Dear Henri, On This The Day of Your Death – Week 19

Henri nouwen and jean vanier

Henri Nouwen with friend and founder of L'Arche, Jean Vanier

Dear Henri,

On this day – September 21 – in 1996 you passed away. 

I was barely into my first month of my freshman year at bible college. Vaguely do I recall reports of what had happened, but to quite honest I didn't really know who you were just yet. Growing up in evangelical circles, I wasn't exposed to too many Catholics. I do remember one professor mourning your loss greatly, and perhaps that's what piqued my interest in you.

“Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart.

Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.”

Was love worth the risk?

Looking at us right now, as part of our great cloud of witnesses… was it worth it?

I'm having great difficulty right now listening to a culture of 'it was meant to be'. Appearing to be a form of extreme fatalism, we really don't have to invest too much into our lives because whatever's meant to be, will be. It's a karmic form of the sovereign God who brings down the hammer when we're bad and rewards us when we're good. 

I can't look at people evicted from their homes and somehow declare: this was meant to be. 

I could believe God might bring something good from the bad, but that the bad HAD to be… it sounds like an easy answer to someone else's suffering when we don't want to deal with it or can't explain it.

Of course, this is followed up with the premise that if we put good thoughts out into the universe (enough of them anyway), good will return to us. I'm not sure what I find to be a greater load of bull: the assumption that all people will have good things come to them with enough positive thinking; or the teeny tiny room left to actually be honest with difficult situations and circumstances. 

Maybe there isn't a purpose.

Maybe it wasn't really meant to be.

Maybe we shove people to the ground with the reward and punishment form of spirituality. We feel super-spiritual, but really we're discounting humanity in favour of perceived cosmic laws. It's not only wearisome and shallow, but so saccharine that to disagree with it appears vile. How does that happen? How does community grow and thrive on positive thoughts? When we dig our heads in the sand, refusing to identify what's before us, picking and choosing what we see and how we see it, how can we call it fate or karma? We've only chosen picked out our own happy little worlds, and cried: "We take of our own first!"

No wonder we choke on our petty vengences.

How do we look victims in the eye and tell them: it was supposed to happen

The words stick in my throat.

How do I celebrate in the differences?

If I seek so ardently to be celebrated in my differences, how do I reciprocate?

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”

So I don't agree with the current Cosmic Karmic Justice philosophy, just like I struggle with the idea of a reward and punishment God. Big deal. What of it?

Love still.

Love, love, and love still.

Was it worth, Henri?

Is it worth it?

I look back on my own life, the choices I've made, the choices God made, the choices others have made (that may or may not have influenced me)… and I wrestle with where I've ended up. There are things in my life that I believe can only be explained by divine intervention. But if positive thoughts were the only thing required to get my heart's desire, I think I'd be married by now… with kids. Lots of kids. I'd have a job that pays the bills.

(Of course, the Christian prosperity doctrine and the karma philsopohy have neat and tidy answers for this too, so starved we of purpose that we'll see it anywhere… make it up if we have to.)

Death came upon you suddenly.

Were there seconds right before or any moments afterwards when you regretted… anything?

Anything at all?

Are we pre-destined to some cosmic fater? Are we a series of choices? Are we part of some inexplicable plan that combines both? Or… what's the deal? 

I just know that life is not nearly so tidy as cause and consequence, reward and punishment, black and white, meaning versus non-meaning. But than again, maybe I don't know. You're on the other side: finally enveloped in True Compassion, living the consummated Life of the Beloved. You're home. You know.

Or maybe you don't.

It's only our assumption that all things will be made clear in the way we define clarity.

Maybe you don't know.

Wherever you are, whatever regrets you may or may not have, I know you are still walking in step as the truly Beloved of God. Thanks for leaving behind so many breadcrumbs for us seeking, searching souls, discontent with easy answers and assumptions.

Until next time,



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