"Adam: God’s Beloved" by Henri J.M. Nouwen

I just enjoyed reading the short, beautiful, and moving book Adam: God’s Beloved by Henri J.M. Nouwen. Nouwen was an academic who relocated to live and work in the L’Arche Daybreak Community – a community for the handicap and people with disabilities. He was given the task of caring for a severely handicapped young man named Adam. Though awkward at first, Nouwen began to experience a deep work of God in his own life through Adam. “Adam could not speak, or even move without assistance. Gripped by frequent seizures, he spent his life in obscurity. In the eyes of the world he was a complete nobody. And yet, for Henri Nouwen he became ‘my friend, my teacher, and my guide.’ It was Adam who led Nouwen to a new understanding of his Christian faith and what it means to be Beloved of God.” (From the book jacket.)

Here are some quotes from the book:

“The divine became manifest in the human so that all things human could become manifestations of the divine.” (p. 50)

“The ‘Christ event’ is much more than something that took place long ago. [Incarnation] occurs every time spirit greets spirit in the body. It is a sacred event happening in the present because it is God’s event among people. . . . It is God’s ongoing incarnation whenever people meet each other ‘in God’s name.'” (p. 54).

“[Adam] seemed to be without concepts, plans, intentions, or aspirations. He was simply present, offering himself in peace and completely self-emptied so that the fruits of his ministry were pure and abundant.” (p. 64).

“I still remember a woman visiting the New House, walking right up to Adam, and saying, ‘Poor man, poor man, why did this happen to you? Let me pray over you so that our dear Lord may heal you.’ She motioned the assistant to make a circle around Adam to pray. But one of them gently tapped her on the shoulder and said, ‘Adam doesn’t need any healing; he’s fine. He is just happy that you came for dinner. Please join us at the table.’ I do not know whether this visitor was ever ready to be touched by Adam, to see his wholeness and holiness in his brokenness, but she did come to realize that everyone in the house was very happy with Adam the way he was.” (p. 68)

“While at first it seemed quite obvious who was handicapped and who was not, living together day in and day out made the boundaries less clear. Yes, Adam, Rosie, and Michael couldn’t speak, but I spoke too much. Yes, Adam and Michael couldn’t walk, but I was running around as if life was one emergency after the other. Yes, John and Roy needed help with their daily tasks, but I, too, was constantly saying, ‘Help me, help me.’ And when I had the courage to look deeper, to face my emotional neediness, my inability to pray, my impatience and restlessness, my many anxieties and fears, the word ‘handicap’ started to have a whole new meaning. The fact that my handicaps were less visible than those of Adam and his housemates didn’t make them less real.” (pp. 77-78)

“Adam clearly challenged us to trust that compassion, not competition, is the way to fulfill our human vocation.” (p. 90)

“Substantial parts of our success, wealth, health, and relationships are influenced by events and circumstances over which we have little or no control. We like to keep up the illusion of action as long as we can, but the fact is that passion is what finally determines the course of our life. We need people, loving and caring people, to sustain us during the times of our passion and thus support us to accomplish our mission. . . . That, to me, is the final significance of Adam’s passion: a radical call to accept the truth of our lives and to choose to give our love when we are strong and to receive the love of others when we are weak, always with tranquility and generosity.” (pp. 90-91)

“Death is such a mystery, forcing us to ask ourselves, ‘Why do I live? How do I live? For whom do I live?’ and also, ‘Am I prepared to die . . . now . . . later?'” (pp.101-102)

“We cannot circumvent our grief. We cannot shorten it. We have to give it time, much time.” (p. 118)

“Every time I told [Adam’s story] I could see new life and new hope emerging in the hearts of my listening friends. My grief became their joy, my loss was their gain, and my dying their coming to new life. Very slowly I started to see Adam coming alive in the hearts of those who had never known him, as if they were being made part of a great mystery. . . . Is this when is resurrection began, in the midst of my grief? That is what happened to the mourning Mary of Magdala . . . for the disciples on the road to Emmaus . . . for the disciples in the upper room . . . for the grieving friends of Jesus who went back to fishing in the lake. . . . Mourning turns to dancing, grief turns to joy, despair turns to hope, and fear turns to love. Then hesitantly someone is saying, ‘He is risen, he is risen indeed.” (pp. 119-120)

“His mission is fulfilled. Yet it is not over. It will never be over, because love is stronger than fear and life is stronger than death. Adam’s love and Adam’s life are not meant for corruption. They are eternal, because they are part of God’s love and God’s life.” (See John 16:6-7, 13) (p. 122)

“I know that I couldn’t have told Adam’s story if I hadn’t first known Jesus’ story. Jesus’ story gave me eyes to see and ears to hear the story of Adam’s life and death.” (p. 126)

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