Would You Choose Downward Mobility?

I have had a bad week this week and would appreciate your prayers. These are the kind of days I really dread.

I realize that some of you may not be aware of the works of Henri Nouwen. The easiest thing for me to do was to go to Wklipedia and grab a couple of paragraphs to introduce you to him. (He passed away, I believe, in 1996.)

Henri  Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian. His interests were rooted primarily in psychology, pastoral ministry, spirituality, social justice and community.

After nearly two decades of teaching at academic institutions including the University of Notre Dame, Yale Divinity School and Harvard Divinity School, Nouwen went on to work with mentally and physically handicapped people at the L’Arche Daybreak community in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

It seems that I pull as much from others for my blog as I write myself. But, when I run across the meaningful writings  of someone so much brighter and insightful than I am, I feel compelled  to share it. Henri Nouwen was one of those men. Brilliant and humble.

Henri Nouwen on Downward Mobility

“The compassionate life is the life of downward mobility!

In a society in which upward mobility is the norm, downward mobility is not only discouraged but even considered unwise, unhealthy, or downright stupid.

Who will freely choose a low-paying job when a high-paying job is being offered? Who will choose poverty when wealth is within reach? Who will choose the hidden place when there is a place in the limelight? Who will choose to be with one person in great need when many people could be helped during the same time? Who will choose to withdraw to a place of solitude and prayer when there are so many urgent demands from all sides?

My whole life I have been surrounded by well-meaning encouragement to go ‘higher up,’ and the most-used argument was : ‘You can do so much good there, for so many people.’ But these voices calling me to upward mobility are completely absent from the Gospel.

Jesus says: ‘Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:25). He also says: ‘Unless you become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). Finally he says: “You know that among the gentiles the rulers lord it over them, and great men make their authority felt; among you this is not to happen. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25-28).

This is the way of downward mobility, the descending way of Jesus:

It is the way toward the poor, the suffering, the marginal, the prisoners, the refugees, the lonely, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the homeless–toward all who ask for compassion. What do they have to offer? Not success, popularity, or power, but the joy and peace of the children of God.”

From Here and Now pp. 138-139

3 thoughts on “Would You Choose Downward Mobility?

    1. I was up in the night with a fussy baby and poked around on the web a few minutes when I found yours. I thought it was great. Funny thing… I was just telling my wife about Nouwen two days ago. Your post prompts me to follow that up a bit more.


      … and glad to have you over at Fat Beggars too…

      Hope you will drop in again sometimes…



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