Nouwen: A Humble Servant

Friday, May 3

5.3By Dorene Kilburn of Stratford, Ontario, Canada

For the kingdom of God is…righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval.

—Romans 14:17–18

We are changed by every person with whom we interact. Henri Nouwen was such a person in my life. Henri was a Catholic priest who was more comfortable in a crewneck sweater than a clerical robe. He was born in Holland and then became a professor of theology at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard.

He held a passion to proclaim the good news. I “met” him almost 20 years ago through the many books he has written. He spoke of his own struggle and growth in the spiritual life, a struggle with which I could identify.

Henri’s simple message of God’s love touched people of all faiths. I am one of those people. Through his books he started me on a new path. In the mid-1980s, God called Henri from Harvard University to a very different life among adults who are intellectually impaired in a L’Arche community in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He became pastor to those people, saw their inner beauty, and soon realized they had much to teach him about love and acceptance.

Because my husband and I are friends of a L’Arche community near us, we had the opportunity to be with this humble servant of God and got to know Henri before his untimely death in 1997 at age 63.

I was grateful to be in his presence and sometimes found myself thinking, “This must be close to being in the presence of Jesus.” To experience his total focus on our conversations reminded me that all too often I have not been totally present to someone else, when I should have been.

Henri’s example of a life lived close to God continues to inspire me, as do these words from his book, A Cry for Mercy. “I pray that this will be my ministry: to join people on their journey and to open their eyes to see you.” As disciples of Jesus Christ, this could be the prayer of each of us. Invite People to Christ.

Prayer for Peace
God of mercy, inspire us to invite people to Christ’s peace.

Spiritual Practice: Embodying God’s Shalom
Find a way to express and embody God’s shalom. Begin by prayerfully listening to your longing for peace. Become silent and imagine you can hear the groaning of the Earth’s people, nations, and creatures. Prayerfully open yourself to God’s yearning for peace and the divine vision of shalom. What images, feelings, and words come to you? What prayer for peace comes to you from your time of listening? What small act of justice, kindness, healing, or peacemaking does God invite you to consider this day?

Peace Covenant
Today, God, I will share your love and your peace with another.

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  1. Diane Sosebee

     /  1 November 2013

    Henri Nouwen is/was/will continue to be a favorite author- his books have touched me as well as many others.

  2. Vera Entwistle

     /  3 May 2013

    When we first took church appointment friends gave us a copy of Henri Nouwen’s book, “The Wounded Healer.” It quickly became a favourite. Lately I have read his biographies and learned about his anguish and loneliness and how his homosexuality caused him distress. What a man!


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