December 16, 2005

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Savoring life as Jesus surely experienced it

‘Tis a week before Christmas and all through the world, Christians are preparing for the largest, most joyous birthday celebration of 2005.

Children might seem more eager for what Santa might bring than for spiritual aspects of the holiday; but, after all, they are children. Whether young or older, we all have a “child” in us—and thank God for that! In fact, God himself surely must smile at the hustle and bustle of the holiday as well as the extra effort and time we put into making this season special.

Does this seem familiar? It should because in my last “Faithful Lines” column I briefly mentioned childlike qualities referred to in Dangerous Wonder: The Adventure of Childlike Faith by Michael Yaconelli (NavPress: It made such an impression that I plan to read it again.

Why? Because the book reminds me of the friends and family members I most admire. One group especially came to mind—a discussion group I lead at St. Augustine Home, operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor. I enjoy the loving and lighthearted spirit of these elder residents, as well as that of the sisters, their staff and other volunteers. A Christlike spirit permeates the place.

That spirit also permeates Yaconelli’s book so it is no surprise that Father Henri Nouwen influenced the author. Father Nouwen, born in Holland in 1932, was ordained a diocesan priest in 1957, taught at the University of Notre Dame and the divinity schools of Yale and Harvard, and once lived with Trappist monks at the Abbey of the Genesee in New York and with the poor in Peru. He joined L’Arche in Trosley, France, the first of more than 100 communities founded by Jean Vanier, who inspired these places where people with disabilities live with the help of assistants. Father Nouwen also lived at L’Arche Daybreak in Toronto, Canada. He died nine years ago.

Surprisingly, I knew little about Father Nouwen until reading Dangerous Wonder, which mentions the priest’s book, In the Name of Jesus (Paulist Press). I have since read several of Father Nouwen’s books, borrowed from a friend at St. Augustine Home.

Yaconelli, a Christian lay minister in California, also read Father Nouwen’s works; but when attending his first workshop with the priest he was at first disappointed. Then he met a mentally challenged adult resident of L’Arche, whose vocabulary was limited but whose perception of Yaconelli’s inner spiritual struggle was profound.

No, I’m not going to reveal that here. Instead, I encourage the reading of Dangerous Wonder to rediscover “the place all children know about” but most adults must relearn. Believe it or not, you will interact with the author’s text and questions in ways that reawaken life’s joys.

Isn’t that what Christmas does, too?

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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