Adam: God’s Beloved

The topic of senior seminar in the Bible and Religion department this spring has been disability theology. Together we engage relevant biblical material and consider important contemporary figures. The seminar is entirely student-led which is a real treat, and not just because I don’t carry the same preparation load. It is a unique opportunity for me to explicitly take the position of learner alongside my students and colleagues in the department. What I find shouldn’t surprise me: they consistently have something to teach me.

Our biblical texts this week were from Luke (Jesus’ sending of the 72) and the reading was Nouwen’s Adam: God’s Beloved. The book is an extended reflection on a man Nouwen knew from his time at the L’Arche Daybreak Community. As the book jacket describes, “In the eyes of the world [Adam] was a complete nobody. And yet, for Henri Nouwen he became ‘my friend, my teacher, and my guide.’ It was Adam who led Nouwen to a new understanding of his Christian faith and what it means to be Beloved of God.”

The student who led us through the material works in group homes for the mentally disabled, so his engagement with the reading was intensely personal. I found my reading of the text no less personal but for different reasons. The acceptance of God and his unconditional love which Nouwen learned from Adam resonates deeply with my own struggles as a scholar. Vocational expectations and career comparison so quickly threaten to overwhelm my sense of self. As Nouwen says, “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.” A timely reminder.

Could Adam pray? Did he know who God is and what the Name of Jesus means? Did he Adam.God's Belovedunderstand 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 these were for me questions from “below,” questions that reflected more about my anxiety and uncertainty than God’s love. God’s questions, the questions from “above” were, “Can you let Adam lead you in 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, a so-called “normal” person, kept wondering how much Adam was life me, he had no ability or 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” (Adam: God’s Beloved, p. 55-56).


4 thoughts on “Adam: God’s Beloved

  1. Dr. Eilers, I am glad you quoted this section from our reading. The following is taken from my reading reflection for this week. I had this exact passage in mind as I wrote.

    Nouwen’s approach to Adam and his life is refreshing and challenging. My way of thinking about life has always taken a Western, cognitive approach that is intellectually heavy. Nouwen looks to Adam and sees a man that is closer to God then I may ever be. In one place he talks about how Adam is able to be empty before God, an achievement that many can never reach. He speaks of spending years working on emptying his mind before God and still being unable to reach the compactly of emptiness that Adam reaches.

    How does this add to our conversation of disability? Well it gives a unique perspective from a man who is a lot like many of us. He was in the academy, writing and studying theology, and then gave it all up to serve the disabled in Canada. Here he encountered life and God at a totally different pace, no one cared who he was or how much he wrote, they just cared. Nouwen’s description of Daybreak and the New House is what I believe is a true picture of the kingdom of God.

    The way that I have looked at academics has been greatly challenged in the past year. This section has only been further affirmation that I need to rethink (and maybe only re-evaluate) how I look at academics and education. (In a side note, I think we beat up on academics more than needed sometimes–we as in evangelical, American Christians–so I tend to lean towards keeping these sort of ideas in mind to neutralize a heavily, only academic Christianity. I still see value in it.)

    Further, this section pushes me to wonder what being in communion with God actually is. Does it go deeper than mind? Is true communion with God something of the soul, so deep that we cannot fully understand how it works?

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