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Book Review: Sabbatical Journey by Henri J.M. Nouwen


From September 1995 through August 1996, Henri Nouwen was on sabbatical from his position as pastor of L’Arche Daybreak, the community of mentally handicapped people with whom he shared the last decade of his life.  The perceived purpose of the time off was to focus on his writing in solitude; however, as the journal reveals, he also spent much time ministering to and being ministered to by friends, acquaintances, and family members during this year.

In this candid chronicling of events and his feelings about them, we are allowed a look deep into Nouwen’s heart.  The great value he placed on friendship and community is evident throughout these pages; so is his ongoing struggle with doubt and depression.  He speaks of simple joys, sore disappointments, small victories and bewildering failings; an unwavering desire to discern and carry out God’s will in his life holds the many threads of thought together.

During his sabbatical year, Nouwen seems not to have had a sense that he was nearing the end of his life (he died less than a month after returning to Daybreak), although as a man in his mid-sixties with a ninety-three year old father he did sometimes contemplate the inevitability of death.  His journal is filled with plans and expectations for future books and events, and several times after meetings with friends and colleagues he wondered, “What will we be talking about five, ten years from now?”  Reading this book, seeing what he thought about issues ranging from the intimately personal to the global, more than fifteen years later, I feel that the conversation goes on.  

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