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Henri Nouwen: What's Real

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

Henri Nouwen was a priest, a renowned spiritual leader, writer, and educator. And yet, for the last 10 years of his life he served as pastor for L'Arche Daybreak, a community in Canada where he lived in residence with individuals with intellectual disabilities. Although Henri died in 1996, his writings continue to inspire me particularly in light of the current political occurences.

"In a way, it seemed as though I was starting my life all over again."

The first thing that struck me when I came to live in a house with mentally handicapped people was that their liking and disliking me had absolutely nothing to do with the many useful things I had done until then. Since nobody could read my books, the books could not impress anyone, and since most of them never went to school, my twenty years at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard did not provide a significant introduction. . . . Not being able to use any of the skills that had proved so practical in the past was a real source of anxiety. I was suddenly faced with my naked self, open for affirmations and rejections, hugs and punches, smiles and tears, all dependent simply on how I was perceived at the moment. In a way, it seemed as though I was starting my life all over again. Relationships, connections, reputations could no longer be counted on.

The experience was and, in many ways, is still the most important experience of my new life, because it forced me to rediscover my true identity. These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self — the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things — and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments.

- Henri Nouwen

January 31, 2020

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