may have in the practice of each discipline.  What concrete, specific steps can you take to make the practice of that discipline a more meaningful part of you life?  You might write those steps down for yourself and place them at the foot of the cross to ask Jesus for assistance.

We are all called to drink the cup.  Henri Nouwen points the way.  We look forward to hearing from you this week.

July 29th Update: Maureen at the Henri Nouwen Society found the photograph of Henri and his close friend Trevor (see Chapter 5) shown below.  Enjoy!

Henri Nouwen and his close friend Trevor.
“When you’re happy and you know it… lift your glass.” 

WithTrevor1987 (1)May the Lord give you the same peace that Henri found with his friends at Daybreak.


42 Replies to “July 27th to August 2nd: Drinking the Cup”

  1. This was a really meaningful section for me to read. I enjoy experiencing silence in nature and that is when I can feel close to God. My first thought when reading about the word, was that it meant reading scripture. Then I learned that it meant sharing our word with others. This is more challenging for me. I liked reading that God will bring folks into our lives with whom we can walk and share our lives. This will lead us to learning what kind of action we need to take. I now think I recall Henri mentioning in other works the need for silence and community to help us find our vocation. Definitely a lot for me to reflect upon in this section.

  2. This section resonated with me on many levels. I love Henri’s writing style, his thoughtfulness, his practicality, ability to tie into scripture, and have us reflect on our own life/experiences. Adding the beautiful comments shared by all of you made for a rich experience. Thanks to each of you.

    Page 85– “Refusing a drink is avoiding intimacy”. This struck me between the eyes. As an introvert, I often pass on invites with co-workers or acquaintances. I sometimes use the excuse that I am not interested in the bar scene or am tied up with the children. Bottom line– it is avoiding intimacy– and prevents me from fully drinking the cup. …….more prayer and reflection.

    1. Todd,
      Thanks for your honest comment. I need to be struck between the eyes multiple times–first by Henri and then by your comment. My tendency to avoid is intimacy something I took away from this book, reemphasized by your comment.
      Peace and all good.

  3. When I was young, my piano teacher assigned a Chopin piece. It proved too difficult for me.; not because of the notes, but because I did not have enough life experience to feel the emotion. She would say, “Can’t you feel Chopin’s sadness in each phrase?” A few years later both of my parents died. A decade later I was single mother of three beautiful children. It was bittersweet because I carried so much responsibility and I missed my parents dearly. Thirty years later I have returned to piano lessons and this piece. The joys and sorrows of my cup pour out with each measure of Chopin. Mature and more confident hands play the same notes now because I am “befriending” (page 87) my life and drinking my cup.

  4. I am one of the silent participants, faithfully reading the comments that are shared so openly. Perhaps this has been a time of silence for me so that I can “confront my true self.” I feel that God has been opening my heart and enriching me with all that I am contemplating, learning and praying about. Thank-you for allowing silent participants like me in this community.

  5. Henri writes that “making the best of it” is not what drinking the cup is about. I always thought that is was. If the wine has turned sour you use it for salad dressing.
    Perhaps he meant both making the best of it and perhaps not being ashamed of our plights. What comes to mind is the old notion of people deserving their misfortunes because they did something wrong and they were paying for it. It reminds me of John 9:2-3 “His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 I am wondering if this is what he meant by “Drinking our cup is ahopeful, courageous, and self-confident way of living.”

  6. There are so many, so many points that I could make… First in gratitude for God, for Henri, for the sharing this community, and for you Ray. I think that even Chris at the 7-Eleven store has found a community of compassion here. One that he may not know about, but one that cares about him. One that is thinking about him, and one that is praying for him. The people that Henri wrote about touch my heart, and brought me almost to tears at times. He does a great job of inviting into the full experience of the sadness of limitations and the beauty of these people. I have been inspired by the courage and the wisdom of patients, friends, students, colleagues, and even children that I know. Sometimes the surprises are the best.
    I loved the picture of Trevor. His story was one of my favorite moments. Another was when Jean Vanier came to visit. The first thing that he did was to connect to the suffering with his presence and with validation, and then offered a sense of reframing the experience in terms of a mission. Outstanding! We can hold sadness and joy, gratefulness, and purpose, and be connected to something larger than ourselves all at the same time.
    The piece that speaks to my spiritual path is “silence, speaking , and acting” as disciplines. I tend to keep these out of balance- being much toooooooo busy. Henri is placing a conviction within me for the discipline of claiming to hear the voice of the one who calls me the Beloved. I hear it from him again and again. I hope I have the courage to listen to Henri’s wisdom.

    1. Dr. Connie,
      Thank you so much for your wonderful thoughts about Chris and this community. You have given me a new way to think about it all.

  7. “What is good about our life is that you make so many friends. What is hard about our life is that so many friends leave.” Today my wife Jane and I celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary and will celebrate this evening with 30-40 people from every part of our life together. What an overwhelming gift to experience “some of the love they have lived with you”. You all will be there with us in our hearts.

    1. Happy Anniversary John and Jane! You are an inspiration! Enjoy your celebration and know that so many hold you close in thought and prayer.
      Henri Nouwen Society

  8. Perhaps my friend, Chris, at the 7-11, is doing just what he should be doing.

    I heard a homily last Sunday about one of my favorite stories in the Hebrew bible, the story of Jacob wrestling with God. In the story, they wrestle all night and when God sees he is not “prevailing,” he gives Jacob’s hip a hard whack, putting it “out of joint,” and demands that Jacob let him go. Jacob refuses to let go until God blesses him (remember this is the same Jacob who tricked his brother, Esau, out of their father’s deathbed blessing and is now going home to try to make peace with Esau who has been seen approaching with 400 men–not encouraging). God not only blesses Esau, but he gives him a new name and, with it, a new identity. Jacob becomes Israel, the father of the twelve tribes. The name, Israel, means one who wrestles with God.

    The point of the sermon was that what God wants is for us to hold on until we are blessed. God wants us to hang on for dear life, to struggle with him, to refuse to let go, to insist on that blessing, to be wounded in the effort, to walk away limping, but to walk away new.

    I am a cradle Episcopalian and certainly consider myself a Christian in my own peculiar, inclusive way, but I don’t believe that it’s as easy as John makes it out (John and I have trouble on several points), that all we have to do is “believe.”

    Can you imagine how all this speculation and discussion would sound to Chris on my corner?

    I’m just being frustrated, I think, at not being able to walk across the street, carrying two cups of coffee, sit down and just be present in a way that might make God present, too. But Chris continues to need to sit alone. I do believe God is with him, and will, as with Mary, “overshadow” him in some way I can’t understand.

    1. Dean,
      I would suggest that just by acknowledging Chris, knowing his name, carrying him in your heart, and remembering him in your prayers you are, in fact, present to him–and in the way that God needs you to be present for Chris, even if it may not be the way you might envision or need to be present for someone else. Thanks for sharing the story and your presence with us.

  9. How lovely it is to be with all of you. I keep on reading and rereading this chapter and I keep on reading again and again your comments. What will our Lord say to us searchers? What He said to Peter,’Simon Bar Jonah, you are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven.’ Keep on trusting that the Lord will help you drink the cup and beauty of this cup is when we drink it without being bitter, our Heavenly Father keeps on filling the empty part with His Grace and love, which keeps on helping us to face the harshness in our lives, the scenes from Gaza, poverty in Peru, young widows still burnt alive in India. We wonder where God is in all this.
    I heard a voice with in me long time ago when I started to teach English to an elderly Afghan man who had escaped war in his country when Russia was trying to occupy his country. I was sitting listening to the stories of the horrors in his language, which I knew as I was born in that part of the world when the British ruled India. I was 40 and he was 66, we cried and hugged and later that evening I just cried and cried, almost wondering, where was God in all this suffering. He had to leave 5 children and his wife behind as he had managed to escape when he was in prison. A voice said to me, ’I was there. ‘I will never forget that. With the help of many churches, we brought all his family over. He was like a father figure to me. Very wise man and highly educated. So I do believe that we are all loved, even when we do not feel it or know so. I ask in my prayer that the Lord will show me where I must love those who cannot feel His love. He sends me and at times, I am ever so slow to respond, but, He keeps on prodding.
    I was drawn to this community when I was not very well and was at home and I just clicked the sentence below the Comment in Daily meditation,’ Join us in reading,’ Life of the Beloved.’ And when I was ill, I got an email from Maureen saying, we are praying for you and do tell us how you are. I will never forget that,’ That email was and will remain in my soul as if my Heavenly Father was saying to me I love you, and you are my beloved. So I can and have lifted up my cup of sorrow and I will keep on drinking, always remembering how faithful our Lord is. As goes the song,’ I have decided to follow Jesus…’
    Trust, prayer, scripture, prayers for others and our favourite man Henri Nouwen’s books will lead us home. I have been rescued many a times. First time was hard, now it is relatively harder. God bless you all, you are all in my prayers, we are all the beloved brothers and sisters of Jesus and children of the same Father in Heaven. Lata

  10. Wounded and healed was St. Ignatius whose feast we celebrate today. Some have called him the “world’s first psychologist” because of the way he understood the thoughts, feelings, etc. of the human psyche. I am ever grateful to him for the Spiritual Exercises which is a wonderful tool to use as our journey of faith. I wish for everyone here as we drink our cups of lives the chance to join Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises.
    When I have the cup of sorrows, it is then that I need to see Jesus as my ever present, faithful companion on the way…even if to Calvary and then onto to new life.
    Thank God for Ignatius and his gift to us as we walk together.

  11. Just this morning I received a text message from a friend, quoting Lao tzu (a Chinese philosopher and poet from ancient China…I had to look that up!) “People who are depressed are living in the past. People who are anxious are living in the future. People who are at peace are living in the present”
    I was incredibly impacted by this quote in part because it reminded me of Henri and for me, it answers the question posed by Henri: “How do we drink the cup of salvation?” Henri says “We have to drink our cup slowly, tasting every mouthful–all the way to the bottom.” For me, living in the present is “drinking the cup slowly and tasting every mouthful”. As someone who struggles with guilt and regrets about my past and with anxiety about the future, I am reminded of the freedom and peace that comes from practicing mindfulness….being truly “present” in each moment. But I also am thinking it means first I must leave my sorrows and anxieties at the foot of the cross in the discipline of silence…the first way to drink our cup according to Henri. In silence Jesus says to me “Don’t be afraid; you can look at your own journey, its dark and light sides, and discover your way to freedom” So drinking the cup for me means not denying my past or my tendency towards worry and anxiety, but instead “confronting my true self” in silence….believing and embracing the voices of truth that “takes away our fear and makes us realize that we can face our own reality”
    This chapter has actually had the greatest impact on me. The disciplines of word and action also resonate with me but I will end my reflection here.

    Have a blessed day everyone. We are all wounded healers

  12. “Drinking the cup of salvation means emptying the cup of sorrow and joy so that God can fill it with pure life.”

    I spent many years avoiding the sorrows of my life, my fears prevented me from drinking the cup I was given. I had to be pushed, in desperation, to begin to drink that cup. I am now draining it eagerly, sorrow and pain included, just to get to the bottom – because it has been my experience that every swallow of sorrow clears a space for that “pure life” to enter. I am fully engaged in my life today, open and vulnerable, and filled with the Joy of Living – simply because I became willing to drink the entire cup.

    1. Marsha, when we next hear someone say, “Bottoms UP” at a celebration or a meal., we will have a whole new meaning to that idea. Taking all of life “With Open Hands” (another great Nouwen book) is a true blessing.

  13. Hello everyone,

    In the Japanese context in which I’m presently living and ministering, it is difficult to go anywhere without the ubiquitous cup of green tea in one of it’s various forms making an appearance. Upon entering another’s home or workplace, the hot cup of green tea provided by the host represents an elemental yet highly symbolic gesture of hospitality and friendship. It forms the basis of all that will take place from that moment onwards and as such, the way in which it is received and enjoyed is very important not only for the one drinking but for the one who provides the drink also.

    I have enjoyed reading the many comments and thoughts so far; in reading the material for this week, my thoughts resonated with the second of the three thoughts and in particular the words, “The great figures in history looked deeply into their cups and drank from them without fear.” When I read these words I was reminded of the Old Testament account of Gideon who had to whittle down the size of his army before going into battle with the Midianites. Those warriors who knelt down with their faces in the water to drink were let go but those who lapped the water from cupped hands were chosen for the task – it’s not that they didn’t drink as deeply as those with their faces in the water – but there was a readiness, an alertness, an awareness of their circumstances as they held that which they drank in the cup of their hands.

    In the final few sentences of this week’s readings we read, “Yes, we can drink the cup of life to the bottom, and as we drink it we will realize that the One who has called us “the Beloved,” even before we were born, is filling it with everlasting life.”

    The notion that we don’t have to wait until we have drunk all of our joys and sorrows from the cup of salvation before God in turn fills it with everlasting life is one that resonates with me personally; instead it is as we drink from the cup, as we experience the joys and sorrows and all that life inevitably brings with it, as we share hospitality with others in this way, that God simultaneously pours his life and Spirit into the very same cup.

    1. Thanks, Daniel, for the affirmation you give to God’s great mercy. I fill and raise my cup of green tea with you!

  14. I became seriously ill last Sunday night and was hospitalized with complications from chemo, but am happy to be home back at this book study. I felt the prayers of many and I thank God for it.
    There has been some pretty serious philosophical/spiritual debate in this round and the answers are not simple. For myself, having experienced “burnout”, I make very sure that what I think I need to do is actually what God is calling me to do. That being said, I have been called twice to go serve on a medical team in Guatemala – experiences that were so rich they are difficult to describe.

    I think I’ve said on every chapter, “I could meditate on this all summer,” but NOW, really, this last chapter really cannot be grasped in a single read through. LOL It is something that needs to be read until you feel God tugging on your heart strings. Then I usually underline the part that speaks to me and I stop reading. If I meditate on it for several days, I find God clarifies what it means for me in my life at this time in this place. I’m glad the word “authentic” finally came up. It is NOT easy to drink the cup, and I choose not to associate with Christians who like to put up a big false front as though drinking the cup is a piece of cake. That being said, one of the things I hear God saying to me through this reading (and interestingly my husband got the same prompting just on Sunday) is that we need to get back into a small group for sharing in order to help me through my cancer journey. It’s usually as simple as putting a notice in the church bulletin, and praying and sharing with whoever shows up.

    p. 105 “But we have the discipline to stay put and not let these dark voices intimidate us, they will gradually lose their strength.” I have found this to be true and it also echoes the verse in James 4:7 “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Brynn put a suggestion in the last book study to envision closing the door on negative thoughts and fears which we cannot stop. I took it one step further and I envision slamming the door and I find it’s really effective. : ) We have a God who loves us and doesn’t want us to be afraid or worried and stressed out.

    I have only one comment about whether everyone can drink the cup. The short answer is “yes,” because we know Jesus said in John 7:38, “Anyone who believes in me may come and drink!” but we do know that not everyone will come. It sounds like you’re describing a homeless man with mental illness, Dean. All I can say is that the God I know who has shown so much mercy to me will have a plan for poor tortured souls. It does not let me off the hook from ministering to them, yet at this time, I know that I do not have a homeless ministry. We are not promised physical safety, or freedom from disease, but the one thing God promises us is that all we have to do is turn to him. If the homeless man turns to God in any way even in his silence, God has already honoured him. So hope that’s not too simplified.

    My last probably biggest take home point is on p. 96 where Henri says, “Jesus took it all in, not as a hero adorned and then vilified, but as the one who had come to fulfill a mission and who kept his focus on that mission whatever the responses were.” I found the first 2 questions hard to answer because I don’t want to brag about anything. The times when other people were inspired by me have been the times when I heard God’s voice and I responded with, ‘Show me the way.” So I pray for singleness of vision and I claim God’s promises that He will help me be faithful. Can’t find that verse at the moment. God bless you all. I get so much from the sharing. Have a good weekend. Marianne

    1. Marianne,
      May the Lord continue to give you peace in your battle against cancer. Your comment about the last chapter that “…it needs to be read until you feel God tugging on your heart strings” is one that speaks to me. I have struggled with this chapter–and similar chapters in other Nouwen book discussions where he talks about “disciplines.” I’m pretty sure I feel God “tugging” and I can express what I “should” do, however, I have not had the discipline (or, perhaps, the trust) to fearlessly let go of whatever it is that is holding me back from adopting these disciplines. And the disciplines Henri talks about in Can You Drink This Cup? are the same disciplines that he emphasized in Making All Things New written 15 years earlier. The difference, I believe, is that by the time he wrote this book, Henri had heard and trusted God’s call and then taken the risk to leave his academic career and live his calling to join the community and to minister at L’Arche. I continue to make Henri’s prayer my own: “Lord show me what you want to do and I will follow. But please be clear and unambiguous about it.” My further prayer is that I will have the wisdom, understanding, and discipline to “drink the cup” when the Lord shows me what he wants me to do.

  15. While this is my first time to comment on the summer discussion board, I have been following your conversations every day and have appreciated the courage, insightfulness, and sincerity of those of you who have shared the heart-wrenching and heart-warming ways you have shared the cup of Jesus. Like Charles, I am sometimes at a loss to distinguish between my will and God’s call to action. Like Dean, I wish to reach out to the homeless or “the other.” How can I reach out in sympathy and empathy? How can I share their cup? I agree with all who have affirmed the importance of a community with which to share our vulnerabilities and spiritual journeys, and I too admire Henri’s model of his L’Arche community.
    I do, however, worry most about those with whom I cannot directly interact, those with whom I cannot directly form a community of sharers–those whose cups are spilling over with unimaginable sorrow and hardships in Gaza, Israel, the Ukraine, the Sudan, the Mexican-US border. How is God calling me to action besides prayer (though, of course, the power of prayer can never be underestimated)? How can we even eat dinner after watching the horrors of the evening news? While each of us is small, how can we rally an outcry of millions against the outrages committed against those who, like us, are made in the image of God?
    I think often of the icon of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, whose heart is broken by the cups of bitterness that human beings force down the throats of fellow children of God. I can indeed work with the homeless, lonely, and powerless in my own community, but how to do so in my global community? I imagine the saints in heaven, who have earned an eternity of happiness with God, weeping in communion with those who suffer on earth. How do we reach this expanded level of empathy on earth–and then act on it?

  16. I am grateful for everyone’s comments and sharing so deeply. I’m a bit behind on the text as I like to go slowly. What I can share is that I embrace the quote: the discipline of silence, the discipline of the word, and the discipline of action.” Henri emphasizes that these are the disciplines we should follow to “drink our cup of salvation.”
    Henri’s words affirm for me the Benedictine “Ora et Labora” which tells me how I need to strike a balance between my prayer chair and my shoes that bring the Gospel to every event in my daily life. Therese’s Little Way proclaims what Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
    How this encourages me because I’m happy to know that God calls me to “Bloom where I am planted.”

  17. Ray,

    From an early Jewish mystic, “Ecstasy, I think, is a soul’s response to the waves holiness makes as it nears.”
    (Quoted in a book I recommend to everyone in the world! “For the Time Being,” by Annie Dillard. An important book, I think)

  18. I, too, had the reaction that this was not my favorite part of the book, but I did love the observation that having a drink together – coffee, beer, whatever, – “is a sign of friendship, intimacy, and peace.” I have one of those one-cup coffee makers in my office at church, so I’m always ready to share a cup with anyone who visits me there. From now on I think I will be more intentional about this kind of sharing.

  19. “We might object by saying, ‘I do not have such trustworthy friends, and I wouldn’t know how to find them.’ But this objection comes from our fear of drinking the cup that Jesus asks us to drink.”

    I’m having some problems with this. I don’t think that everyone out there, in all those terrible parallel worlds that I, thank God, don’t inhabit–the worlds of the desperately poor, the homeless, the sick and old–has the opportunity to find these “loving and caring friends.” It seems unlike Nouwen to say that “When we are fully committed to the spiritual adventure of drinking our cup to the bottom, we will soon discover that people who are on the same journey will offer themselves to us for encouragement and friendship and love.”

    I believe that to be absolutely true for those of us who are on this journey, reading books by Henri Nouwen, participating in this community of like-minded people. Or for those, like the residents of Daybreak, who are blessed with the nurturing presence of a man like Henri and all the people who come there.

    Am I misreading here? It sounds uncomfortably like saying that if we do it right, if we drink the cup to the bottom, embrace the whole of ourselves and our lives, we’ll just attract those loving people. What if we aren’t even able to understand this kind of metaphorical language? What if we’re too hungry and miserable to be embracing anything? What if our looks, our behavior, our smell repels rather than attracts?

    I hate to be a voice of dissent, but this section is not among my favorites of Nouwen’s. I think I like him best when he’s wrapping his writing tightly and densely around scripture.

    Sorry, folks.
    Still loving this community and, in fact, still loving Henri Nouwen.

    1. Ms. Roberson,
      Your comment was very thought provoking for me. I recalled something I had read in an earlier Nouwen book discussion about Henri’s time in Latin America and I was able to locate it. In his book Lifesigns–Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective Henri writes: “One of the most compelling qualities of life in the Spirit of Jesus is that we are always being sent out to bring and receive the gifts of God to and from all peoples and nations.” (emphasis mine) He then mentions that when he went to Latin America he felt a need to “prove himself” by being productive. But what he came to realize was, “We might even say that in societies where people are so visibly dependent and vulnerable, God’s fruitful love often reveals itself with greater ease. After a few weeks among the poor in Lima, Peru, I was so impressed by their gifts of joy, peace, and gentleness–notwithstanding their great needs–that I came to realize that my vocation was as much that of receiver as giver. Perhaps it was more important for me to receive from the poor the many gifts born of their love than to try to make myself vulnerable in their eyes…When we come to a clear understanding that we are all brothers and sisters in the house of God–whatever our race, religion, or nationality–we realize that in God there is no distinction between haves and have-nots. We all have gifts to offer and a need to receive.” (p.62-63) And one of the most important gifts we have to exchange is to be a “trustworthy friend” for those we meet on our journey. So I believe that even in the most difficult of circumstances God will provide those trustworthy friends if we are open to their presence in our lives.

      Thanks for providing the opportunity to reflect on this. Your question led me to rediscover Lifesigns–a book that I need to reread.

      1. Ray,
        Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. I agree that we are all in the presence of God every minute, whether we are able to know that or not. I live in a wonderful old urban neighborhood and there are many homeless people who feel safe to be here. I see the same men day in and day out. I know they are in the city’s shelters at night, are fed breakfast, then are sent out to fend for themselves until dinnertime. One man in particular has gotten my attention. He is skittish; I can’t intrude on whatever space he has established around himself. But I have gotten to the point, over several months, of making occasional eye contact, very briefly, and sometimes nodding a hello. And I pray for him “without ceasing.” I do believe there is value for both of us, frankly more for me than for him. My heart opens to receive God in that exchange. I won’t know what it might mean for this man; only God knows that.

        While your passages are moving they still seem to me not quite convincing. Henri is describing a whole community, an entire culture of poverty, in which I am sure that the connection to God is powerful. My experience tells me that in that situation there is a group dynamic that pulls God into the equation. I’m still not convinced that’s true for the men who sit on the curb at the convenience store at the corner of my street. On the other side, one of the things I have observed about my friend there is his uncanny ability to do just what we’ve been discussing in this community–sit still and silent for long periods of time. I watch in amazement.

        And, to everyone, please call me Dean. The only reason I attach “Ms” to my name is that otherwise everyone usually assumes I’m a man.

        Thanks, thanks

      2. Well, Ray, I guess I have one more response to your thoughtful post. You say at the end that the friends will come “if we are open to their presence in our lives.” It does not look to me as if my friend on the curb at 7-11 is open to anything, nor is he able to be. I can see that, in his mind at least, his survival depends on absolutely not being open. Those walls are up because, in whatever way, he needs them up. That is not to say that God is not present in his life, in his days, but I watched him yesterday. He was out of his regular place and I came toward him, standing in the middle of the sidewalk a few blocks down. When he saw me coming toward him, more than a half block away, he froze, stared straight ahead, and rocked back and forth, until I had passed him and he felt safe again. I turned around and he was headed back to his curb near my house.

        I need some help, I guess, in understanding how we can apply the qualities Henri writes about–being open to receiving loving friends, or even God’s grace–to people in this situation. I see people for whom those attributes are just impossible. I believe God is there, is everywhere and with us all. I sometimes fail to understand what He or She has in mind.

        1. Dean,
          Thank you for your wonderful reply. This is a conversation that is very helpful to me. Your comments about your friend at the 7-11 prompted me to go back to something that I started writing last night that seems especially relevant now. Nouwen wrote Lifesigns while he was spending a year at L’Arche in Trosley-Breuil, France and before he made the decision to move to L’Arche Daybreak. So reading what he wrote in 1986 from the perspective of our book written ten years later is illuminating–and in my case, directly relevant to my life today.

          Lifesigns opens with an Introduction titled “From the House of Fear to the House of Love.” It begins this way: “We are a fearful people. The more people I come to know and the more I come to know people, the more I am overwhelmed by the negative power of fear. It often seems that fear has invaded every part of our being to such a degree that we no longer know what a life without fear would be like.” That sounds like it would describe your friend–and most of us at one time or another in our lives. Henri goes on to describe how fearful questions stemming from false worries (e.g., “concern for prestige, influence, power and control”) can guide our lives away from the house of love and into the house of fear. This is something that I am struggling with now at work.

          Henri then describes how he first met Jean Vanier at a retreat in Chicago to which Jean invited Henri as a participant, not as the retreat leader. Henri quotes Jean saying: “Working with mentally handicapped people, I have come to recognize that all human beings, whatever their condition, are called to intimacy, fecundity, and ecstasy.” After much reflection, Henri realized that these three characteristics described the house of love (my comment, or the kingdom of heaven) that “…Jesus offers us…right in the midst of our anxious world.” Nouwen then refers to Jesus’ farewell discourse in the Gospel of John: “Speaking of himself as the vine and of his disciples as the branches, Jesus says: ‘Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.’ (John 15:4) This is an invitation to intimacy. Then he adds: ‘Those who remain in me with me in them, bear fruit in plenty.’ (John 15:5). This is the call to fecundity. Finally, when he says: ‘I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and you and your joy may be complete’ (John 15:11), he promises ecstasy.” The remainder of the book is Nouwen’s exploration of these characteristics.

          How does this relate to your friend, to us, and to the book we are sharing? A recurring theme in Henri’s work is that like Jesus we are Beloved. It is a reality that I can certainly accept intellectually, but I struggle with at times in my heart. But it is critical to entering the house of love–to know that we are capable of being loved. And, as St. John reminds us in his first letter, “Perfect love casts out fear.” In our reading this week Jean Vanier’s answer to the question posed by Thelus may provide some insight. Jean said in part, “Because you and many others want to make Daybreak your home where you can feel well loved and well protected…You know, your joy and your pain give you a mission…you will be able to send your friends to continue their journeys without losing the joy they brought you.” We will be open to the presence of other in our lives if we know that we are the beloved–because to accept our belovedness is to drive out our fear. The core members at Daybreak have been blessed to find a safe and caring home where they are open to and experience God’s love. Unfortunately, there are many living on the street–and in great mansions or penthouse apartments–that remain closed off from that love and live a life of fear. Which, to end this long comment, reminds me that Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We are called to claim our belovedness (the “as yourself” part) and then share it with others.

          Thanks again for the chance to reflect on this. I do need to reread Lifesigns in the light of Can You Drink the Cup?.

        2. One additional thought — Recall Henri’s discussion of the sculpture of Pumunangwet in Part I where he writes: “He knows who he is… like that warrior, we must fully claim who we are and what we are called to live.” Standing there proud and tall Pumunangwet shows us what it means to know that we are Beloved.

  20. I now know why I came here to this book study.

    The questions have been really good for me to reflect on. I see myself and I need to change. I have a lot I am coping with, yes, but, I feel that I have fallen into a rut of negative thoughts fueled by fear and anxiety. I have isolated myself, but, as Henri said so well, other friends will emerge. I am living this before my very eyes!

    I am listening to a CD to help me with the fears and anxiety. God’s hand gently shows me what I need to do as I listen and read like phrases and words that get my attention. I am also listening to a CD series, for fun, and there are similar phrases and words! HA!

    THANKS GOD– as Mama used to say.

    I have made foolish choices and my actions are fear based. I know this.

    No matter what happens from this day onward, I will be ok.

    I thank you all for listening to me, again.

    Love and hugs to all!

  21. This is my first time in Community and I wasn’t going to speak but just read and learn….
    God is good all the time, and I did learn….

    I have alway wondered why we should give God thanks in ALL things, even in the bad times, and now I know it is because God works all things (bad as well as good) for good in our lives in His timing. I praise and thank him! It is both sorrow and joy together that fills our cup.

  22. I have enjoyed and benefited by the many comments in the early portions of this reading project. Thanks to all for your honesty and openness!

    The idea of “drinking” as an important image and symbol is common yet striking. My recent personal experience of dealing with stomach cancer and the removal of my stomach in two surgeries over a six week period has compelled a new way of experiencing “drinking” and eating. Smaller meals. Frequent sips. I tell friends “I can’t eat as much but I can eat all the time!” And when there’s something I’m not really up for, I can claim I “just don’t have the stomach for that!”

    Yet, in dealing with the “joy and the sorrow” of illness, learning to embrace and drink the cup is important and I’ve prayerfully attempted to do that in the company of friends. Which leads me back to the symbol of drinking–and remembering as I read this week’s meditations just how good it has been in recent days, gaining strength after completing some chemotherapy, to be able to “go for coffee” again with a good friend at a favorite donut shop! The very act of meeting, sharing life (in this case with a colleague also going through a cancer experience), and “drinking” together is a celebration of our relatedness, our shared life in the Lord, and our desire to “drink” the cups we’ve been given to the end that brings life and blessing to others. I am sure we “befriend our own reality” (87) best in the context of being with others in sharing our “word,” born out of our reflections in silence and leading to authentic, vocational action.

    I affirm that these disciplines (silence, word and action) “focus our eyes on the road we are traveling and help us to move forward” (111). I’m just glad these days that my road has been able to lead back by the coffee shop on Route 66 where the apple fritters are hot and delicious and the fellowship nourishing and enriching! Would love to share it with you should you pass this way!

    1. Don, when I read posts like yours with folks who are suffering through serious health issues, and I realize how my issues don’t even hold a candle to those that you are experiencing. I do appreciate your sharing your experiences, since more likely than not we will all face something in the future that will far outweigh anything we have experienced thus far. That is why in the first week I honestly put out there that I don’t know if I really can drink the cup. It is easy from my vantage point to speculate, and say “sure, I can do that,” but I won’t know until faced with the challenge(s). You have clearly been able to drink the cup, and I commend and admire you for so doing. You give me hope and inspire me at the same time. Thank you, and may God bless you.

  23. Ray
    Though my personal difficulties in understanding English, I have had a lot of good reflections with your comments.
    May Lord bless you.

    1. Iracema,
      Thank you for your comment and for joining us on this journey. We have one more week after this one (August 3rd to August 9th) to discuss Henri’s Conclusion and Epilogue and to offer any final reflections.

  24. From Vi
    This has been a wonderful book to share together, also as my first online experience. I have been a silent participant but nonetheless, deeply involved. Some days I silently told God that I didn’t think I could drink this cup any longer – but as I sit silently each morning, with God – today, say yes, I am drinking this cup – learning to drink fully, deeply, authentically – gratefully. The anguished sorrows & surprising joys. Is a rich blessing to be online together as a Community in this manner. Thank-you so much!

  25. Silence, Word, and Action. I liked that Henri Nouwen laid out a path for us to follow, or at least attempt to follow, in our quest to drink the cup. A few things in this section really struck me. I have read other books by Henri Nouwen where he has addressed the importance of solitude and silence, as that is where we will hear God speak to us. Unfortunately, I am not very good at this. The times I do sit in silence, and Henri Nouwen mentions this, my mind is flooded with all kinds of ideas and noise, hardly silence. And the opportunity to sit in silence seems so rare. Our culture and society is very noisy. Everywhere we go we find noise and chatter. At home, my wife and mother enjoy the television going non-stop, so even as I sit in my chair writing this the television is going full bore. And I am one of those people who noise bothers, so it isn’t easy for me! Reading this section simply reinforces the fact that I need to go out and find that silence somehow, somewhere, way more than the opportunities that I seem to have available at this time. Where do people find silence these days?

    The word was intriguing as well, and to me drove home the importance of choosing those who you share your joys and sorrows. You don’t want to share with just anyone. That kind of made me think that you have to use discretion in that regard.

    Finally, Henri Nouwen speaks of action. This, for me, is probably one of the hardest things to figure out. How do we distinguish our will from God’s will? It is easy to say that we will conform our desires and actions to the will of God, but how do we know what that is? If anyone has any thoughts on that matter, I would be curious. How do we truly recognize our vocation? How do we know what that is?

    Well, in spite of all my questions, I really got a lot out of Part Three, so don’t get the wrong idea. I figure just the fact that I have been asking myself these questions is a good sign. I hope the rest of you enjoyed reading this part as well.

    By the way, just an aside, I really enjoyed the portion where Henri Nouwen related the visit by Jean Vanier to the community, and what he told the folks. Jean Vanier is a phenomenal human being. If you are not familiar with his works and writings, I encourage you to learn about him. You will be glad you did.

    1. Hi, Charles,
      I too have always had great trouble sitting in silence and meditating. My mind doesn’t stop easily and I am distracted mostly by my own physical restlessness and need to be doing something. I live alone, though, and feel very blessed to have made a choice many years ago to keep a silent house. I don’t watch television or even listen to music I love unless I stop everything else and sit down to really listen. I guess what I’ve eliminated is background noise.

      Still, I can’t sit still and silent.

      I finally realized a while back that I don’t have to do it that way. What happens for me, in my daily life (which is full of the noise of friends dropping by or long phone conversations; I’m not a solitary), is my silent moments with God come in the course of mundane chores and events. If I am folding warm towels just out of the dryer, I take a minute to bury my face in them and focus on just that good moment; I try to feel God there. The same with washing dishes at the sink, glancing up and seeing my cat stretched out in a pose of complete trust, catching a quick glimpse of the light coming through a window, rubbing oil into the wood of a good antique. The more I practice extending these moments into a couple of minutes, into a few more, the more I have come to just do this automatically.

      At the end of these mini-meditations, I always thank God.

      I don’t know if this sounds like something anyone else could do or if it’s just my peculiar ritual, but it has worked for me in the face of huge frustration at not being able to meditate and listen to God “in the right way.”

      Maybe God’s letting me off the hook since I obviously am not going to “get it” the other way.

      1. Dear Ms. Robertson,
        Thanks for that good reminder! I have called them mini-vacations, that moment when I am distracted from the noise/activity about me and transported elsewhere, usually by something beautiful in nature. I can still see so clearly many of these moments in my mind’s eye, even years later – a bright red Cardinal flitting in the green bushes alongside the road on a rainy day, amazing cloud formations in my rear-view mirror, the laughter of my niece totally absorbed in the delights of sand, the quiet and fleeting movement of deer out the kitchen window. Maybe because I live in a big city, these moments in nature catch and move me so profoundly. But I liked the examples you gave from in the house. You reminded me that I can be more aware and open to these moments of silence as well!
        Thank you!

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