Celebrating Life (Henri Nouwen)


Our culture is a working, hurrying, and worrying culture with many opportunities except the opportunity to celebrate life. (p. 102)

The Christian minister is the one whose vocation is to make it possible for man not only to fully face his human situation but also to celebrate it in all its awesome reality. (p. 94)

When we speak about celebration we tend rather easily to bring to mind happy, pleasant, gay festivities in which we can forget for a while the hardships of life and immerse ourselves in an atmosphere of music, dance, drinks, laughter, and a lot of cozy small-talk. But celebration in the Christian sense has very little to do with this. Celebration is only possible through the deep realization that life and death are never found completely separate. Celebration can only really come about where fear and love, joy and sorrow, tears and smiles can exist together. Celebration is the acceptance of life in a constantly increasing awareness of its preciousness. And life is precious not only because it can be seen, touched, and tasted, but also because it will be gone one day. When we celebrate a wedding, we celebrate a union as well as a departure. When we celebrate death we celebrate lost friendship as well as gained liberty. There can be tears after weddings and smiles after funerals. We can indeed make our sorrows, as much as our joys, a part of our celebration of life in the deep realization that life and death are not opponents but do, in fact, kiss each other at every moment of our existence. When we are born we become free to breathe on our own but lose the safety of our mother’s body; when we go to school we are free to join a greater society but lose a particular place in our family; when we marry we find a new partner but lose the special tie we had with our parents; when we find work we win our independence by making our own money but lose the stimulation of teachers and fellow students; when we receive children we discover a new world but lose much of our freedom to move; when we are promoted we become more important in the eyes of others but lose the chance to take many risks; when we retire we finally have the chance to do what we wanted but lose the support of being wanted. 9780385126168When we have been able to celebrate life in all these decisive moments where gaining and losing – that is, life and death – touched each other all the time, we will be able to celebrate our own dying because we have learned from life that he who loses it can find it (cf. Mt. 16:25). (pp. 94-95)

We are only a very small part of history and have only one short life to live, but when we take the fruits of our labor in our hands and stretch our arms to God in the deep belief that He hears us and accepts our gifts, then we know that all of our life is given, given to celebrate. (p. 110)

Henri J. M. Nouwen, Creative Ministry (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1991)

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