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.



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)


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Celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation

Yesterday was March 25th known to many as the Feast of the Annunciation.  It falls 9 months before Christmas because it is the celebration of  the Angel Gabriel coming to tell Mary that she will give birth to the Son of God.


The feast of the annunciation
My daughter came up with this display all on her own, I was impressed.


It is a holiday celebrated most famously in Sweden with waffles and in other countries with circular cakes (like bunt cakes) to symbolize eternity or seed cakes (like poppy seed) to represent new life.  It is a festive day and when it falls in the middle of Lent it can feel a bit jarring. Here we have been meditating on death and repentance and are suddenly thrust into a something that feels more like a baby shower.

The feast of the annunciation
I wish I would have stopped to take a picture of the 13 kids eating cake in the back yard.


There are some things  which can’t be taught in books, they must be lived to be known.  One of the gifts of the liturgical calendar, is that through its various seasons and holidays it teaches us to experience life in the light of our faith in Christ.


This year I had several friends who faced the death of a loved one right at Christmas time.  They had no choice but to grieve and celebrate in the same breath. These sorts of emotional juxtapositions always be gut retchingly difficult. Yet living year by year through the liturgical seasons we are offered a foretaste of the multi-dimensional nature of our emotional life.  In following the seasons we are encouraged to explore the depths of our own souls in both joy and sorrow, to bring our hearts before God, and to align ourselves with the life of the church. When triumph is followed by disaster we have a sense of the path to take, we have walked it and we know where to fix our eyes. In the darkness of the tomb we wait for the light of resurrection.

The feast of the annunciation
Check out this cake.




So happy Feast of the Annunciation to you and I pray that the remainder of lent is a beautiful time of reflection as we anticipate the celebration of Easter that is to come.


For more on the liturgical year, check out this book.

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What the heck do the Jarretts do on the border anyway?

In case my last few posts about immigration had you asking this question, I thought I’d share an article written by our diocese about our mission.

Immigration. Liturgy of Life

The first thing you notice about the Lower Rio Grande Valley is the wide open sky above scrub brush and low-lying buildings, interspersed with chain-link fences and frequently, a pack of roaming dogs. Every Monday the Rev. Michael Jarrett, a C4SO priest and founder of The Trinity Mission, drives his truck through this landscape to La Posada Providencia, a residential transition shelter for immigrants and asylees after they have been processed through U.S. Customs.

Since moving to the area last September, Jarrett has volunteered his time to the Sisters of Divine Providence who staff the shelter, offering himself as a sacramental presence of the body of Christ on America’s southern border. Each month, hundreds of families fleeing genocide, political oppression and cartel control in Cuba, Central America, Africa and Asia arrive at the border asking to be protected, overloading the government’s current system.

“It may be a threshold to a land of opportunity, but for many our southern border is a holding cell,” Jarrett says. “It can be a place of complete upheaval of hopes and expectations.”


Check out the rest of the article here.



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Are Refugees Dangerous? A repost from the Public Discourse



Immigration remains a decisive issue for our nation and I remain far too uneducated to have much to say about it.  The Witherspoon Institute’s weekly online publication, Public Discourse has been a great resource for me on issues of morality, culture and politics. This article, Are Refugees Dangerous? is no exception. It does not deny the significant risks and challenges in managing the refugee crisis, but offers a thoughtful look at some of the downsides of the current immigration ban and paints a picture of what a healthier approach might look like. It also asks us to rise to the challenge, that we would be a country who seeks to care for those in need of help.

I’d love to hear your thoughts after reading. Do you have a personal story to share about immigration? What questions would you like to have answered as I plan for more posts in this series?



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