Spirituality & Health Magazine

January 8, 2022

“This rousing collection of excerpts from the books of Henri Nouwen has been edited by Rebecca Laird, a certified spiritual director and former editor of Sacred Journey, an interfaith spiritual magazine, and Michael J. Christensen, who currently teaches spirituality at Drew University. They are convinced that Nouwen was “a practical mystic with prophetic vision.” For him, spirituality was a matter of the heart. In their introduction, the editors delve in to this capacious term and what it meant to this scholar, teacher, writer, and activist. Nouwen saw heart as the core of our being, the center of the seat of emotions, intellect, and will. It is where human beings nourish their beliefs and decide their behavior. He concluded that the heart is “the center of our being where God comes to dwell with us and bring us the divine gifts of trust, hope and love.”

Since Nouwen had communion every day, whether alone or with others, the editors have divided this anthology into four sections that correspond to the Eucharistic formula in classic Christianity – choose, bless, break, and give. Each section is introduced with a short biographical essay and some suggestions on how to process the readings. Among the books quoted are Beyond the Mirror: Reflections on Life and Death; Life of the Beloved; Here and Now; Sabbatical Journey; and Finding My Way Home.

One of the touchstones of Nouwen’s faith was his repeated emphasis upon God’s love for us. As he put it: “God loved you before you were born, and God will love you after you die. In Scripture God says, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love.’ This is a very fundamental truth of your identity. This is who you are whether you feel it or not. You belong to God from eternity to eternity. Life is just a little opportunity for you during a few years to say, ‘I love you, too.’“ Since our identity is rooted in this timeless dimension, we are freed from enslavement to time or the other mandates of our culture, such as proving ourselves to others or being successful.

Nouwen writes forcefully and clearly about faith, friendship, generosity, blessing, death, prayer, community, and much more. Given all the emphasis by many sincere Christians on heaven, we impressed with this passage: “Eternal life. Where is it? When is it? For a long time I have thought about eternal life as a life after all my birthdays have run out. For most of my years I have spoken about the eternal life as the ‘afterlife,’ as ‘life after death.’ But the older I become, the less interest my ‘afterlife’ holds for me. Worrying not only about tomorrow, next year, and the next decade, but even about the next life seems a false preoccupation. Wondering how things will be for me after I die seems, for the most part, a distraction. When my clear goal is the eternal life, that life must be reachable right now, where I am, because eternal life is life in and with God, and God is where I am here and now.” Amen!

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