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We Are God’s Beloved sons and daughters
The following passages are taken from Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “God’s Beloved—-Adam Arnett,” published in 1997.
Adam’s Public life (pg 33-53)
In August 1986 I met Adam for the first time. Upon arrival at Daybreak I was given a basement bedroom in the New House, one of the eight homes of the community. This home and the people who lived there were to become my primary place of belonging within the larger body of Daybreak. Here I could get to know the daily life of a normal L’Arche home.
Besides Adam I met other housemates: Roy, 75 years old, who had lived for 50 years in a large institution for people with disabilities; John, with Down’s syndrome, who was in his thirties; Rosie, who had spent 20 of her 22 years in a nursing home; and Michael, in his early twenties, who had no contact with his family and who suffered from severe cerebral palsy. These disabled persons are called ‘core members’ at Daybreak because they are the heart of the community life that forms around them. The assistants in the home were young men and women from several different countries who had come to spend a year or more living with and creating a home with the core members in the New House.
I was told that L’Arche’s mission was to ‘live with’ core members, so I embarked on my new life with all the people in the New House. Manual work, cooking and housekeeping skills were alien to me. I had been teaching for 20 years at universities in Holland and the United States, and during this time I had never given much attention to creating a home nor had I been close to people with disabilities. In my family and among my friends, I had earned a reputation for being impractical, and my friends often call me ‘the absent-minded professor’.
But, absent-minded or not, I was soon asked the question, ‘Henri, would you help Adam in the morning to get ready for his day? It means doing his morning routine.’ Helping Adam meant waking him up at 7 a.m., taking off his pyjamas and dressing him in a bathrobe, walking him to the bathroom, shaving his beard, giving him a bath, choosing clothes for the day, dressing him, combing his hair, walking with him to the kitchen, making his breakfast, sitting close beside him as he ate his breakfast, supporting his glass as he drank, brushing his teeth, putting on his coat, gloves, and cap, getting him into his wheelchair, and pushing him over the pothole-rich road to his Daybreak day programme, where he would spend the day until 4 p.m.
I was aghast! I simply didn’t think I could do this. ‘What if he falls? How do I support him as he walks? What if I hurt him and he cannot even tell me? What if he has a seizure? What if I make his bath too hot or too cold? What if I cut him? I do not even know how to dress him! So many things can go wrong. Besides, I don’t know the man. I’m not a nurse. I have no training in this kind of thing! Some of these many objections I voice; most of them I just thought. But the answer was clear, firm, and reassuring: ‘You can do it. First of all we will help you and give you plenty of time until you feel comfortable, when you feel ready you can do it all alone. Even then you have only to call us when you have a question. It will take a while, but you will catch on. You’ll learn the routine, and you will get to know Adam and he will get to know you.’
So I began with fear and trembling. I still remember those first days. Even with the support of other assistants, I was afraid walking into Adam’s room and waking up this stranger. His heavy breathing and restless hand movements made me very self-conscious. I didn’t know him. I didn’t know what he expected of me. I didn’t want to upset him. And in front of the others, I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. I didn’t want to be laughed at. I didn’t want to be a source of embarrassment.
At first, not knowing how to relate to Adam without talking and exchanging as I did with others, I concentrated on the routine. In those early days I did not have any expectation that we would communicate because he did not talk. The frequent interruptions of his breathing by moments of silence made me wonder if he would be able to take a next breath. He sometimes flailed with his hands, and he intertwined his fingers in and out, which made me think something was bothering him, but I had no idea what that might be. When I walked with him I had to get behind him and support him with my body and my arms. I worried constantly that he would trip on my feet, fall and hurt himself. I was also conscious that he could have a grand mal-seizure at any moment: sitting in the bath, on the toilet, eating his breakfast, resting, walking, or being shaved.
At first I had to keep asking myself and others, ‘Why have you asked me to do this? Why did I say yes? What am I doing here? Who is this stranger who is demanding such a big chunk of my time each day? Why should I, the least capable of all the people in the house, be asked to take care of Adam and not of someone whose needs are a bit less?’ The answer was always the same: ‘So you can get to know Adam.’ Now that was a puzzle for me. Adam often looked at me and followed me with his eyes, but he did not speak or respond to anything I asked him. Adam didn’t smile when I did something well or protest when I made a mistake. I wondered if he even recognised me. How would I get to know him? What, I asked myself, was he thinking, was he feeling, was he sensing? What was his experience with me?
During the first few weeks I kept calling from the bathroom: ‘Please help me. Please come and give me a hand. I can’t get him in the tub. I can’t find his toothbrush. I don’t know if these are his work trousers or his dress trousers. Please stay with him while I get his razor. I don’t dare to leave him alone.’ They always came. Anneika, Regina, D.J., Steve, or anyone who happened to be close by. ‘Keep at it, Henri,’ they kept telling me. ‘You’re just getting to know him. Pretty soon you’ll be an old hand! Pretty soon you’ll love him.’ I had so much anxiety that I could not imagine what ‘loving Adam’ would mean.
As much as I tried, it just didn’t make much sense to me. Aren’t you supposed to have the best-trained people working with the most disabled ones? Don’t you assign the best for the neediest? But the assistants kept telling me that here we do not see ourselves as caregivers and patients, or as staff and clients. Some of us are assistants and some are core members. Each one---yes, each person---is indeed, as amateur, which literally means ‘a lover’.
But I was not conscious of that in the beginning. For a while all my attention went on doing the right things and making as few mistakes as possible. By doing that I finally learned the routine, and I began to gain confidence in myself. I have no idea whether Adam had confidence in me or not. It usually took me two hours to get Adam up and out of his bedroom into the bathroom, out of the bathroom into the kitchen, out of the kitchen into his wheelchair, and off to his day programme. When I have finally delivered him there, I felt a deep sense of relief and went to work, doing what I can do well: talking, dictating letters, counselling, making phone calls, leading meetings, giving sermons, presiding over ceremonies. That was the world I felt at ease and capable.
Still, I have to say that, from the very beginning, there was for me, a sense of privilege. I felt grateful that the young assistants of the New House kept encouraging me to help Adam and kept showing me that I could do it. I felt grateful that I was not excused as being too old, too clumsy, or too inexperienced to give it a try. But most of all I felt particularly honoured that the weakest and most disable man of the house---yes, of the whole community ---was entrusted to me. At some level I knew that this was what L’Arche is all about: placing the weakest and most vulnerable persons in the center and looking for their unique gifts. Adam was weaker and more vulnerable than anyone else at Daybreak, and Adam was given to me, the least capable of all, to care for. . .but not just to care for.
Gradually, very gradually, things started to change, and I was more confident and relaxed, my mind and heart were opening for a real meeting with this man who had joined me on life’s journey.
As I ‘worked’ with Adam I began to see myself right in the centre of Daybreak. How often Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, had told me, ‘L’Arche is not built around the world but around the body. We are so privileged to be entrusted with the body of another.’ All my life had been shaped by words, ideas, books, and encyclopaedias. But now my priorities were shifting. What was becoming important for me was Adam and our privileged time together when he offered me his body in total vulnerability, when he gave me himself, to be undressed, bathed, dressed, fed, and walked from place to place. Being close to Adam’s body brought me close to Adam. I was slowly getting to know him.
I must confess that there were moments when I was impatient and preoccupied by what I was going to do when I had finished Adam’s ‘routine.’ Then, without being conscious of this person, I started to rush him. Consciously, but mostly unconsciously, I hurriedly pushed his arms through his sleeves or his legs through his trousers. I wanted to be sure I was finished by 9 a.m. so I could go to my other work. Right here I learned that Adam could communicate! He let me know that I wasn’t being really present to him and was more concerned about my schedule than about his. A few times when I was so pushy he responded by having a grand mal seizure, and I realised that it was his way of saying, ‘Slow down, Henri! Slow down.’ Well, it certainly slowed me down! A seizure so completely exhausted him that I had to stop everything I was doing and let him rest. Sometimes if it was a bad one, I brought him back to his bed and covered him with many blankets to keep him from shivering violently. Adam was communicating with me, and he was consistent in remaining me that he wanted and needed me to be with him unhurriedly and gently. He was clearly asking me if I was willing to follow his rhythm and adapt my ways to his needs. I found myself beginning to understand a new language, Adam’s language.
I began to talk to Adam. I wasn’t sure what he heard or understood, but I had a desire to let him know what I felt and what I thought about him, about me, about us. It didn’t seem to matter to me anymore that he could not respond in words. We were together, growing in friendship, and I was glad to be there. Before long Adam became my much trusted listener. I told him about the weather, about the day ahead of us, about his day and my work, about which of his clothes I liked most, about the kind of cereal I was going to give him, and about the people who were going to be with him during the day. Eventually I found myself confiding my secrets to him, telling him about my moods, my frustrations, my easy and hard relationships, and my prayer life. What was so amazing about all this was the very gradual realisation that Adam was really there for me, listening with his being and offering me a safe space to be. I wasn’t expecting that, and though I do not express it well, it really happened.
As the weeks and months went by I grew attached to my one or two hours a day with Adam. They became my quiet hours, the most reflective and intimate time of the day. Indeed they became like a long prayer time. Adam kept ‘telling’ me in such a quiet way, ‘Just be with me and trust that this is where you have to be. . . .nowhere else.’ Sometimes, while working in my office or talking to people, Adam came to my mind. I thought of him as a silent, peaceful presence in the centre of my life. Sometimes when I was anxious, irritated, or frustrated about something that wasn’t happening well enough or fast enough, Adam came to mind and seemed to call me back to the stillness at the eye of the cyclone. The tables were turning, Adam was becoming my teacher, taking me by the hand, walking with me in my confusion through the wilderness of my life.
And there was more. My daily time with him had created a bond between us that was much deeper than I had originally realised. Adam was the one who was helping me to become rooted not just in Daybreak but in my own self. My closeness to him and to his body was bringing me closer to myself and to my own body. It was as if Adam kept pulling me back to earth, to the ground of being, to the source of life. My many words, spoken or written, always tempted me to go up into lofty ideas and perspectives without keeping me in touch with the dailyness and beauty of ordinary life. Adam didn’t allow this. It was as if he said to me, ‘Not only do you have a body like I do, Henri, but you are your body. Don’t let your words become separated from your flesh. Your words must become and remain flesh.’ Adam was relating to me, was becoming central in my life. I started to experience a true relationship with and love for Adam.
Adam was now no longer a stranger to me. He was becoming a friend and a trustworthy companion, explaining to me by his very presence what I should have known all along: that what I most desire in life---love, friendship, community, and a deep sense of belonging---I was finding with him. His very gentle being was communicating with me on our moments together, and he began to educate me about love in a profoundly deep way. I am convinced that somewhere deep down Adam ‘knew’ that he was loved. He knew it in his very soul. Adam was not able to reflect on love, on the heart as the centre of our being, the core of our humanity where we give and receive love. He could not talk with me about the movements of his heart or my heart or the heart of God. He could explain nothing to me in words. But his heart was there, totally alive, full of love which he could both give and receive. Adam‘s heart made him fully alive.
As I grew closer to Adam, I came to experience his most beautiful heart as the gateway to his real self, to his person, his soul, and his spirit. His heart, so transparent, reflected for me not only his person but also the heart of the universe and, indeed, the heart of God. After my many years of studying, reflecting, and teaching theology, Adam came into my life, and by his life and his heart he announced to me and summarised all I had ever learned.
I always believed that the Word of God became flesh. I have preached that the divine became manifest in the human so that all things human could become manifestations of the divine. Adam came with others to worship and to hear me preach. He sat in front of me in his chair, and I ‘saw’ the divine significance made visible in him. Adam, I believe, had a heart where the Word of God was dwelling in intimate silence. Adam, during our time together, led me to that intimate indwelling where the deepest significance of his and my humanity was unfolding.
Adam’s humanity was not diminished by his disabilities. Adam’s humanity was a full humanity, in which the fullness of love became visible for me, and for others who grew to know him. Yes, I began to love Adam with a love that transcended most of the feelings, emotions, and passions that I had associated with love among people. Adam couldn’t say, ‘I love you,’ he couldn’t embrace me spontaneously or express gratitude in words. Still I dare to say we loved each other with a love that was as enfleshed as any love, and was at the same time truly spiritual. We were friends, brothers, bonded in our hearts. Adam’s love was pure and true. It was the same as the love that was mysteriously visible in Jesus, which healed everyone who touched Him.
When I go to L’Arche meetings and retreats we are often asked to reflect on the question: ‘Who is the person in your home who showed you that people with disabilities have as much to give as to receive? Who rooted you in your community? Who inspired you to commit yourself to a life with women and men with disabilities? Who invited you to say yes to a life that from the outside looks so uninteresting and so marginal?’ I always answer, ‘Adam.’ Adam was so completely dependent on us that he catapulted me to the essential, to the source. What is community? What is care? What is love? What is life? And who am I, who are we, who is God? Adam was so fully alive to me, and he shed light on all these questions. This experience cannot be understood by a logical explanation, but rather in and through the spiritual bonding of two very different people who discovered each other as completely equal in the heart of God. From my heart I could offer him some care that he really needed, and from his heart he blessed me with a pure and lasting gift of himself.
How did I come to recognise all that was happening to me?
One day a few months after I had arrived at Daybreak a minister friend who had taught pastoral theology to many students for many years came to visit me. He arrived after I had completely shifted and forgotten my initial, narrow vision of Adam. Now I no longer thought of him as a stranger or even disabled. We were living together, and life for me with Adam and the others in the home was very ‘normal.’ I felt so privileged to be caring for Adam, and I was eager to introduce him to my guest.
When my friend came into the New House and saw me with Adam, he looked at me and asked, ‘Henri, is this where you are spending your time?’ I saw that he was not only disturbed but even angry. ‘Did you leave the university, where you were such an inspiration to so many people, to give your time and energy to Adam? You aren’t even trained for this! Why do you not leave this work to those who are trained for it? Surely you have better things to do with your time.’
I was shocked. My mind was racing and I thought but did not say, ‘Are you telling me that I am wasting my time with Adam? You, an experienced minister and a pastoral guide! Don’t you see that Adam is my friend, my teacher, my spiritual director, my counsellor, my minister?’ I quickly realised that he was not seeing the same Adam I was seeing. What my friend was saying made sense to him because he didn’t really ‘see’ Adam, and he certainly wasn’t prepared to get to know him.
My friend had a lot more questions about Adam and the people who lived with me in my home: ‘Why spend so much time and money on people with severe disabilities while so many capable people can hardly survive?’ And ‘Why should such people be allowed to take time and energy which should be given to solving the real problems humanity is facing?’
I didn’t answer my friend’s questions. I didn’t argue or discuss his ‘issues.’ I felt deeply that I had nothing very intelligent to say that would change my friend’s mind. My daily two hours with Adam were transforming me. In being present to him I was hearing an inner voice of love beyond all the activities of care. Those two hours were pure gift, a time of contemplation, during which we, together, were touching something of God. With Adam I knew a sacred presence and I ‘saw’ the face of God.
For many years I had reserved the word ‘Incarnation’ for the historic event of God’s coming to us in Jesus. Being so close with Adam I realised that the ‘Christ event’ is much more than something that took place long ago. It occurs every time spirit greets spirit in the body. It is a sacred event happening in the present because it is God’s event among people. That is what the sacramental life is all about. It is God’s ongoing incarnation whenever people meet each other ‘in God’s name.’ My relationship with Adam was giving me new eyes to see and ears to hear. I was being changed much more than I ever anticipated.
I was only one in the long row of people who spent their time and energy with Adam. Except for his eight hours of sleep Adam was never alone. From nine in the morning until four in the afternoon at his day programme he was surrounded by men and women who walked with him, went swimming with him, did exercise with him, gave him massages, helped him with his lunch, and regularly changed his clothes. During all these hours people spoke with him, laughed with him, listened to music with him, and created a place where he felt safe and at home. When at four o’clock he returned home to the New House he could sit for a few hours in his reclining chair to doze and rest. Then it was dinnertime, the time Adam could show the little independence he had by handling his own spoon and cup and surprising his guests with his solid appetite. After dinner there was prayer with songs. People held his hands or put their arms on his shoulders. Michael, Adam’s brother, was a faithful visitor, who, like me, enjoyed sitting beside Adam, sometimes talking, but content and happy with long moments of silence in his presence. And Jeanne and Rex loved to take him home for weekends and holidays and to visit often, walk with him, sit with him in the living room or his bedroom, and whisper loving words into ear. Each one had a relationship with Adam. Each one received gifts of peace, presence, safety, and love.
Could Adam pray? Did he know who God is and what the Name of Jesus means? Did he understand the mystery of God among us? For a long time I thought about these questions. For a long time I was curious about how much of what I knew, Adam could know, and how much of what I understood, Adam could understand. But now I see that these questions from ‘below’, questions that reflected more my anxiety and uncertainty than God’s love. God’s questions, the questions from ‘above’, were ‘Can you let Adam lead you into prayer? Can you believe that I am in deep communion with Adam and that his life is a prayer? Can you let Adam be a living prayer at your table? Can you see My face in the face of Adam?’
And while I, the so-called ‘normal‘ person, kept wondering how much Adam was like me, he had no need to make any comparisons. He simply lived and by his life invited me to receive his unique gift, wrapped in weakness but given for my transformation. While I tended to worry about what I did and how much I could produce, Adam was announcing to me that ‘being is more important than doing.’ While I was preoccupied with the way I was talked about or written about, Adam was quietly telling me that ‘God’s love is more important than the praise of people.’ While I was concerned about my individual accomplishments, Adam was reminding me that ‘doing things together is more important than doing things alone.’ Adam couldn’t produce anything, had no fame to be proud of, couldn’t brag of any award or trophy. But by his very life, he was the most radical witness to the truth of our lives that I have ever encountered.
It took me a long time to see this complete reversal of values, but once I experienced it, it was as if I was walking into completely new spiritual territory. I now understood more clearly what Jesus meant when he said, ‘Blessed are your eyes because they see, your ears because they hear! In truth I tell you, many prophets and upright people longed to see what you see, and never saw it, to hear what you hear, and never heard it.’ (Matthew 13: 16-17) The great paradoxes of the Gospel---that the last will be the first, that those who lose their lives will gain them, that the poor are blessed, and that the gentle will inherit the Kingdom---all became incarnate for me in Adam.
There is nothing sweet or pious about this. Many men and women assisted Adam during the 11 years that he lived at Daybreak, and they all can tell stories about the gift of caring for him. When Adam came to the New House he was 22 years old. He was certainly not a thin man, not easy to hold and walk behind, and the many activities necessary to keep him in good physical shape were complex and tiring. Over the years quite a few people in the Daybreak community had learned his ‘routine’ so that they could be called upon when nobody in the house was free to help Adam. Adam’s housemates, Rosie, Michael, John, and Roy, also needed a lot of attention. Rosie, who came to the New House at the same time as Adam, is no less disabled. Michael, who has not only a mental handicap but also severe cerebral palsy, needs assistance in every move he makes. John, who with Down’s syndrome can go his own way, still requires much emotional support and attention. And Roy, who at the age of 80 is the oldest member of the community, needs constant emotional and physical support. The New House, with five or six assistants and five core members, is a very busy place, and the many assistants who have lived and worked there didn’t always think about Adam in the way I described him. At the same time, what prevented them from perceiving themselves as housecleaners, cooks, nappy changers, and dishwashers was the experience that Adam, Rosie, Michael, John, and Roy, who were entrusted to them, had as much to give them as to receive from them. Many of them touched into the mystery of their own lives and experienced a renewal of their inner selves, mainly because they were able to receive some spiritual gift from the people they were caring for.
Speaking about ‘Adam’s gift’ is not romanticising an otherwise quite demanding and unrewarding life situation. Adam’s gift was a reality of everyday living. When, on Monday mornings, Jane, D.J., and the other assistants gathered to discuss the week that had passed and the week to come, the main questions always were, ‘What was difficult for you this week?’ and, ‘What was the gift you gave and the gift you received?’ Amid all the planning of meals, clean ups, visit to the doctors, shopping, repairs, and countless other things to do, that question of the gifts of Adam, Roy, Michael, Rosie, and John always remained central. Everyone knew that they would not remain good L’Arche assistants for long if they weren’t richly rewarded---by the spiritual gifts of people like Rosie and John. They were discovering that true care is mutual care. If their only reward had been the small salary, their care would soon have become little more than human maintenance. Not only would they have become bored, exhausted, and deeply frustrated, but Adam and the others would not have been able to give their gifts, accomplish their mission, or reach the fulfilment of their human potential.
Adam and the other core members were announcing Good News. Adam kept reminding us that the beauty of care giving was not just in giving but also in receiving from him. He was the one who opened me to the realisation that the greatest gift I could offer to him was my open hand and open heart to receive from him his precious gift of peace. In this exchange I was enriched and so was he. I was able to reveal to him that he had a gift to offer, and his true gift became a gift when I welcomed it. He gave his gift freely to everyone he met, and so many people received it and were enriched by it. Caring, he kept ‘telling’ us, is as much receiving as giving, as much giving thanks as asking for it, as much affirming him in his ability to give as looking for self-affirmation. Caring for Adam was allowing Adam to care for us as we cared for him. Only then did Adam and his assistants grow in mutuality and fruitfulness. Only then was our care for Adam not burdensome, but privileged because Adam’s care for us bore fruit in our lives.
And, in this milieu of mutual caring, Adam was able to live a public life beyond the confines of Daybreak. Sometimes true ‘miracles’ happened. During and after my time in the New House I saw remarkable changes in people, which happened as a direct consequence of their contact with Adam.
My friend Murray, a New York businessman, husband of Peggy, and father of nine children, called me at Daybreak. He had heard about me through friends and had read several of my books. When he realised that I was leaving the university to live with people with mental disabilities he was quite shocked. He wanted to do anything in his power to make sure I didn’t stop writing. Being a man deeply involved in the financial world and having many friends there, he proposed creating a circle of people who would offer me a yearly gift that would enable me to keep writing even as I held the low-paying role of pastor for handicapped people.
Often he said, ‘Henri, you don’t know anything about money; you are a writer. Let me help you with money, and you can help us with your writings.’ Murray was a deeply religious man who was quite concerned that his children would become so preoccupied with making money and pursuing successful careers that they would lose contact with their spiritual heritage. ‘You have to keep my kids close to God,’ He would say.
I first met Murray at the New York Athletic Club. Soon after that he and Peggy welcome me in their summer house in Ireland, and a little later I came to know most of the family in their home in Peapack, New Jersey. I will never forget sitting at the dinner table with at least 12 people, Murray at one end and I at the other. After grace Murray said, ‘Now, Henri, talk to my kids’---they were all in their twenties and thirties!---‘and make them go to church again.’ The ‘children’, all very articulate, well-educated men and women, showed much sympathy for their father’s well-intentioned attempt, but they were not afraid to let him and me know how little, if anything, they expected from going to church. A fierce but loving debate followed showing that there was a lot more religion around the table than Murray had assumed.
I developed a real friendship with Murray’s family. Then one day I said, ‘Murray, it is time for you to visit me at Daybreak. Please come and stay with me for a few days.’ Murray hesitated. He felt that his task was to keep me writing, not to get involved in my life with disabled people. In fact he wondered if I wasn’t wasting my time with these ‘poor people.’ But after some persuasion, he accepted. When I told him that I wanted him to stay with me in the New House and that our little basement guest room was ready for him, he looked more than puzzled. ‘I think I might be better off in a hotel,’ he suggested. But I insisted: ‘No, no you will love it just being with us, and you will have a chance to meet Adam.’
Meeting Adam wasn’t why Murray thought he had come to see me. But reluctantly he went along with my proposal! We enjoyed a pleasant, noisy dinner at the New House, where Murray was attentive, but said very little. Murray followed me around for a couple of days, meeting people, visiting some of the other homes, and ‘observing’ my relationship with Adam. To my great surprise, Murray was quite comfortable in the home. He didn’t say much but he was just there.
One morning at breakfast table Murray and I sat quietly, close to Adam. Murray watched every one of his moves, and he watched me as I supported him to bring his spoon to his mouth and to hold his orange juice glass. Suddenly, there was a phone call asking me to go to my office. I quickly told Adam that I was sorry I had to leave in a hurry but that he would be in good hands. Then I said to Murray, ‘I have to leave for a while. Why don’t you help Adam finish his breakfast and afterwards the assistants will help Adam get off to work.’ Murray said, ‘Fine,’ although I didn’t realise how anxious he felt.
Murray told me later that during the next 30 minutes as he sat with Adam he began to recognise him not as a disabled man completely different from himself, but as a beautiful human being who shared with him many vulnerabilities. Although Murray was a very successful businessman, he had his own struggles, his own fears, his own experiences of failure, his own disabilities. Sitting beside Adam, helping him with his breakfast was for Murray a moment of grace as he realised that he and Adam were brothers. Distance fell away, and a deep compassion emerged in Murray’s heart, a connectedness with Adam, who drew him close and gave him light. The day that followed was a truly new day for Murray. He told me later how he went about with a new feeling of being accepted, loved, and appreciated---not by Adam but by all the people in the New House.
Murray’s visit to Daybreak bore many fruits in his life, opening him more to accept his own brokenness and failure and to be less defensive among his family and friends. It certainly deepened our friendship. From then on Murray spoke about Adam with great love, and whenever he called he always asked, ‘And how is Adam?’
Four years after his trip to Toronto, Murray had a sudden and fatal heart attack. His death was a very painful loss for Peggy, his children, his family and friends, and me. As I spoke at his memorial service, I remembered that Adam had played an important role in helping Murray to face with less fear his own vulnerabilities, thus preparing him for his final passage to God.
Murray’s story doesn’t stand alone. Countless people who came to the New House for a week, a day, or only a few hours were deeply affected by Adam’s beautiful, silent presence. Some told me that when they returned home they kept thinking of him and talking about him with their friends. Their encounters with Adam often became experiences of inner renewal because he offered them an opportunity and a context to think differently about their lives, their goals, their aspirations. Adam offered those he met a presence and a safe space to recognise and accept their own, often invisible, disabilities. He radiated peace from his centre, which supported people as they lived through difficult times or had important choices to make. Not everyone who met him had the same experience with Adam. For some it was an experience of peace, and for others self-confrontation; for some it was a rediscovery of their hearts, and for others it meant nothing.
Adam’s ministry was unique in that he seemed unaware of all that was happening around and through him because he didn’t know about care, ministry, healing, or service. He seemed to be without concepts, plans, intentions, or aspirations. He was simply present, offering himself in peace and completely self-emptied so that the fruits of his ministry were pure and abundant. I can witness that the words said of Jesus could be said of Adam: ‘Everyone who touched him was healed.’ (Mark 6:56)
Adam was a true teacher and a true healer. Most of his healing was inner healing that announced peace, courage, joy, and freedom to those who often were hardly able to acknowledge their wounds. Adam, by his eyes and by his presence, said to us, ‘Don’t be afraid. You don’t have to run away from your pain. Look at me, be close to me, and you will discover that you are God’s beloved child, just as I am.’
For that reason I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that Daybreak was the place of Adam’s public ministry. It is my firm belief that Adam, like Jesus, was sent into the world to fulfil his unique mission. During his years at home with his family, he lived the mutuality of love, growing in stature while transforming his parents. It was the preparation. In Daybreak his gifts, his teaching, and his healing had a deep impact on the many people who came to live with him as well as on those who came to visit or to live in other homes in the community.
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