Friday, July 18, 2008

Adam: God's Beloved

I have noticed that when I stroll into a library/bookstore, I gravitate towards exactly the same two kinds of books: books about urban couples moving to a farm (yes, I have discovered there is a whole genre of books just like this... so much for being original), and Henri Nouwen books. My last trip to the library, I was planning on getting something edgy and different, but no. I came home with a book whose byline is "how one urban couple grew a business, a family, and a new way of life from the ground up," and two Henri Nouwen books: one that ben snatched from me the moment I walked through the door, and another entitled "Adam: God's Beloved."

Somehow, every Nouwen book I start resonates so strongly with me that I can't put it down once I've started-- and this one is no exception. This book, which was actually Nouwen's last book before his death, tells the story of the man that Nouwen calls "my friend, my teacher, and my guide." Adam, a severely handicapped member of Nouwen's L'Arche community in Toronto, can't talk, walk, or even feed himself, but exudes a peace and stillness that draw those around him deeper into themselves and deeper into the presence of God. Nouwen structures the book, a memoir of Adam's life from birth to untimely death, as a parallel to the life of Jesus. Just as the gospel narratives tell us about the childhood, public ministry, suffering, and death of Jesus, so too Nouwen chronicles each of these chapters of Adam's life, starting with Adam's obscure life within the loving shelter of his parent's home, to his public ministry at L'Arche community.

What Nouwen makes clear is that while most of us have to spend our entire lives working to understand the fact that there is nothing we can do to become God's beloved-- it's just who we are-- Adam's entire existence was a testmanet to this. According to the world, Adam didn't have anything to offer, and yet God found powerful ways to use him as a messenger of The Word.

Many of you know that I have struggled with my own desire to somehow earn the approval of others, and, ultimately, God. There was certainly so much pressure to work towards this end in academia! It seemed like somehow your entire being was defined by your thoughts, papers, arguments. In the context of our little family, where I feel so precious and affirmed both as a wife and mother, this burden is lifted. But nevertheless, in friendships, relationships, and jobs, I always feel a subtle pressure to "wow" those around me. Over the past few days, as I have encountered new and old friends, it has been so transformative to have Adam's image in the back of my mind, calling me into a fuller communion with the present, which constantly whispers, "You are my beloved."

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