by Henri J.M. Nouwen
I love how letters give us a glimpse into someone's life that a book does not. What they like, how they feel, how they make decisions, it's all there in an open and honest way. Henri Nouwen's book was no different, and I enjoyed the first half of it very much. When I got to the letter where he recommended praying to Mary, I stopped, as I am an evangelical Christian and that goes against my beliefs. Despite our differences, his love for Jesus shines through, and I collected many, many favorite quotes up until that point.
At one point, the editor wrote, "Henri took friendship very seriously... This style of friendship was not for everyone, and there are many people for whom it was simply not sustainable." This made me like Henri immediately as I can relate to his intensity.
The notes about his life were very helpful since I knew only a little about him. The preface was also inspiring. I can't imagine it taking 15 years to organize one person's correspondence! That's amazing, one that he wrote so much and two that Gabrielle Earnshaw devoted more than a decade to sifting through it to give us this book. Thank you.
I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion.
I put my favorite quotes together into the letter that I wish, perhaps, he'd written to me:
What you seem to ask for is for more intimate, direct, personal contact with Him, a way of experiencing Him more directly. The first and most important task we have is to keep our eyes on God and Him alone. We will never overcome the demons by analyzing them, but only by forgetting them in an all-consuming love for God. I am more and more convinced that the first commandment indeed needs to be the first: to love God. Ministry is to point again and again to the Lord. He alone can bring us what we need.
There is a joy deeply hidden in the heart of the suffering Christ. It is a joy that is not alien to you. You have tasted it already. It is the joy of the children of God who know their weakness and brokenness but who always continue to experience the abundance of his forgiving and recreating love.
You need a lot of time to pray, to spend time in solitude and to speak regularly about your love for God, and God’s love for you. Nurture your contemplative side, be in a constant conversation with Him, who loves you most intimately. I think that a life of grateful prayer and a life of intercession for others will bring you the goal you seek.
It is so important for the people around you to see that peace of Christ reflected in your eyes, your hands and your words. There is more power in that than in all your teaching and organizing. You have to keep saying to yourself: “I am being loved by an unconditional, unlimited love, and that love allows me to be a free person, center of my own actions and decisions.”
The Lord has given you a great treasure: each other and the children. He wants to keep you together in his love. The mystery of God’s Grace is that He often changes us in ways that we were not planning on and that sometimes we do not have eyes to see or ears to hear these changes in ourselves. I deeply believe that God is always active in us and always molding us into new people.
Sometimes it feels as if I never will find words to convey the deep emotions (evoked) in me. I suffer from my inability to say what I see and feel. I guess we all do to some degree... But I trust that a gentle and forgiving reader can hear beyond the words we say. Friendship requires trust, patience, attentiveness, courage, repentance, forgiveness, celebration and most of all faithfulness. But it asks a great faith, a great hope and a great love, and at times I feel so terribly small and fearful.
Try to be very gentle, very open and very forgiving. Minister as concretely and directly as possible to the people with whom you live. Please do not give up.