The idea of living in simplicity, letting go of the things that come with success in this culture, is not new to Henri Nouwen. Henri chose to live out this calling at L’Arche Daybreak in Toronto. The choice for him to live at Daybreak was not the only such occasion he chose to follow the “downward” path.
Michael O’Laughlin states,
“Generally, Christians have learned to live with this ambiguity and regard the call to move downward as a saintly option that does not apply to middle-class people struggling to make ends meet.
Therefore it took a special ability or insight and a real desire to be faithful to the gospel for Henri Nouwen to not only present the descending way to those around him but actually begin to live it out. In fact, I would be less interested in Henri Nouwen’s teaching about downward ability and how it relates to Jesus if I had not observed Nouwen practicing what he preached. With Henri Nouwen, it was not merely an idea. Henri’s willingness to throw aside concerns about money or his own prestige and his embrace of persons of humbler status was something that I witnessed over and over again.
…Henri’s remarkable personal generosity was one of his greatest gifts to the world, not only because of the joy he brought into many lives, but because it was such a rare and inspiring expression of freedom. (p 139, 140)
I guess the choice of this great man to spend his later days at L’Arche attending to the needs of the handicapped was always a source of puzzlement to me. I would think that I understood his desire to serve others, but did not really get the extent of his desire to do this as an expression of his choice to follow Jesus. The author has helped me understand how fundamental this was to Henri Nouwen’s deepening faith. I think I am beginning to understand this call towards the “downward” way. Understanding this call of Jesus to each of us that claim to follow him, and actually following would transform us and the world.
Henri learned that the secret at the center of the downward, descending way was to identify with Jesus. I think, in fact, that he was not so much interested in simplicity or poverty for their own sake, but as part of the mystery of Christ. For Nouwen, the gospel was becoming not just a message explaining how God long ago brought into being a new spiritual reality through Jesus; he was coming to see it as a blueprint for how we might live our lives and find God today. Downward mobility was becoming a new way for him to enter into the gospel story. (p.143)
Now, to learn from Henri’s example, to attend to the Holy Spirit as to what that means in my life, since each of us lives our own set of unique circumstances, mine including a husband, children and family.