A Friend of Henri Nouwen

blog culture encouragement henri nouwen story May 18, 2022

Blog by Alan Fadling

About four years ago, I traveled to the Dominican Republic to lead a retreat for pastors and other Christian leaders, something I’d done many times before. At the close of my trip, I spent two days in retreat at a Cistercian monastery way up in the hills on the edge of Jarabacoa. I was working on a draft for What Does Your Soul Love? at the time. 


The language barrier was a challenge. The prior spoke no English, and my confidence in my high school Spanish was low. One retreatant, Roberto, who arrived on my second day, spoke good English and helped me a couple of times. 


My friend Samuel had arranged for me to stay there, and when the monks found out that I had authored two books on the spiritual life, they asked if I would address them in their chapter meeting. I was humbled. It’s hard to feel like much of a spiritual teacher when you’re speaking with lifelong monks! 


I felt especially honored that they would invite me into their cloister space, a private area in the monastery that retreat guests do not usually visit. So I agreed to address them on the afternoon of my last day of retreat. 


I decided to share a little about my story and my work with busy Christian leaders, as well as a few insights from my books. I was grateful for the monks’ gracious reception. 


At the close of our time together, one of the monks, who was about 80 years old, shared that he had been mentored by Henri Nouwen when Nouwen lived in Latin America for a season. As we all visited together, the prior said, “You are one heart with us. We agree with everything you have shared.” What an encouraging moment. I know that what I practice in my own simple way is their daily rule of life—for some of them, over many decades. 


As I prepared to leave, the monk who had been trained by Henri Nouwen (and who had the most happy and receptive countenance as I shared), came over and asked, through my friend Samuel, if he might pray for me. I had been recording my talk, and so I was able to capture his prayer. 


“Good Father, we want to give you thanks for these marvelous things [referring to what I’d shared with the monks about my life, my books and my work]. We want to give you thanks for the manifestation of your presence and your love for all of us. Especially, we pray for this friend and brother that he can communicate his project very well, and that he can provide these solitude retreats for everyone that is in need. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, come among us and help us in our daily walk.” 


God was kind in giving me that moment with those monks. Despite our differences in language, culture, and life experience, we shared a deep connection with one another in Christ. 


For Reflection:

  • Who has God recently used to encourage you?
  • Why not take a moment to thank them for their friendship?
  • Who might God be inviting you to reach out and encourage? When might you do that?



Photo by Natalie Grainger on Unsplash