Father Henri Nouwen is one of the most widely read spiritual writers of my lifetime. Throughout his ministry, Henri would travel to a place and immerse himself in the culture and living tradition of its people. It was his practice to stay for a while and write about the place and his experience of its spirituality. Among the fruits of his journey was the Genesee Diary, which told the story of his time at the Abbey of the Genesee in western New York. Another significant phase of pilgrimage was his time as pastor of L’Arche Daybreak in Ontario, Canada, which he chronicled in The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey.
When he arrived at Daybreak, Henri became immersed in the community inspired by the life and work of Jean Vanier. Born in Switzerland to Canadian parents, Vanier settled in France as a young man in 1945. Later his life took a more spiritual turn, and he became aware of the plight of those institutionalized due to their developmental disabilities. He invited two men who were disabled to live with him. Ultimately, this inspired the founding of more than a hundred L’Arche communities around the world. One of these is the Daybreak community situated north of Toronto. When Henri settled into his new home there, Vanier said to him, “Henri, I think you have found your home.” These were prophetic words, as it turned out that Henri spent his final days at Daybreak.
As I reflect today on the life and work of both Jean Vanier and Henry Nouwen, I recall again Jean’s words to Henri. May they be for all of us the encouragement we need to also find a true home.
(Originally published May 18, 2016)