In 1983, Henri Nouwen left his tenured post at Yale to live in a community for disabled adults called Daybreak. A few of his colleagues joked that he himself had become disabled. Thankfully he did not bend to all the criticism. His many books, influenced by this experience, are some of the most poetic and spiritually rich writings of the 20th century.
I stumbled across this brief segment of a speech given just a couple years before his death. He recounts how a man named Adam, with a profound mental disability, taught him more about the worth of the human spirit than anything his elite educational background could offer. Adam became a catalyst of authentic community.
Nouwen’s books are brief and focused, insightful and devotional. If you’ve not read him yet, then you might start with The Return of the Prodigal. In it, he delves into the layers of the the parable of the prodigal son by walking though Rembrandt’s painting inspired by it. Seeds of Hope is a great daily reader with snippets from his various works. In the Name of Jesus characterizes leadership through the full story of the man mentioned in the video.
I like the saying, “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.” Nouwen has been one of the knots at the end of my rope, and though I never met him, I consider him one of my mentors.