Gratitude and Generosity

Last weekend I was doodling in my notebook and I jotted “gratitude” and “generosity.” Then I paused. And looked. Do these ideas, these attitudes, these ways of living, go together?

Yesterday I thought about generosity adopting a thought from Henri Nouwen’s With Open Hands. Today, I thought of Nouwen again. This time Adam: God’s Beloved.

In the final year before his death in 1996, Henri Nouwen began to write an account of the death of his friend Adam, a severely handicapped young man from the L’Arche Daybreak Community. In the story of Adam he found a way to describe his own understanding of the Gospel message. Adam could not speak or even move without assistance. Gripped by frequent seizures, he spent his life in obscurity. And yet, for Nouwen, he became “my friend, my teacher, and my guide.” It was Adam who led Nouwen to a new understanding of his faith and what it means to be Beloved of God.

It is not a long book. It is not filled with theological jargon, as if Nouwen ever wrote that way. It’s a story.

As I read it, I sensed Nouwen’s gratitude for the gifts that Adam gave him. Here was a famous professor and author living in a community of severely handicapped people. Nouwen moved in. Was introduced to Adam. Adam messed himself. Nouwen asks what to do. The leader said, help him clean up. You are his caregiver. Famous professor to caregiver caring for every little thing.

And yet I read the gratitude Nouwen felt for what Adam gave him.

Can I be grateful for what someone shows me from the most unexpected place? Could I be so generous of my time and energy as to help an Adam?

It’s a challenge for us all to consider.

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