Tag Archives: Henri Nouwen

Finding Home Amid the Struggle

Seven months in DC. I have entered the new year with prayers for hope, feelings of
excitement, and a vision of possibility. I have struggled with growth, with lack of close
friends near by, and with understanding my vocation presently. God has shown through
brightly, and I have finally entered a space to allow myself to bask in that light.

In the beginning, I had the best of welcomes from my new community in DC. They emailed
me introductions, they made signs announcing my arrival, and they even made me a video! I hardly could
believe my dream of living in DC would have started like this!

Johnny and Gil at Starbucks

Johnny and Gil at Starbucks

The sheer importance and radicalness of my decision to live in DC started to sink in almost immediately. It didn’t take that long to move in my stuff. I had plenty of time to myself, and being new
somewhere meant I had lots of exploring to do. Yet, like travel, I prefer to do such an activity with others. Here I was in a community of people, but many people were either unavailable or uninterested. Suddenly, the awkwardness of being
the new one–in a group of people who were established in their relationships and routines–
started to ruff me up. I was the one that needed to invite myself into conversations, or
invite others to come and explore with me. It wasn’t that people were not being generous,
but that people were hoping I would use my time to either get to know my surrounds at my
own pace, or hoped that I would be immersed in learning about my responsibilities.

After one month in DC, I had my fill of being without friends, and started getting impatient
about how long it would take to have a close relationship. I didn’t want to wait for
friendships to happen, I wanted them to be plentiful at that very moment. This struggle
was good, since it begged me to pray for the well being of all the great friendships I had
back in Southern California. I thought about the time it took to make good friends back in
Orange County, and wasn’t surprised to realize that there was once a time I didn’t have
many relationships and was in the same mental space as I was currently in DC.

Thankfully, there is a habit of formal companionship that my community of L’Arche offers
and requires for all community members. I had plenty of opportunity to check-in with my
supervisors about how I was handling the transition. I had imagined doing big things for
L’Arche, and being a person that they could accurately say, “What a huge gift Gil is for us!” I
had created a load of expectations, and now these expectations were points of sorrow and
grief for me. I was not living up to who I thought I would be, and started harshly criticizing
my personal value.

This self-critic became drastically intense when I had made some poor decisions and lead to
my supervisors giving me constructive criticism. I immediately became angry and defensive
at the suggestions they gave me, and also started feeling a weight of pity squishing down
any hopefulness about moving to DC in the first place. One haunting mantra that kept
repeating itself: “Man, I guess I am not good at anything regardless of where I go.” My self-pity
flowed into a uneasy and hurt state of being that all my colleagues recognized. I wasn’t
enthusiastic, I was abnormally quiet, and a vibe of sadness hovered around me. Mid-October
through Mid-November was definitely the hardest month yet.

Nicholas visits me

Nicholas visits me

Then around the beginning of the start of the Thanksgiving holiday season, I was blessed with a visit from my cousin
Nicholas Wagner. It was such a break to have someone that I knew to hang out with me and be free to do anything in the city.
Suddenly, my room was a homely space where my cousin and I shared stories about family life, about our personal journey, and what our hopes were. It was very obvious we shared some of the same DNA make up as we got to know just how passionate
we can be about life in a very particular way.

During that same time, I was interested in an upcoming book discussion, so I had bought
the book called, The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen. I am very
familiar with this author because he had been in a L’Arche
community before he died, and all his works are promoted
constantly in L’Arche. I was excited to speak about this author’s
views with others. As it so happens, I never did get to the book
discussion, but I was floored at the material within the book. I
read with such intrigue and slow pace as if every word was sacred,
speaking to my heart, and shining a light through the darkness of
my negative emotions. It spoke of the need for people to create
time for solitude to befriend our shadow self. It pointed out that

Cathedral at Christmas 2014

Cathedral at Christmas 2014

people who do not have a healthy sense of self esteem tend to be
angry or greedy. People who do not know their inherit value as a
gift from God because God made them often look to other people
to tell them they are good, or work for others to make them feel
they are valuable. Anger comes into play when a word of
constructive criticism is offered, or when another person
gets recognition and a feeling of being unrecognized
pervades the mind. This awareness of my lack of self-esteem
wasn’t necessarily my first time acknowledging
such a fault existed, but it was definitely a deeper consciousness of it this time. And it
meant a world of difference.

I started spending more quiet time, time of solitude, away from computers and people, and
started to just be alone with myself. A heavy traffic of conflicting and disturbing thoughts
occupied myself most of the time, but eventually, it became quiet within me, and a very full
lightness filled my heart. I started to feel ok with not fulfilling my expectations, and felt ok
with just being present where I was. I felt free in accepting my present state appreciating
its simplicity, and excited about possibility ahead.

I entered the Season of Advent with fervent prayer for hope,
and I certainly got it. I continue the beginning of this
new year with the same level of hope and an extra sense of
delight that I am where I am supposed to be. I have more
surrendering to do, and definitely some unforeseen
challenges to grapple with. Nonetheless, God is so very
merciful, and is calling me to dive in.

I am so very grateful for my new home in DC. Thanksgiving
was a wonderful celebration of families and friends coming to
L’Arche in gratitude and hope. Christmas was just a
continuation of people caring for each other, in the spirit of
hope and love, celebrating
relationships and God. I even was blessed to have theIMG_5743
inspiration and energy to cook a Christmas Day turkey
dinner! Everyone seemed content. Much joy was shared in
the gift of being with each other.

Home is where we can welcome others and celebrate. I have
become part of this home, and I am home.
May your 2015 bring about just as much hope and
inspiration as I am blessed with.

©Brian A Taylor

Ontario House, L’Arche GWDC 2014

What We Feed Will Grow

A key theological point I am learning through l’Arche is about accepting the “shadow-side” of my Self.  Jean Vanier and Henri Nouwen, two great theologians from l’Arche, speak about our shadow-side as being not “apart” from us, but “a part” of us.  It is never going to go away, and the more we repress it, the more it is bound to explode.  Repression of our shadow is practically the same as “feeding it.”

I ran into the comic strip below from my brother who has always shared great stuff with me.  The story tells everything you need to know about how to handle your shadow side.

Jean recommended that we not feed the shadow, but befriend the shadow so that when others do wrong to us, we will not react with aggression or despair, but will hold a sense of empathy for that wrongdoer.  Knowing how to forgive is also knowing the “bad wolf” of our own, and realizing that the person who wronged you has ultimately a harder battle…within their Self their shadow is winning, and it is not allowing them to become the best person they can be.  And that’s a sad state of being.  So pray for them, and forgive them, for they do not know what they do.

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New Year’s Resolution: Read more small books

I started this resolution actually during Christmas when I decided to read A Franciscan Christmas. I found the book to be simple, profound, and short. It was great for someone who hardly makes time to read!

Now I decided that if I was going to read more in this year, I needed to focus on reading short stories, or short books. Because some reading is much much better than no reading. Don’t get me wrong, I do read interesting articles passed on to me or something I might have come across. I will share those articles with all of you as well.

In the meantime, below is my review of another great small book that I reviewed on the awesome “goodreads” community.

Jesus and Mary: Finding Our Secret CenterJesus and Mary: Finding Our Secret Center by Henri J.M. Nouwen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is beautiful in its simplicity. There are two parts of this small book, the first being a sermon to priests on retreat…but the material is good food for thought for everyone who wants to deepen their relationship with Mary, Mother of God.

The second part is about Nouwen’s trip to Lourdes. It was great to walk with the author in his simple thought process. It was a short but very meaningful journey. I think it’s relatable if you have ever struggled with vocation(i.e. what you feel called to by God), feeling loved by God, or really felt a need for peace in your life.

It’s a book worth your slow reading, or during meditation.

View all my reviews