Things I Heard In Church: This Amazing Experience Of Henry Nouwen’s

Henry Nouwen

Dave Teixeira introduced us to Henry Nouwen with these words: “Henry was a guy who taught at Harvard and Yale. He was this very renowned professor. This person who lived in high and elite places. But he never seemed to have the life that he felt God wanted him to have. So for the last number of years that he lived, he moved to Toronto, Canada. And he lived in this little community called Daybreak. It was a series of homes that cared for handicapped children and adults. It wasn’t a glamorous place. It wasn’t a place where you get noticed. But it was a place where you just go to be with people, and to love them, and to experience the love of God. And Henry says, it was in this place, in this community that he experienced the love of God more than any place in his entire life. He tells a story in a book called Life of the Beloved that gives a picture of what you can do to receive this gift today, to receive the love of God.”

What Happened That Night

“Shortly before I started a prayer service one night, a woman named Janet, a handicapped member of our community said to me, “Henry, can you give me a blessing?”

I responded in somewhat of an automatic way by tracing with my thumb the sign of the cross on her forehead. Instead of being grateful however she protested vehemently: “No that doesn’t work. I want a real blessing.”

I suddenly became aware of the rote quality of my response to her request and said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Let me give you a real blessing when we are all together for the prayer service.”

She nodded with a smile, and I realized, something special was required. At the end of the service when about thirty people were sitting in a circle on the floor, I rose to the middle and said, “Janet has asked me for a special blessing. She feels that she needs it now.”

As I was saying this I didn’t know what Janet really wanted but Janet didn’t leave me any doubt. As soon as I spoke she stood up and walked toward me. I was wearing a long white robe with ample sleeves covering my hands as well as my arms. Spontaneously Janet put her arms around me and put her head against my chest. Without thinking I covered her with my sleeves so that she almost vanished into the folds of my robe. As we held each other I said, “Janet, I want you to know that you are God’s beloved daughter. You are precious in God’s eyes. Your beautiful smile, your kindness to the people in the house, and all the good things you do, show us what a beautiful human being you are. I know you feel a little low these days, and there’s some sadness in your heart. But I want you to remember who you are, a very special person, deeply loved by God, and all the people who are here with you.”

As I said these words Janet raised her head and looked at me, and her broad smile showed that she had really heard and received the blessing. When she returned to her place, Jane, another handicapped woman raised her hand and said, “I want a blessing too.” She stood up, and before I knew it, had put her face against my chest. And after I had spoken words of blessing to her, many more of the handicapped people followed, expressing the same desire to be blessed.

The most touching moment however came at the end, when one of the assistants, a twenty-four year old staff member, raised his hand and said, “What about me?”

“Sure,” I said. “Come.”

He came, and as we stood before each other I put my arms around him and said, “John, it is so good that you are here. You are God’s beloved son. Your presence is a joy for all of us. When things are hard and life is burdensome always remember that you are loved with an everlasting love.”

As I spoke these words he looked at me with tears in his eyes, and then he simply said this: “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

Henry Nouwen, Life of the Beloved

References and Resources:

Dave Teixeira teaching: Love, 12/06/2015

Henry Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular WorldThe Crossroad Publishing Company, 2002

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