Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Love, Henri - a review

In an April 2016 article, the Catholic Register noted that twenty years after his death, Henri Nouwen was still “talking to us.” It also noted an upcoming book that would contain excerpts from some of his letters, offering advice and comfort even as the author struggled with depression.

Two years later, the book is now here, and even better, has reached my library’s Kindle shelf. After somewhat impatiently waiting, my turn has come. With more than 100 letters spanning his career, Love, Henri: letters on the spiritual life is a great spiritual treasure. It is a reminder that we all struggle, and while the struggles are unique to each of us, their essence is also shared. It is also a source of insight into Nouwen’s famed call to L’Arche Daybreak. In the letters from L'Arche, we can perceive that this is not a "ministry to" or even a "ministry with," but a "ministry of," where previously-forgotten people are allowed to use their gifts and show the power and love of God.

Nouwen's struggles are in some ways my own; especially in what to say about the book. So, after some thought, by way of review, I have chosen to quote a few letters about living at L’Arche and Nouwen’s discoveries, letting Nouwen and the people of L'Arche speak.

I am in France, living this past month with Jean Vanier and his community of handicapped people. It is a very special grace for me to live among people who suffer deep wounds but whose wounds have become the places where God’s compassionate love is becoming most visible. Living in a fellowship of the weak, I am learning much about the mystery of God’s presence among his people (101).
I am doing very well here in France. The handicapped people have a special gift to bring you closer to the heart of God. Their poverty reveals the heart. They teach me that human beings distinguish themselves from the rest of creation not so much by the mind as by the heart. The ability to give and receive love is what makes us human (113-114).
There is something about L’Arche that makes us suffer immensely. I never suffered so much and intensely as since I came to Daybreak. You know it. Somehow L’Arche opens up our deepest hungers, our deepest loneliness and our deepest sensitivities. I never have felt so at home and so lonely at the same time. I never have felt so abandoned and so supported at the same time. I never felt such a need for love while being so surrounded by loving people. It seems that L’Arche leads us to the inner place where we most deeply experience our immense desire for communion and at the same time the total impossibility to see that desire fulfilled in the place where we live. In L’Arche—at least for me—the extremes touch each other. Loneliness and joy; depression and ecstasy, communion and alienation (249-250).
Since I have been living and working at L’Arche, I have become convinced that every Christian community that gives part of its energy to the care of people with a mental handicap will soon discover the special graces connected with that care. After many years of studying and teaching theology, it truly has been a blessed discovery that many of the broken people of L’Arche have revealed more about God’s love to me than much of my studying and teaching ever did. As I am trying to understand this better, I have come to realize that mentally handicapped people, first of all, teach me that “being” is more important than “doing.” In our competitive world so much emphasis is given to doing that we forget that God first of all asks us simply to be with Him and with each other. Mentally handicapped people, who can “do” so little, can “be” so much. During my time at L’Arche I have also learned that the heart is more important than the mind. The heart is the core of our being, and it is there where the gifts of trust, hope and love are being offered to us. Mentally handicapped people, who often cannot be as mindful as others, are uniquely gifted to bring us in touch with the treasures of the heart. In a world where so much attention is paid to analysis, discussion of issues and strategies for the future, the “poor in spirit” offer us the hopeful message that it is from the heart that true peace and joy flow. Finally, I have come to see that people with a mental handicap have a unique gift to call us to community. Precisely because they are so dependent on others, they call us to live together, sharing our gifts, and form a sign of light in the midst of this world (151-152).
It is that sense of God’s presence in our life that allows us to trust in the power of God’s peace even when we do little. Living in L’Arche with the handicapped also opened my eyes to that peace that does not belong to this world but can be found here already (90).
The longer I live in the ministry, the more I feel the call to become weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, broken with the broken. My life with people who have a mental handicap has confronted me more and more with my own handicaps, my own weaknesses, and my own brokenness. But the more I was willing to be confronted in a gentle loving way, the more I discovered that God, indeed, chose to dwell where we can come together in a fellowship of the weak. But this ministry of healing has to be a ministry in the name of the One who healed through his wounds and who revealed his healing presence as the crucified one, who took the marks of his crucifixion into his new life with God (280-281).
In conclusion: What else should theology be about than the knowledge of God’s infinite love! (184)
Tim Vermande

No comments:

Post a Comment