Receive & Give

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Everything changes radically from the moment you know yourself as being sent into this world. That is the spiritual life: the chance to say “Yes” to our inner truth. The spiritual life, thus understood, radically changes everything. Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved, 132-133


On the 5th Sunday at the Yoga Sanctuary, Nouwen challenged us to see that we are gifts sent into this world. Nouwen asked us to consider that we are food given for the nourishment of one another and that taking on this view of ourselves is a source of spiritual growth! The conversation floated around ideas about the sacred act of eating together, the personal choice to be nourishment for another human being, the unconditional nature of giving, and how sometimes we experience being overwhelmed by how much need is in the world. One person responded by sharing her feelings of being overwhelmed. She said that she asks God to direct her to one person each day, so that she does not succumb to her feelings. Another participant said that she needed the discipline of not judging herself, self-care, and a rhythm to combat the feelings of being empty.

In many of Henri Nouwen’s other books, he reinforces the idea that each of us are given as a gift to this world. We are uniquely created to offer ourselves to the people around us. We are enough just as we are. Turning this idea on its head, a part of the spiritual journey is to see that everywhere we are “sent” the Divine has a gift ready and waiting for us. Nouwen explains this by talking about his experience at L’Arche Daybreak in Toronto. He spent the last 10 years of his life as the pastor of this community with special needs. When he came to L’Arche Daybreak, he was assigned to the daily care of Adam. Adam needed bathing, clothing, feeding, and his basic needs met by Nouwen. Another challenge is that Adam was non-verbal. Nouwen worked hard to care for Adam, but began to feel exhausted by spending so much time caring for Adam. A man devoted to writing, speaking and having deep conversations in his years at the University, Nouwen quickly realized that his talents did not meet the primary needs of this community and that he had spent years finding his worth in the praise of others. How would Nouwen survive at L’Arche Daybreak? How would he not burn out in the constant care of those who cannot give back? How would Nouwen find self-worth without the praise from others?

Mutual Giving.

After a short sabbatical from L’Arche Daybreak, Nouwen realized that it is only in mutual service that we refill our own cup so that we can be poured out for others. He began to see his daily care of Adam through a new lens. What gifts did Adam offer the community? What gift did Adam give Nouwen personally? These questions helped Nouwen see that Adam gave Nouwen the gift of presence. Adam offered the gift of a listening ear and a slower pace of life. Once Nouwen realized this gift, he began to observe Adam differently. He noticed that Adam did respond in subtle ways to Nouwen’s care. He noticed Adam’s unique way of asking for what he needed or showing what he did not like. The gift of presence allowed Nouwen to slow down and tune in to Adam’s way of living. This gift kept on giving because Nouwen was able to turn and face his struggle with self-worth apart from a life full of praise from others. He found his worth deep in his soul-his truth that he is The Beloved.


1-As you inhale, say “Receive.” As you exhale, say “Give.”

2-As you gather with friends and family over Thanksgiving, look for the gift that the Divine has waiting for you! Write about your experience or share a cup of coffee with a friend and tell them your story.

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