The Incarnation of Hope Thoughts on Henri Nouwen's, Our Greatest Gift: Meditations on Dying and Caring

Last night I dreamed I was pregnant.  I’ve dreamt it before so I know better than to give it too much heed. After all, most dreams really don’t come true and it’s a good thing or I would be perpetually showing up for exams that I hadn’t studied for and failing out of college.  Still I couldn’t resist the urge to linger over the idea for a few minutes.  I closed my eyes and let my head fall back into the pillow, my mind was quick to create images of muslin blankets and tiny diapers. What a celebration a new baby would be for us and for my daughter whose only sibling is an imaginary friend.  No matter how many times I set my mind on contentment, nay, no matter how content I truly am, I can not help but let hope whisk me off into a world of unrealized dreams. Hope, it seems, is irresistible.

I thought next of my friend who lost her father this year, another whose husband left her, another who miscarried recently. I wondered if they too let their minds wander.  If maybe all of us, in the vulnerable moments of sacred quiet when the lines between truth and fantasy are blurred by sleepy heads, if all of our dreams attempt to overtake us.

This month we read Our Greatest Gift: Meditations on Dying and Caring, in the Liturgy of Life Reading Group.  Henri Nouwen’s gentle questioning got me thinking that perhaps these irrepressible hopes are the very whisper of God to us.  Perhaps they are inescapable because He is all encompassing and in our hopes He speaks to us of His Kingdom.

Christians are fools there is no denying that. We are a people founded in mystery.  Our story begins with a talking snake and climaxes with a virgin giving birth.  We dare to call the undeniable existence of death nothing but a lie.  For us the brutality our last breath is our entryway to eternal glory.

We believe in the Incarnation of Hope.

So when hope rises in our hearts, we should not be ashamed.  We need not bury our longings for our parents to be reconciled in their marriages or for our dead children to come back to us.  The never ending “what if’s” and “if only’s” need not haunt us.  We are called to grieve for the brokenness of the world, indeed we are called to be broken. If you are like me tonight, your head weary on a pillow damp with tears, if it feels like hope is tearing you apart, know at least this, you are not alone and your dreams are not in vain. Out of our bleeding wounds we call forth life. We live for Resurrection.

 

 

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.

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Discussion Questions: Henri Nouwen’s, Our Greatest Gift

For those of you reading along with the Liturgy of Life Reading Group’s latest book, Our Greatest Gift: Meditations on Dying and Caring, here are some questions to ponder. My local group meets tomorrow night and I can’t wait to hear everyone’s thoughts.

 

Questions:

1. How or where do you want to die? How are you preparing for your death? How does thinking about your own dying make you feel? (pg xvi)

2. What do you think Nouwen means when he says that our death can send out God’s spirit to those we love? Can we prepare for our death in a way that accomplishes this? How can our dying, as Nouwen puts it, be as much our own as our living? (pg xvi)

3. Nouwen talks about befriending death and defines it as aligning oneself with the sacrifice of Christ, so that our death, like His, can be our gift to the world? Traditionally for Christians (Nouwen’s faith background included) death is understood as the enemy, as a foreign part of our existence that only came about from sin. In this context how are we to “wait for death as a friend (pg xiii),” What does befriending death look like in the life of a Christian? (pg xvi)

4. Can “befriending death” help us to understand what it means to be human or to be in communion with the rest of humanity? (pg xiv) Nouwen talks about one of the gifts of dying being unity with all people. He talks also about the unifying power of all mankind being born and dying powerless. Have you ever thought about dying as a way to be unified with all people, what do you think this means? Does thinking about this idea change the way you understand your death or the death of others (pg 24)?

5. Is dying an absolute end? Without truly knowing what happens after death how can we live trusting that we have nothing to fear? (pg xii)

6. Have you experienced a time when a death served as an act of fulfillment (the cross of Christ being our first example)? (pg xiv)

7. Have you ever seen death create community (the creation of the Church upon the death of Christ would be one example)? (pg xv)

8. Where do you find meaning in your life? How do you use your life to teach others about the meaning in their own lives? Is productivity a main source of value for you? How does it make you feel to think about a time when you will no longer be able to be productive like you are today? (pg 9)

9. What do you think Nouwen means when he talks about announcing joy, peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation with his own “flesh and blood”? Christians traditionally believe that Christ physically dwells within us, how does this “flesh and blood” relationship with Christ affect our role/participation with the Christ’s ministry to the dying? (pg 4)

10. Nouwen tells the stories of Jesus and Paul and the fruitfulness of their ministry which occurred when they transitioned from active to passive and from in-control to dependent? Have you ever made this transition? How did it feel? (pg 85) Do you believe in Nouwen’s idea of “grade in powerlessness,” that in our weakness God’s strength becomes visible? How does this affect the way we view someone who is dying (pg 3)?

11. Can you think of any examples from your own life of the fruitfulness of others that was revealed after their death, what sort of things did those people do during their lives which made their life fruitful after they died? How are you living so that your fruitfulness with remain even when you are no longer here? (pg 36, 38, 90)

12. Nouwen says that Jesus’s life and death are the main sources of understanding of our own life and death? What experiences and stories have informed your understanding of life and death? (page 10) How does belief in the resurrection underlay our beliefs about death? (pg 98)

13. What is the difference between healing and curing? What about success versus fruitfulness? Accomplishing versus living? (pg 89)

14. How do we overcome the fear of death? Does being free of this fear allow us to live our lives differently?

15. Nouwen talks about death bringing us “face to face with God,” (pg 19) how does the idea of being “face to face” with God make you feel (eager, afraid etc.)? What does this feeling say about how we understand God in our lives?

16. Nouwen defines caring for someone at the end of life as “helping them to befriend their death,” (pg 50) Further on he defines caring as, “being present while others fight their battle,” (pg 58). What do you think he means in both of these definitions?

17. Nouwen talks about, “dying for others,” and “becoming a parent for future generations,” what do you think he means by these ideas? (pg 33) Is dying for others something anyone can do?

18. Do you see caring for the dying as a burden or as an instrument of grace? Do you see people at the end of life as less capable than the young, or more full of grace as they become increasingly dependent?(pg 53-54)

19. How do we remember the dead? Do we live as if they never existed? Does the way we remember the dead affect the way we feel about our own death?(pg 67)

20. How does Jesus’ death communicate to us that God is with us? (pg 72) Do we see death as separation or death as communion/union? (pg 73)

 

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.

 

 

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