June 14th to 20th: Introduction and Chapter 1 – The Collapse

Reading: Introduction, A Note About Sources, Chapter 1 – The Collapse, November 1983

Nouwen shows us that we too can return home. We have not ruined everything with our bad choices, doubts, or shortcomings.
We can start again. We can be reborn. And our
loving God will run to meet us. (p. 7)

Welcome to each of you. We have a wonderful group of devoted Henri Nouwen readers gathered from across North America, England, Egypt, and Australia for what promises to be a unique discussion. For the first time, we are reading and discussing a book about Henri rather than a book by written by Henri himself. This provides us with the special opportunity at the bottom of this post.

We will be guided by Gabrielle Earnshaw as she contributes to our understanding of Henri and his most popular book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. Through Gabrielle’s comprehensive “biography” of this classic spiritual book and her revealing and sensitive biographical sketch of Henri Nouwen, we will see why encountering Rembrandt’s painting and writing his book were life-changing for Nouwen, and for many of his readers as well.

Gabrielle brings her two decades of experience as Henri’s archivist and editor to bear and this week she prepares us to journey along with Henri on his, and our, “return home.” You will be introduced to Henri’s friend Sue Mosteller, CSJ and learn about the Henri J. M. Nouwen Archives and Research Collection that Sue, as Henri’s literary executrix, established in Toronto and that Gabrielle archived and made the definitive source for studying Nouwen’s life and work. In Chapter One, Gabrielle walks us into Nouwen’s world and allows us to see and begin to experience Henri’s loneliness and anguish as she describes his first encounter with Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son and considers why it made an immediate and significant impression on him.

You are encouraged to share and discuss whatever came up for you in the readings and to respond to the comments of others. Here are some excerpts and questions that may help to get the discussion going, but please don’t feel bound to them.

  1. (F)reedom. . . is to enter a second childhood as expressed by Jesus. . . It is a movement away from compulsions and addictions to a life. . . in which we forgive others, serve them, and form a new bond of fellowship with them. (p. 6-7) What is your reaction to this definition of freedom in light of our world today?
  2. “Do you love me?” was (Henri’s) primal cry for love and affection. . . that perplexed his parents. In Intimacy, the search for love is equated with the search for home. . . Nouwen is on a quest for home. . . (p. 18) What is your response to this image of home? Aren’t we all on a quest for home?
  3. (W)hat we might consider is that Nouwen experienced a father with a “work-to-earn love” ethos. From his father he learned that worldly success was a means to gaining love. (p. 23) Gabrielle explores the importance of Henri’s relationship with is father in some detail. Does this help you to better understand his journey? How about your own journey and your relationship with your father and God?
  4. Sipe concludes, “Nouwen was the genuine article. He was exactly what he appeared–a priest struggling for integrity, exhausting himself in the service of others.” (p. 30) What insights did you gain about Henri’s search for intimacy, his commitment to celibacy, and his sexuality? Does looking at Henri as a “priest struggling for integrity” affect your understanding of his life and writing?
  5. (H)e began to see that the painting was actually a “large gate” for him to meet the One he had been searching for since he was born–“the God of mercy and compassion.” (p.32) The painting was a “large gate” for Henri. His writing was a “large gate” for me and many others. Does this ring true in your life?

The thoughts and insights many of you share provide the heartbeat for every Henri Nouwen book discussion. We also welcome those following along silently.

Our friends at Paraclete Press have allowed us to post the virtual book launch they held for this book last month. Gabrielle, along with well-known spiritual writer Fr. Ron Rolheiser, were interviewed by Karen Pascal, the Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society. The event lasts a just over an hour. (Note: The first 3-1/2 minutes are silent with book excerpts and photos of artifacts from the archives. Then the discussion begins.) I encourage you to watch. It’s excellent. (Note: The video will be available this week only.)

For more information and resources, visit the the Paraclete Press book launch page. To purchase additional copies of the book, visit the Paraclete Press website.

We look forward to a great week of sharing.
Ray

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29 Responses to June 14th to 20th: Introduction and Chapter 1 – The Collapse

  1. Charlie T says:

    Thank you for these thought- and emotion-triggering questions. Many things struck and resonated with me in this first chapter. I want to share one of these, arising from the question about insights gained about Henri’s search for intimacy, his commitment to celibacy, and his sexuality, in particular.

    I can’t help wonder how Henri’s experience of himself and his life may have been different if he was allowed to live out and express his same gender attraction as a priest within the church that explicitly condemns this. Accepting and honouring this integral part of what it means to be fully human and fully alive increases and expands human connectedness and vitality.

    I also wonder whether Henri’s struggles with acceptance, integrity, loneliness and depression may have had something to do with the manner in which Henri chose to keep his same gender attraction private. Ultimately there are psycho-emotional and spiritual costs that come with this kind of choice. Perhaps he didn’t feel safe enough to do so.

    Would his life have perhaps taken a different trajectory if his chosen vocation and church would have supported him to be in a same gender loving relationship or to even marry? Sadly, we will never know, but it’s still worth asking this question.

    I am grateful for the opportunity to share my reflections.

    • Ray Glennon says:

      Charlie, Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

      In chapter two which be will read beginning Sunday, Gabrielle writes, “Perhaps more suitable than any other definition of who he (Henri) was is the term “artist.” She then includes a footnote indicating that many might say that “pastor” was his foremost identity, noting that she wouldn’t disagree.

      As a Catholic (but not a Nouwen scholar) it seems to me that his foremost identify is as a Catholic “priest”, called to serve the all the people of God. And it was his commitment to his vocation and celibacy that was a great challenge to him, even more so than his homosexuality. And while Henri struggled, he opted to remain true to the commitments to which he had been called by God. In The Return of the Prodigal Son Henri writes, “A few years ago, I myself, was very concretely confronted with the choice to return or not to return. A friendship that at first seemed promising and life-giving gradually pulled me farther and farther away from home. . . In a spiritual sense, I found myself squandering all I had been given by my father to keep the friendship alive. . . I had to choose between destroying myself or trusting that the love I was looking for did, in fact exist. . . back home!. . . The soft but persistent voice spoke to me about my vocation, my early commitments, the many gifts I had received in my father’s house. That voice called me ‘son.'”

      • Charlie T says:

        Thanks for your reply Ray.
        Not knowing as much as you do about Henri, I make the following comments from the perspective of my experience rather than from any extensive knowledge of him.

        Admittedly, I have become very drawn to his humanity, complexity and beauty recently. For me the terms ‘artist’ and ‘pastor’ are vocations and roles, and, ascribed identities. Sexual orientation is inherent in his DNA, and as a form of ‘identity’, it runs deeper than any vocation or role.

        It must have been particularly painful for Henri to have to wrestle with such competing notions of identity and with the great existential question of ‘who am I….really…in the depths of my being….in the eyes of God? It’s unfortunate that he couldn’t pursue such a friendship and his vocation.

        Henri is evidently such a fascinating individual. I have a great deal to learn from him, and from this discussion group.

        Thanks again for your insights.

        • Ray Glennon says:

          Charlie,
          Thanks for your thoughtful reply. This is the first book discussion where we have considered ideas such as this as previously we would focus on Henri’s words and their meaning in the world today. It is great to have the opportunity to expand our discussion and I really appreciate your engagement and insights.

          I agree Henri is fascinating and I know that I continue to learn from him. I would offer one additional observation. The idea of being a “wounded healer” is a prominent Nouwen theme from his earlier writing. Henri lived his woundedness through the breakdown of the friendship and the mental breakdown that followed. And the fruit of that suffering is what many consider his most influential work, including The Return of the Prodigal Son and Life of the Beloved, among others, published during the last few years of this life. So, in many ways, Henri’s commitment to his vocation and the resulting suffering were a great gift to God and to us all.

          Peace and all good.
          Ray

          • Charlie T says:

            Thank you Ray. Each reply gives me something more to ponder. I have ordered a copy of The Return of the Prodigal Son, which will be my first Nouwen book. I am looking forward to reading it. Charlie

  2. Karen Bates says:

    I am reminded of the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi when I read that, “He shifts his focus from the father he doesn’t have to the father he does; and he finds freedom…Nouwen senses the freedom of being a child of God without the prison of resentment or self-occupation. Blessing others becomes important.”

    Debby: I have copied your comment.
    I am having difficult understanding how Henri has put himself in the father role.
    Is that because he has forgiven his human father, so now can be free to be a child of God and has gone past the resentment etc toward his human father.?
    Thoughts?
    I can understand the symbolism of older and younger son, but I seem to be stuck on our and Henri’s relevance to relating to the Father.

    • Janet Hoben says:

      I also found myself a little puzzled at Henri deciding the father was the best fit for him. A celebrate priest, no wife no kids, so how does the father role fit? I think at one point in time we have all been each of those roles. And, as a priest, he would feel responsible for his flock. And certainly once he was at the community.

  3. Nancy W says:

    I was introduced to Nouwen at a seminal time in my life. I had just begun therapy and support groups to heal from having been raised in an alcoholic home, so his book The Life of the Beloved was exactly what I needed. Learning more about Nouwen and the origins of his need for approval and affirmation, along with a sense of home, describe perfectly how I felt the first 30 years of my life. To reclaim the frightened, shame-filled little girl who never felt she belonged really was a second birth. Unlike him, I did not find L’Arche, but having become known for my compassion and understanding, particularly one-on-one, I have been able to help build many homes where I have always felt welcome.

  4. Ray Glennon says:

    From Jack Saarela
    Gabrielle’s analysis of Henri’s relationship with his father impacted me deeply. My relationship with my father was an ambivalent one. But it was not unlike that of many European immigrant sons that I knew in my youth.

    My Dad was a hard-working farmer in Finland, and he became a very skilled carpenter after we arrived in Canada in 1955. He tried to teach me some basic carpentry, but it didn’t take long for both him and me to see that it was futile. I was too slow to pick up what he found to be natural. I felt I disappointed him. I became determined to win his respect and admiration by excelling in the academic world.

    Although I always intuited that as a father he loved me, I never heard him say so (not that I told him that I loved him.) It wasn’t so much his approval I craved as his pride in what I had accomplished in academic and other pursuits.

    At my graduation from Yale Divinity School I received confirmation that indeed, he was proud of his firstborn. At the commencement reception, he said very little. But at one time, he turned and retreated silently from the celebration. I watched him and saw him wipe a tear from his eye before he returned to the group. He noticed, I believe, that I had seen his tears. I interpreted them as tears of pride. I knew at that moment that my shy, reticent dad not only approved of me, but was also proud of me.

    In our last years before he died at age 66, he had developed the disease of alcoholism. I knew that the disease was a source of shame for all of us, but especially him. I’m afraid that I treated him with arrogance and downright disdain. But I learned in the Al-Anon fellowship to detach enough from his disease that I could accept him, not for whom I wanted him to be, but for who he was.

    He died of cirrhosis in 1996. That fall, I spent a weekend in Toronto helping my sister empty his belongings from his condo and those still remaining from my late mother who had died 3 years earlier. It was an emotionally complicated weekend. Then it got even more complicated when I read in the Toronto newspaper that Henri had died suddenly during the previous week. There I was to grieve and perform a last duty for my father. But I was both confused and overcome by Henri’s sudden death. After attending Henri’s wake in a church near Toronto, I couldn’t tell whom I was grieving more deeply: my own father, or my spiritual father, Henri.

    • Ray Glennon says:

      Thank you Jack for your personal and touching sharing.

      I am certain that it was not a coincidence (and a gift from the Holy Spirit) that I found Henri’s The Return of the Prodigal Son for sale after Mass in Singapore in 2004 while there on a business trip at a time I desperately needed to read it. It sounds like you were similarly blessed during your difficult 1996 trip to Toronto. May the Lord continue to give you peace.

  5. Susan DeLong says:

    I was like a child savouring a favourite story being retold as I read the beginning of Gabrielle Earnshaw’s Introduction describing Henri being playfully reborn as a baby clown. It connected with the draw I feel toward wonder and play. Since the COVID restrictions were put in place in mid-March, I’ve been meeting with my 10 year old granddaughter on Zoom every weekday morning. Her enthusiasm for learning and her innate creativity ignite the same qualities in me, which make our 90 minutes together fly by.

    Earnshaw writes: “To enter a second childhood while claiming a new adulthood is to live a paradox….We can shed aspects of ourselves that we no longer need, and unify the essentials left over once the stripping is done. Entering a second childhood is to integrate all that we have experienced as a whole—and enter life as though born again” (p. 7).

    I am spending time with this paragraph and asking myself, “What do I no longer need? What do I want to shed? What fragments do I want to gather into wholeness?” I think best by writing, so I will be journaling as I seek to answer these questions.

    • Michelle E says:

      Susan, I love the image of you playing with your 10-year-old granddaughter every weekday. What an amazing gift for the both of you!

      I really appreciate the paragraph you highlight, particularly the questions you ask: “What do I no longer need and want to shed? What fragments of myself do I want to gather into wholeness?” I am spending some time prayerfully considering them. Thank you for helping me engage Earnshaw’s work in a personally meaningful way through your thoughtful reflection.

  6. Michelle E says:

    In reflecting upon Nouwen’s relationship with his father, I am struck by Nouwen’s observation that “as the older son in our family, [I] seemed to be programmed to believe that I had to be at least as good as my dad” (21). As the oldest child in my family, I can relate to Nouwen’s belief that he needed to meet his authoritative father’s high expectations. My own hard-working, driven father regularly responded to my questions or ideas with a “Think about it!”, similar to Nouwen’s father’s “I could have told you that long ago!” (21). So, I certainly can appreciate Nouwen’s belief that he had to be successful in order to be loved.

    Further, I can see how such a home environment can rob a child and later adult of the freedom of self-discovery and even knowing joy when one’s entire emotional programming is geared toward pleasing the other to feel loved and a sense of belonging. The emotional baggage we carry, the old patterning and lack of freedom, runs so deep within each one of us that I am struck by how the painting ends us being a “large gate” (32) for Nouwen to meet the God of mercy and compassion. Surely, that prolonged encounter was an extended period of abundant grace as Nouwen had tremendous self-awareness and an active prayer life prior to his discovery of the painting. As I read Earnshaw’s work and look back at The Return of the Prodigal Son, I find myself saying, “Lord, where is my gate? Where am I to discover you and step into greater freedom because of a profound assuredness of your love for me just as I am?”

    • Michelle,

      I so appreciate what you have shared here. Your insight shows that like Henri you too “long for the father’s touch” (27). Merton (The Merton Prayer) suggests that the very longing, the vulnerable admission and the heart simply seeking is ample evidence of an aperture (gate) that is already opening.

      • Michelle E says:

        Beverly,

        Thank you for your thoughtful, kind response. I appreciate your reference to Merton’s prayer and I chuckle as I was listening just recently to James Finley on the podcast, Turning to the Mystics, in which he does a lectio divina of a kind with that prayer, meditating deeply upon each of the words and phrases. I had not thought of connecting the longing within to being evidence of the gate already opening. Such an astute and encouraging insight, thank you!

  7. Ineke Reitsma says:

    Hi, my name is Ineke, I am a Dutch Canadian, living in Canada since my mid forties.
    In the Netherlands I have read Henri Nouwen and also I still have a DVD(in Dutch)
    Always very impressive.
    Both my husband and I read recently The Prodigal Son on recommendation of our minister and I bought the book from Gabrielle Earnshaw. I really am interested in all your comments and this is a way to keep up my knowledge now we cannot do bible studies in church because of COVID.
    In our library at home we have a reproduction of the Prodigal Son ( De Verloren Zoon) on the wall and seeing that reminds us of God’s everlasting love , His Fatherly unconditional love for us and reminds us to be forgiving to others too!

  8. Gabrielle’s analysis of Henri’s relationship with his father impacted me deeply. My relationship with my father was an ambivalent one. But it was not unlike that of many European immigrant sons that I knew in my youth.

    My Dad was a hard-working farmer in Finland, and he became a very skilled carpenter after we arrived in Canada in 1955. He tried to teach me some basic carpentry, but it didn’t take long for both him and me to see that it was futile. I was too slow to pick up what he found to be natural. I felt I disappointed him. I became determined to win his respect and admiration by excelling in the academic world.

    Although I always intuited that as a father he loved me, I never heard him say so (not that I told him that I loved him.) It wasn’t so much his approval I craved as his pride in what I had accomplished in academic and other pursuits.

    At my graduation from Yale Divinity School I received confirmation that indeed, he was proud of his firstborn. At the commencement reception, he said very little. But at one time, he turned and retreated silently from the celebration. I watched him and saw him wipe a tear from his eye before he returned to the group. He noticed, I believe, that I had seen his tears. I interpreted them as tears of pride. I knew at that moment that my shy, reticent dad not only approved of me, but was also proud of me.

    In our last years before he died at age 66, he had developed the disease of alcoholism. I knew that the disease was a source of shame for all of us, but especially him. I’m afraid that I treated him with arrogance and downright disdain. But I learned in the Al-Anon fellowship to detach enough from his disease that I could accept him, not for whom I wanted him to be, but for who he was.

    He died of cirrhosis in 1996. That fall, I spent a weekend in Toronto helping my sister empty his belongings from his condo and those still remaining from my late mother who had died 3 years earlier. It was an emotionally complicated weekend. Then it got even more complicated when I read in the Toronto newspaper that Henri had died suddenly during the previous week. There I was to grieve and perform a last duty for my father. But I was both confused and overcome by Henri’s sudden death. After attending Henri’s wake in a church near Toronto, I couldn’t tell whom I was grieving more deeply: my own father, or my spiritual father, Henri.

  9. Elaine M says:

    “It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.” The “wheat will be separated from the chaff” and the “goats from the sheep.” Such images always suggested to me that the gate was narrow rather than wide. My early Catholic school education suggested that my Protestant or “lapsed” Catholic friends might face some significant challenges in passing through such a gate to eternal life. In elementary school, we studied the lives of the saints, but they seemed to be the ones who had been “perfect” from birth. Maria Goretti became a martyr at the age of eleven. Surely I could never live up to such a standard.

    Fortunately, I have had more accessible models of “wide gate” mercy and compassion in my parents, close friends, volunteers who have devoted their lives to ”the least of our brethren,” and even in news stories of victims who have prayed for and forgiven those who have trespassed against them. And then I discovered Henri, a man who claimed to be anything but perfect from birth and who actually used his own struggles, fears, doubts, and imperfections to form a compassionate connection with fellow companions on the journey. In some ways, it was first a message of “take my hand.” And then, as Henri discovered the “generative” energy of the compassionate father, it became the unspoken message of arms open wide with love and acceptance. In THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL SON, Henri notes that the painting depicts a father with two kinds of hands: one of paternal strength and one of maternal gentleness. Maybe a reconciliation and resolution of the parental qualities he had been seeking since childhood?

  10. Janet Hoben says:

    Hi, Friends! I have been spending the Covid-19 lockdown immersing myself in Henri’s books. When I saw this book club I was intrigued: a book about a book! So far I am enjoying it and want to learn more. I like the fact that I can largely work at my own pace, since I am permanently disabled due to multiple spinal fusions. Henri’s life did not start out boring, that’s for sure. From the early par of the book, the Introduction, Henri is searching for something that was missing in his life; a relationship with God. He discovered early on Jesus’ teaching that we must become like little children, we cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. Our passion for reading helps us learn. But Henri seems wounded. As much as his writings touch my heart, and I’m sure yours too, He makes himself vulnerable, to us and to others, as he shares his painful journey with us. But Henri is comforted by the fact that we cab always start over. He continues searching, searching for home. Not his childhood home, but home. Home is where he hoped to find the Father’s love.

    I am getting injections in my spine in the morning and must lie flat afterwards, so I will “see” you all tomorrow.

    • Debby Smith says:

      Janet, I pray for your strength and comfort. Thank you for participating in the book club even while enduring physical pain. I, too, appreciate Henri’s vulnerability and the hope he holds out that we can always begin again.

  11. I think it’s true that freedom is entering a second childhood. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. Birthed into the world it isn’t long before we learn to please and perform to gain attention and acceptance thinking it’s love. I know I did that. I learned early that I was smart in school. So I excelled to get my teacher’s praise. The problem is you are only as loved as your next success. Performing, pleasing and perfection becomes exhausting. It’s an addiction more subtle than substances and more cunning than compulsions. It’s a sneaky stronghold that put me in a prison of perpetual self rejection.

    Vulnerability is the only way out. Children are vulnerable. The don’t wear masks or pretend (for very long anyway) to be what they are not. Like the Psalmist (Ps 131) who rests like a weaned child on his mother’s breast, exhausted performers like me can choose to surrender by peeling back the mask, quitting the power plays, shedding the striving and finally fall headlong into the Father’s arms onto the Mother’s breast.

    It is simply a place of holy indifference because I know for a fleeting moment at least, that Home is in the Heart of Him who died for me. Without Henri Nouwen’s writings peppered with these truths pointing to the ancient path (and in my experience so often clouded by the contemporary church), I would have never found my Way Home.

    • Elaine says:

      Beverly,

      Thanks for your commentss on vulnerability. I struggle to be vulnerable as I have been fiercely independent as a single mission worker, living in four countries and traveling to numerous others, usually alone. Now I’m living alone in a rural area and seem to be doing most things alone. It i hard o ask for help–sometimes even from God.
      I’ve been reading Nouwen for many years, some books repeatedly, and yet still need that place of openness in solitude.
      I want to settle into my true home and trust the Father’s love.

  12. Ross K. says:

    What is freedom? According to Nouwen, it is exemplified by Jesus’s invitation to be born again and see life from a different perspective; namely, from that of a child. (Matthew 18:3). Why is it that we allow ourselves to be so influenced by our culture which puts such a heavy emphasis on individuality, competition, and “winning”? Have you, like me, seen the inherent wisdom in young children who do not treat others with the same disrespect and lack of compassion that we adults do. It’s interesting that children don’t need to spend large amounts of time thinking about how to be kind to others, they just do it. Why can’t we (adults), also act with such sincere and active compassion?

  13. Ray Glennon says:

    From Mary
    Hi Everyone,
    My name is Mary. I live in New Jersey. I periodically feel called to read things by or about Henri Nouwen as part of my spiritual journey. I have been experiencing such a call recently and by chance linked to the Henri Nouwen Society from the Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s Facebook page. I am new to the group and very much looking forward to the discussion.

  14. Sharon K. Hall says:

    Appreciate reading the first chapter and also the Zoom video. A thing that has been absorbing me is figuring out what seems to be kind of like violence in the Church, have delved into Martin Luther’s bio and also Pope Leo X’s bio and it seems to me that Henri Nouwen’s bio with his relationship to his father…and to his mother has a lot in common with these other two religious. Henri Nouwen’s insecurity about feeling loved especially by his father. What is this about fathers…and mothers? I think a key was in the Zoom video where Gabrielle talks about “generative” and about “wanting to be a blessing” and it occurred to me that fathers and mothers are “generative” universally in all humans’ lives, much as God is “generative” creating everything and so–no matter their faith or spirituality or religion or whatever, fathers and mothers sort of become Godlike to us or something. Our stuff in life, in constructively living our lives in society, is sort of to “kick the can down the road”, metaphorically speaking and be healed mysteriously by God’s plans and purpose for us and to be “generative” in our turn and be a blessing to others as Henri Nouwen so eloquently and well showed us this possibility by living out his life. Stopping the violence in the Church, maybe some people don’t like to think there is violence in the Church, but I kind of see it that way. Looking forward to reading the rest of the book and trying some more to figure all this out, learning more about Henri Nouwen.

  15. Elaine M says:

    As I continue to ponder Ray’s provocative questions for another day or two, I first want to share my reaction to the image of Henri as a baby clown. No pretentions of the esteemed author and professor, no other worldly aura of the spiritual guru—but rather a playful, humble, and self-effacing figure who would be irresistible to his Daybreak audience. The image is reminiscent of my days as the sponsor of Clowns, Inc, a group of young teens who dressed as baby clowns when they worked with special needs preschoolers and kids in the hospital. No garish face paint, no pratfalls, no bopping each other on the head, but rather gentle figures in pastel costumes, perhaps a small pink heart as face paint, perhaps a giant pink pacifier or large polka dotted pockets filled with small surprises. As clowns, they could make a traditional classroom lesson seem more like a clown carnival, a time of both silly fun and kid empowerment, so important for children who already perceived that they were less competent than their age mates. Now those kids were “special” in a good way. Who else had clowns as their special visitors and teachers?

    As we have seen in Henri’s letters, he always attempted to reach out to people on their own level, wherever they were psychologically and spiritually. He attempted to deliver what they needed by drawing upon his own woundedness, humbly and empathetically. It is interesting that we generally don’t refer to him as Father Nouwen, but as the friend who reaches us where we are at and can be for us the father, the elder son, the younger son. And who can resist this image of breaking out from a sack of painful memories of life’s struggles with an attitude of sheer joy?

    • Debby Smith says:

      “And who can resist this image of breaking out from a sack of painful memories of life’s struggles with an attitude of sheer joy?” I hadn’t thought of that story in this way. How poignant! How beautiful and accessible! Thank you, Elaine, for focusing on that illustration in the book.

  16. Debby Smith says:

    Thank you, Ray, for starting off the conversation with such important observations and questions. I was also struck by pp. 6-7 and appreciate the quote about moving “away from compulsions and addictions to a life of spiritual maturity.” This is especially relevant in our society of out of control compulsions, not the least of which is our addiction to being right. In the first paragraph on p. 7, Earnshaw amplifies what it means to live in the paradox of a second childhood “while claiming a new adulthood,” asserting that, “We can shed aspects of ourselves that we no longer need, and unify the essentials left over once the stripping is done.” This is powerful for me as I believe I have been going through such a process of stripping over the past year and a half. This gives me hope and confidence that those things that are being stripped are truly unnecessary, even detrimental to a life of love, and that what will be left, by God’s grace, will be unified essentials.

    Another thing that spoke deeply to me and that is relevant to my present journey is the forgiveness he experienced with regard to his father. I am reminded of the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi when I read that, “He shifts his focus from the father he doesn’t have to the father he does; and he finds freedom…Nouwen senses the freedom of being a child of God without the prison of resentment or self-occupation. Blessing others becomes important.”

  17. Ray Glennon says:

    Friends,
    My apologies! I was pretty sure I set this to go live at 10:30 p.m. EDT last night. For some reason (likely operator error) it did not. I didn’t check until just now at 1:45 p.m. We look forward to a great discussion.
    Ray

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