Daybreak, Henri Nouwen, and Me Pt 4

This is part 4 of 7 of a sermon given 4/11/15 at Westminster Church in New Brighton, PA. In it, I share about my recent trip to L’Arche Daybreak in Canada to research author Henri Nouwen. The sermon can be heard on itunes or at

I got to see the strength of this kind of intimate community on Wednesday. There had been a death in the community. One of the assistants had died suddenly of a heart attack. Wednesday morning the community gathered to tell stories and share memories of her life. People got up and share humorous jokes, moving poems, and emotional good byes to this person who had been an important part of the community for a long time. Even several of the core members spoke. Not all of them could be very well understood and some of their sharing ended up getting a little off topic. Still, their input was not only valued but it was critically important. They were the core members and were the center of the community.

The Woodery got a coffin and coated it in a special paint. Throughout the week I was there, everyone who wanted to in the community came and painted the coffin. It was covered in pictures and words that represented not only the one who passed but also the community that would miss her.

The people from Daybreak apologized for the change in my schedule. They did not give me the full tour around the facility that they wanted to do. I felt that I actually got a much deeper view of the community during that service.

I tried to imagine doing a service like this at my own church. Could we speak of one another with this kind of raw honesty? Do we even know one another well enough to tell those kind of stories? As I shared dinner in another house that night, I could not help but long for that kind of closeness in my own family and church.

On Thursday I took the bus and the subway down to the University of Toronto to visit to the Henri Nouwen Archives. It was so cool to sit in a library and read unpublished and handwritten sermons and lectures by Henri. I read material on how he taught pastors in seminary and taught others at Daybreak to be pastors for their community.

Perhaps the most interesting discovery of my trip to the Archives was the contrast between the pace and priorities of the city and university as compared to Daybreak. In the city, everyone was in a hurry. No one spoke to each other or even looked at one another during my commute. Everyone just read their papers, looked at their phones, and hurried to get somewhere other than where they were.

By contrast, dinner that night in another of the homes at Daybreak seemed so slow and deliberate. Not only did dinner take a long time, but people were so much more aware of one another. Two of the core members kept hugging each other and calling each other their best friends. After one of the hugging core members with Down Syndrome, Mary Anne, finished her meal, she took over from one of the assistants feeding Hsi-Fu, a more severely handicapped housemate. This allowed the assistant who had been feeding His-Fu, to finish his own meal. They were more aware and they cared then my trip into the city.


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