Adam, God's Beloved
Henri Nouwen's last book
Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) was a Catholic priest who was born and died in the Netherlands, but his teachings continue to circle the world, deeply influencing people from many faith traditions. I once attended a Presbyterian church on Reformation Sunday-and you can't get much more Protestant than that-and was startled to hear a sermon about the vital work of Father Henri Nouwen. Nouwen's vision of spirituality was broad and inclusive, and it turned our common perspectives of life upside down. In contrast to the norms of our society, driven by individualism, materialism and sensationalism, Henri spoke of community, intimacy, downward mobility and solitude. He challenged us to trust the way of compassion, not competition, as the avenue toward a fulfilled vocation.
He was proud of his Dutch heritage, but he lived much of his life in the U.S. and is remembered by countless students whom he taught at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard. He wrote more than 40 books on spirituality and the spiritual life that have sold millions of copies and have been translated into dozens of languages. He spent seven months in the monastic life with Trappist monks at the Abbey of the Genesee where manual labor raised his awareness of how his excessive busy-ness and academic pursuits covered a reservoir of anger in his soul. His prayer life pulled him from Yale to live among the poor in Latin America with the Maryknoll missioners.
After a lifetime of seeking peace and solitude in his own restless soul, Henri Nouwen finally found his home in Toronto, Canada, as pastor of L'Arche Daybreak. L'Arche is an international federation of communities, based on the Beatitudes. It was founded by Canadian Jean Vanier in 1964 in order that persons with physical and intellectual disabilities and their caregivers live together in community, sharing life in a spirit of mutuality.
Henri Nouwen went to L'Arche Daybreak when he was searching for a home. Perhaps more than at any other time in his life he found not only a physical home but a spiritual home. As the pastor, he wasn't separate from the daily life in that community; he was involved at the deepest level. That's how he met Adam Arnett, a young resident of the community who was gripped by frequent seizures and could neither speak nor move without assistance. Nouwen assisted Adam with morning bathing, dressing, eating and preparing for the day. It was by the guidance of God and the pure genius of the staff of Daybreak that Nouwen, whose life was driven by activity, ideas and words, was given an impossible mission that charged and blessed him with the task of caring for Adam. The priest had to face dimensions of himself he had never wanted to face. His relationship with Adam opened Nouwen to a new awareness of self and a transformation of his faith and what it means to be Beloved of God.
That's the power of this book. Millions of us are caregivers on a daily basis, often serving for years in this role. But, most of us don't take the time to reflect on our spiritual journeys. Beyond all the work, the stress, the grief and sometimes the surprising joy of this daily service, we need to take regular time to pause and contemplate our deeper vocation. Once again, Nouwen is guiding us. In this story, Nouwen shows us how we, as caregivers, can face our own weakness and vulnerability and live our lives in the name of our loving God.
In Adam, God's Beloved, Nouwen says of Adam, "Here is the man who more than anyone connected me with my inner self, my community, and my God. Here is the man I was asked to care for, but who took me into his life and into his heart in such an incredibly deep way. Adam was my teacher, my friend, my guide...he was the one who more than any book or professor led me to the person of Jesus. "
BENJAMIN PRATT, Author of A Guide For Caregivers, www.WeAreCaregivers.com
REVIEW: Adam, God's Beloved
Henri Nouwen's last book
A new Orbis paperback