July 12th to 18th: Chapter 6 – The Enduring Power of The Return of the Prodigal Son

Reading: Chapter 6 – The Enduring Power of The Return of the Prodigal Son

This book is for us what the painting was for Nouwen. . . . Reading
The Return of the Prodigal Son is to be introduced to ourselves.
Nouwen introduces us to our own depth. (p. 140)

We have come to the final week of another enriching book discussion. Thanks to each of you who have joined us along the way. I’m especially grateful that those of you who are regular participants in these discussions have responded positively to the scholarly and personal insights Gabrielle Earnshaw gleaned from her years immersed in Henri’s life and work. I know that her carefully crafted book deepened my understanding of Henri Nouwen and that appears to be the case for a number of you as well.

This week Gabrielle reminds us that both Henri Nouwen and his fellow Dutchman Rembrandt completed their masterful reflections on the Prodigal Son a few short years before they died at age 64 and 63 respectively. She perceptively writes, “The power of both works derives from their creators’ difficult lives of struggle, as well as their artistic maturity. The painting and the book are spiritual testaments to hard-won wisdom.” Gabrielle applies Nouwen’s wisdom to several timely themes and illuminates why The Return of the Prodigal Son continues to touch the hearts of people who may feel lost and are seeking the compassionate love of the Father in our challenging world today.

As we conclude our discussion, you are invited to comment on the reading this week or in any of the earlier chapters. As before, here are a few excerpts and questions that my prompt you.

  1. Both Nouwen and Rembrandt were masters of self-portraits. . . Yet what set these works apart as masterpieces is portraiture of a different kind–God’s. (p. 137) Has your picture (or portrait) of God changed as a result of insights gained from reading this book and reflecting on the portraits painted by our two artists?
  2. The Return of the Prodigal Son is the story of Nouwen’s journey from a needy, anxious university professor into a needy, anxious pastor, but he has grown in consciousness. (p. 139) Are there things you may have learned about Henri’s journey that may assist you on your own? Please share to the extent you are comfortable.
  3. Drawing on her comprehensive research and “living with” Henri for many years, Gabrielle invites us to consider her personal observations on Father Figures and Toxic Masculinity and A Both/And God. How do you respond to these ideas? Are there implications for your life and spirituality?
  4. With (Henri’s) example, we can be emboldened to take our own flights of courage and grace. We, too, can risk it all when we trust in God’s forgiving love. (p. 148) What holds you back from trusting in God’s forgiving love? What must you do take to take flights of courage and grace?

This Thursday, July 16th, author Gabrielle Earnshaw will respond to any questions or comments you may wish to address to her directly. If you have questions or comments for Gabrielle, submit them as usual, preferably by Wednesday night. They will be posted when submitted. Gabrielle will respond to those questions and comments throughout the day on Thursday.

Once again, thanks to all of you for making our 2020 summer book discussion an interesting, rewarding, and fruitful experience. We look forward to welcoming you back for this Advent to discuss another book by Henri Nouwen. We will announce our selection by early-October on our website and in the Daily Meditations email.

Be well and may the Lord give you peace.
Ray

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21 Responses to July 12th to 18th: Chapter 6 – The Enduring Power of The Return of the Prodigal Son

  1. Charlie T says:

    As a final and ‘farewell’ entry I would like to share how much I have learned and realised about Henri Nouwen. I had heard his name, on and off, for many years, and read various quotes by him. But I had not read any of his books prior to this book discussion. Gabrielle’s insightful book has been my first, yet not final, gateway into the life, struggles, wounds and gifts of this extraordinary human being. Thank you so much Gabrielle for what your passionate and intelligent book has exposed me to, and for it numerous insights and reflections. I feel like I have absorbed enough background and context to Henri’s life and personhood, equipping me adequately to set off into the next part of my Nouwen discovery journey. With deep gratitude, my ordered copy of The Return of the Prodigal Son arrived this week. I am looking forward to reading and engaging with it with my whole being and heart-mind from tomorrow.

    I have been profoundly impacted by the depth and rawness of Henri’s honesty and willingness to share his struggles and vulnerabilities with so many of us, and how he continues to remind us about what it means to be deeply and imperfectly human.

    I would like to take this ‘farewell’ opportunity to thank you Ray for the manner in which you have skilfully and generously moderated this group, including to others involved in this. I would also like to thank everyone else who has participated and contributed to such a rich discussion about the book. All of your sharings and learnings have truly been nourishing and wonderful.

    Lastly, thank you to those who posted questions for Gabrielle and for your thoughtful and heartfelt responses to them Gabrielle.

    May we all continue to move along our individual pathways in life with faith, hope and love. Blessings to all of you (from Australia).

  2. Ray Glennon says:

    Friends,
    Thanks, once again, for making this summer discussion fruitful and rewarding. A special thank you to Gabrielle Earnshaw for joining us and sharing her experience with us. As she noted, if you have other questions for her about this book or Henri Nouwen, in general, please feel free to post them and Gabrielle would be pleased to respond.

    The thoughtful and insightful comments each of you posted about Gabrielle’s book have helped me to see Henri and The Return of the Prodigal Son from a new perspective. If you are so inclined, you might want to consider posting a review of Gabrielle’s book on the Amazon.com and Amazon.ca websites. The comments you posted here might be the basis of a review that would be meaningful to other potential readers.

    We look forward to welcoming you to the Advent book discussion later this year. The book will be announced by early-October.

    May the Lord give you peace.
    Ray

    • Marta E says:

      Thank you Ray for another great book discussion on Henri. You are a skilled moderator and your questions give us so much to ponder even after the discussions closes. I have been following along silently and appreciate your efforts. God Bless

  3. Elaine M says:

    Ray, thank you for once again facilitating our discussion and offering provocative, meaningful questions for our consideration. Some questions led me to reflect on and share the blessings of life with a loving father, a husband who is the antithesis of “toxic masculinity,” and two priests who have affirmed the kind of God whom Henri describes. Some of your other questions, Ray, have proved so challenging that I need more time to frame a response, and this is a good thing! Here is perhaps the most critical question that I need to take on in the coming days (and probably years): “What holds you back from trusting in God’s forgiving love? What must you do take to take flights of courage and grace?” Thank you, Ray, for crafting questions with such resonance.

    Gabrielle, thank you for taking on such a daunting but worthwhile project and for the way you wove in new and helpful information about Henri and your own insights about the ways that Henri has been such a blessing to all of us. As a student and then an educator, I so loved to do research (still do) and can only imagine the excitement of delving into Henri’s archives, but I also appreciate the hard work involved in organizing, analyzing, and synthesizing your findings. What a gift your work is to us. Thank you for answering our questions and sharing some of your own experiences with woundedness. I am sorry for your losses but grateful that you have found your way to consider the generative power of such woundedness. Here is perhaps my greatest take-away from your responses to our follow-up questions: your point about “an ecumenism of the heart that seeks unity beyond conventional social and religious boundaries…the realization of one world, one earth, permeated by the Spirit—a world that we all belong to whether we like it or not.” You note that while so many people would be just arguing about religion, Henri would be gravitating toward the person sitting alone on a bench. You have captured Henri’s vision and his modeling of loving inclusiveness and compassion well.

    Thanks to all of you who have participated in this discussion. I am grateful for your wisdom and your willingness to be companions on the journey.

  4. I am signing off now. Thank you to all who have been part of this book discussion – either by posting questions, comments or following along silently. If you have any lingering questions please don’t hesitate to post them. I will keep my eye out and do my best to respond. I want to give a loud shout-out to Ray Glennon for his stellar leadership of our time together this summer. His commitment to furthering Nouwen’s spirituality through intelligent, provocative and insightful questions is a great service to Nouwen’s legacy. Thank you Ray.

    Be well. Be safe. And blessings to you all. Gabrielle

  5. Mary M. says:

    I just want to say “thank you” to all of you. To Gabrielle, who with her book, in some ways adds an additional layer to Rembrandt reads the parable, Nouwen reads Rembrandt, Earnshaw reads Nouwen. All leading back, through the words of Jesus to the love of the Father, who is truly our “both/and” God. I have felt blessed to share in this discussion and see the insights of my fellow readers. I thank Ray, our wonderful moderator, for his insights and direction. I thank Henri for his life and his work and I thank God for all of it, including leading me to this book discussion. God bless you all.

  6. Hi Sharon,

    Thank you very much for your good questions. You asked: Did Henri Nouwen ever “identify” himself? Henri Nouwen never publicly identified himself as a gay man. Some of his friends encouraged him to come out but Henri felt that by identifying himself in this way his ministry, which he believed was to announce God’s love, would be overshadowed and politicized.

    One way I understand his decision is to relate it to something he said about theology. He said: “One of the main tasks of theology is to find words that do not divide but unite, that do not create conflict but unity, that do not hurt but heal.” In other words, he made conscious choices to focus his attention on what he believed was his greater mission: to invite people to know God’s unconditional love for them, regardless of how they identified themselves.

    Your second question was: Did Henri feel comfortable speaking about feeling he had a call from God to be a Priest? His ‘call’ story is well told in his book Can You Drink the Cup? Like many young men of his time he was encouraged by his Dutch, Catholic family to become a priest, but it was also an inner longing that lasted his lifetime. He expressed how he felt about his vocation in his book Beyond the Mirror. He writes: “My deepest vocation is to be a witness to the glimpses of God I have been allowed to catch.”

    Finally you ask: Did his most intimate friends feel he desired to be more “universal” than “specific” and “individualistic” or something? As Jesus is and was? I think this question ties into what I wrote above about why Henri did not claim his identity as a gay priest. Henri Nouwen was interested in helping people discover God’s love. He tried to do this in a way that opened people up rather than closed them down. Peter Weiskel, Henri’s assistant at Harvard describes it this way:

    “What was the lasting legacy of Henri’s time at Harvard? Certainly, he shared his eucharistic sensibility. But for me what was most important was his practice of deep ecumenism, an ecumenism of the heart that seeks unity beyond conventional social and religious boundaries. In the middle of the Reagan era, as the battle lines of the American culture war were beginning to harden into their current form, Henri showed Harvard what ecumenism, in the true, original sense, is actually about—the realization of one world, one earth, permeated by the Spirit—a world that we all belong to whether we like it or not.

    Henri’s was no conventional ecumenism, limited to promoting dialogue and common action among the various Christian churches. Rather, as his friend Robert Jonas has said, he made the world his parish. In the public square that is Harvard Divinity School, he found ways to embrace conservative evangelical senators, liberal Protestants, Watergate conspirators, Irish Catholics from North Cambridge and South Boston, liberation theologians, Trappist monks, Esalen therapists, nuns in full habit, former ambassadors, and radical-activist friends of Fidel—and that doesn’t count the students from every seminary in the region who filled his classes on Christian spirituality. In my view, the practice of deep ecumenism was Henri’s greatest legacy to us. And as our nation hardens its heart, and settles into a state of permanent war on several fronts, that legacy becomes more precious than ever.” (from “A Spiritual Mentor’s Lasting Influence: Henri Nouwen”, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, March 20, 2016)

    What I think I hear behind your questions is why do some people feel it is unsafe to follow Henri Nouwen. Perhaps you have even read websites that call him a “heretic” or articles with headlines like “beware of Henri Nouwen” “Is Henri Nouwen okay to read?” “Henri Nouwen Good for Christians?” To respond to this an imaginary image pops in my mind. Henri is walking down the middle of street. On one side are people arguing about the nature of God, theology, doctrine, dogmas and much else, on the other is a person sitting on a bench crying. Henri goes to the person crying and consoles them. This is a metaphor to where Henri put his attention and care. He was not against anything per se, he was for compassion, care and love.

    I hope these answers are helpful to you. Please let me know if I can clarify anything else.

    Many blessings on your journey Sharon.

    Gabrielle

    • Sharon K. Hall says:

      Thank you, Gabrielle, for your answers to my questions. I appreciate the thoughts that you have taken time to put into your response and they all are very helpful to me. Actually, years and years ago 1991-92 I was in a Lutheran congregation and one of the Pastors was a gay man, he taught Bible studies and worked in the social ministries, with the youth. And he impacted upon my faith journey in a deep and profound way. Our family moved to another state and it has been with considerable pain and even distress that I have found that many people are not able to accept gay men on the same level as hetereosexual men in the Church. Even me sort of encouraging and advocating greater acceptance and inclusiveness I feel has made me seem alien to some of these sorts of people in some ways that marginalize me too. Even without knowing all you wrote above about Henri Nouwen, just from the spirituality in his writings, the daily meditations and so forth, I intuitively have developed such great respect and admiration for his contributions to the Church and can even say that I love him too from afar you might say even without any direct face-to-face personal contact. Realizing all you wrote this morning, I think Henri Nouwen sacrificed a great deal for his love of the Church and serving Jesus and that just touches my heart even more. The Pastor I knew so long ago has since retired and gotten married to another gay man, he sacrificed much too for his love of the Church. Thank you for informing me about the books “Can You Drink The Cup” and “Beyond the Mirror”–I am ordering them from amazon. My prayers and hope are that the future will unroll in a way so that it will be far easier for gay men to serve in the Church, everyone will benefit!!!!! and I believe that it is God who has this objective in His Plans for us living in His Kingdom that will grow more and more if we just listen and follow. My heart’s feelings are bolstered by your sharing, my gut instincts that these clergy are carving out a more just Church continues to stand. Thank you for all you are doing too in supporting and keeping alive Henri Nouwen’s life work. It’s important to do, in this world that can be so dark and despairing for many.

  7. Hi Marge,

    Thank you for your insightful response to the book and your good questions. You asked: What compelled you to write this book? Are there any new transformative, transcending understandings that came for you personally as you researched, remembered and responded with/in your own words?

    I was invited to write this book by Jon Sweeney, the editor of Paraclete Press. He wanted to add The Return of the Prodigal Son to his Stories of Great Books series and was looking for someone to tell its backstory. After accepting, I told my friend and Henri’s former editor, Robert Ellsberg about the offer. He responded: “Is there anything left to say? Henri said it all already!” As readers of Nouwen, you know the truth of this statement. Henri Nouwen was a very self-aware writer. He gave you the metanarrative as he was telling the story.

    But this invitation from Jon turned out to be a great gift to me. I was able to pour all that I have learned about Henri Nouwen over nearly two decades into one vessel. The project had natural constraints and this made the exercise like writing a haiku. Could I give an accurate portrait of the man, writer, thinker, teacher that I have come to know through an analysis of just one of his books?

    It was a challenge but much came together for me – my love for research, my belief in the value of historical analysis to deepen learning, and my conviction that the use of primary sources are essential to any in-depth analysis of Henri Nouwen. It was very satisfying after nearly two decades of organizing the Nouwen Archives to share some of the beautiful and wise letters, revealing early drafts and other important material that I had come to know so well.

    Marge, you asked how this work affected me personally and I must admit that at first I entered the project like a professional. I developed my work plan. I set out my chapters. Afterall, I had read the book before. I knew it already. My job was to help others know what I knew. Besides, my assignment wasn’t a spiritual exegesis but an historical analysis. But very soon into the project, I realized that the book was speaking directly to me about concerns I was carrying in my heart right then, right there. I realized I needed to allow my heart to be touched anew by Henri’s words. I experienced first-hand what I wrote in the conclusion: this book reveals something new each time you read it.

    Perhaps the most personally affecting moment came when I realized that from my rather professional, distant stance I couldn’t put myself in the parable as Henri suggested I do. After some soul-searching I realized what the problem was. I lost my father to a car accident when I was two years old. His absence in my life has left a huge gap. When Henri asked me to enter the painting I couldn’t. There was an opaqueness to my imagination about being welcomed by a father. It was only after doing more research on visio divina that I found the courage to really step in the painting, to move from observer to the one longing for an embrace. Delving so deeply in The Return of the Prodigal Son nudged me to step into the painting and clearly imagine my own father blessing me. It was a liberating moment.

    Secondly, writing the book taught me the concept of generativity. This word was given to me by Sue Mosteller, csj. During the months that I was writing this book I was very fortunate to attend a five-day retreat Sue gave on Henri’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. It was at this retreat that I heard her emphasize that we are called to be generative (as opposed to successful, or even happy) and that our wounds can be put into service for others. Sue was riffing on Henri’s wisdom in The Return of the Prodigal Son but something just clicked for me. To this day I am pondering how and when I can use my disappointments, my hurts, my losses in a generative fashion. I am letting it sink in that my wounds can be generative. This understanding gives my pain a healthy direction – rather than flow into shame and other hiding places, it can stream into goodness.

    Finally, as much as Henri’s words impacted me, what impresses me the most is how courageous and adventurous he was with his life. He doesn’t just write about something – he lives it. Remember when he writes that being the father will lead to a “dreadful loneliness” but he does it anyway? That is what I mean. I have this image of Henri in my mind’s eye. And it is based on real life. Henri Nouwen, in his sixties, was in the ring of the Barnum Circus during set up. Although gangly, out of shape and physically awkward, he was invited by the Flying Rodleighs to climb up the string ladder that led to a small platform at the top of a long pole. After being strapped in, he stepped onto the platform. Then, he jumped off it. His flight down to the net below was graceless but Henri had taken a risk. This is a powerful image for me because it encourages me to also step up when my life calls for it – to step up to the platform – as the saying goes. I can ask like Henri does – What do I have to do? (not what do I want to do). A careful consideration of this question has led to a book project I am working on now. Twelve years ago I lost my only son, Heiko, to a rare form of childhood cancer. Writing about The Return of the Prodigal Son and studying Henri’s response to suffering so deeply, has inspired me to use this traumatic event of my life for generative purposes. I am currently at work writing about this experience in the hopes that writing about my suffering will help me heal and possibly be healing for others.

    I hope this response gives you some idea of how writing this book affected me. I agree wholeheartedly that to study and write about Henri Nouwen is a great privilege and responsibility. I feel very fortunate.

    Gabrielle

    • marge says:

      Thank you so much, Gabrielle, for your “careful consideration” of my questions, of Sharon’s questions. I am quite touched, teary-eyed truthfully, by your honesty, vulnerability, ability and courage to speak your own truth…as well as Henri’s.

      I’m sorry for your loss of your only son, Heiko, 12 years ago. I’m grateful for your willingness to write, to revisit/visit anew such deep pain/suffering, to heal, to hope and speak words of healing for others….yes, regenerative purposes! Thank you. My tendency is to guard….remain an observer, even to my own pain…..remaining in a cerebral space rather than heart space…reconciling the either/or to both/and.

      Visio Divina gives me a word to describe what I often experience as intuition, imagination….thank you! Dreams have often served as vehicles of healing for me, as Rembrandt’s painting did for Henri….Visio Divina reminds me of God…the Divine Dream-Giver…reconciling human revelation/Divine Revealer.

      May God’s Blessing rest upon you, Gabrielle, I feel so “fortunate” to be part of this community of readers, receivers and responders to the Spirit of Jesus’ ongoing work in our minds, hearts, and lives, bearing fruit not just in this generation, but beyond…truly, much gratitude……

    • Marta says:

      Gabrielle,
      I am so sorry for the loss of your son. I lost my son nine years ago and it still seems like yesterday. I will be reading your book when it comes out. I have been following along silently and thank you for your insights on Henri.
      God Bless you on your journey.

      • Gabrielle Earnshaw says:

        Thank you Marta. I am so sorry to hear you have had the same heart-break. May you feel God’s consoling presence.

  8. Hello everyone, Gabrielle here. I am really looking forward to being with you tomorrow. It has been such a pleasure to follow along with this book discussion so ably facilitated by Ray. All of your comments have been signs to me of God at work in our lives. If you have any lingering questions please don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll do my best to respond.

    “See” you tomorrow.

    Gabrielle

  9. Rudi Pakendorf says:

    Henri Nouwen invites us to “step into the picture.” One could say we are asked to step “through the book and through the picture and into the parable, the invitation.” For me, the invitation is to look beyond Earnshaw’s book, beyond Nouwen’s journey, to get beyond being a reader, an observer, a bystander looking at the prodigal son, the older brother, the father, the other people in the painting. That is because the real voice telling the parable is Jesus, in Whom is the Father, and in Him the Kingdom is actually here in our midst. He gives me the assurance that (a) I have always been welcome in the home I chose to leave (b) that the Father has been seeking me out and is (c) always ready to receive and accept me. My value is not shaped by my journey or my human efforts, but by Christ’s transforming love, death and ascension. I come to that by the working of the Holy Spirit. That equips me then to be the father who leads others to this same freeing Love.

    Rudi P.

  10. marge says:

    Having finished reading and contemplating questions I might have for Gabrielle, I pondered how is it that one can know another so well, and represent another so well that emboldens one to speak into another’s truth? Both Gabrielle and Sue do this, and I have been struck by both the privilege and responsibility of such an undertaking!

    So, I reread the intro, and allowed Henri’s words, “You know me. You really know me.” penetrate. How blessed to have those in the “shadow” watching, waiting and willing to know another so intimately, to then step into the light and the reality of another’s truth so trustworthily…….truly, this writing has made manifest for/to me, “the unifying, undergirding nature of love itself”. (p.6)

    I guess my question for you, Gabrielle might be what compelled you to write this book and is there any new transformative, transcending understandings that came for you personally as you researched, remembered and responded with/in your own words?

    Again, my gratitude for this summertime offering….so timely and connecting so many dots for me, reconciling what I was not even aware of that needed or what needs to be reconciled….truly, “This is an invitation to strike your own path toward a life filled with love, hope and meaning.” (p. 12) Thank you all……. thanks be to God!

    • Sharon K. Hall says:

      I appreciated your comment, Marge, especially the first paragraph and it emboldens my own inquiry which is whether Henri Nouwen ever “identified” himself? I have read various bits of biography which mentioned an orientation of Henri Nouwen and now-a-days there are so many ways of identification and so forth that it can make a person’s head spin, but I wonder whether Henri felt comfortable intimately to speak of such things? And also I wonder whether Henri felt comfortable speaking about feeling he had a call from God to be a Priest? The reason I wonder about things like this is that in the Protestant denomination I have membership in, in my little congregation, there have been efforts at discussion and people say they think someone is “aberrant” or “abnormal” or “they would not follow them”. Interestingly to me people wouldn’t speak about sin unless they were also pointing to some scripture in the Bible but this other language also bothers me and I feel compassion for everyone of every orientation who has thinking like this and everyone who hasn’t been able to overcome the sort of tiers of hierarchy of people’s acceptance–in the Church, in society, to God’s approval. Actually, maybe Henri Nouwen’s spirituality is so universal to all of us because he hasn’t dwelt on how specifically he felt called by God or his “identity” other than as wounded healer. But I haven’t been able to read enough yet and I’m wondering if his most intimate friends feel he desired to be more “universal” than “specific” and “individualistic” or something? As Jesus is and was? Maybe these kinds of questions don’t make sense, but they are what are popping up in my reflections. I’m a follower of Henri Nouwen and glad and thankful to appreciate him and the spirituality he blesses us with so gracefully.

  11. Ray Glennon says:

    Friends,
    Gabrielle could be speaking for readers like me when she writes, “This is a book that readers find when they need it—usually when they are on their knees. It is also one of those rare books that reveals something new with each reading.” (p. 138) I found Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son for sale outside the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in Singapore in June 2004 when I was there on business at a time when I was living as the younger son and I desperately needed it. On the flight home Nouwen’s words spoke directly to my heart it was life-changing. Since then I’ve read the book numerous times, including three times in a Henri Nouwen Society online book discussion group, most recently during Lent 2020. It was this spring that I was finally began to grasp Henri’s insight, “Becoming the compassionate father is the ultimate goal of the spiritual life.”
    Once again, thanks for joining us for the discussion.
    Ray

    • Rodney Page says:

      “Becoming the compassionate father is the ultimate goal of the spiritual life.” Indeed it is. It represents the heart of Unconditional Love and Acceptance! For me personally, it has been the aspirational cornerstone of my life and career (ministry) after first reading The Return of the Prodigal Son 18 or so years ago. It was truly a spiritual awakening and transformative experience which continues to this day.

  12. Michelle says:

    Henri’s journey gives me hope for my own. I deeply appreciate that he is honest about the work he still needs to do on his path of self-transformation. He is “tentative about the great challenge that lies ahead of him, but …he is ready and willing to embrace it” (139).

    For someone who was a “needy, anxious university professor… [and] pastor,” Henri’s strength of commitment and his “almost constant effort to overcome [his] resistance to overturn old patterns” (138) inspires me. Even later when he encounters the trapeze troupe, he recognizes that it was “another ‘gate’ to glimpse the mystery of God” (147). Henri persists in his journey of self-discovery and he seems fearless in his willingness to engage the mystery of himself and God.

    I know from Henri’s sharing that I too can live with “more purpose, more confidence, and more love” (138) because he was able to do so as evidenced by his unparalleled ability to bring his most shame-filled, vulnerable places into the light. In this patriarchal, competitive society in which we live, I find it doubly hard to want to acknowledge any weakness, much less bring it out into the open the way Henri did through his writing. Yet, Henri’s story does “embolden me to take my own flights of courage and grace” (148).

    In Henri I have a companion for the journey who not only leads me into a deeper understanding of God and his merciful love, but who also inspires me to want to wrestle with those same challenging questions: “What do I have to do?” and “Is there meaning in my life?” (140) as I seek to transform my own limited way of thinking and being into God’s way.

  13. Elaine M says:

    I too am drawn to the image of the trapeze artists. It is interesting that a “balanced” life is one that can embrace the idea of risk, trust, and surrender. Often trapeze artists are a part of trapeze families in which a child may start learning the “family business” at an early age, perhaps swinging on a trapeze bar at age three, with his father holding the bar with him, with more encouragement and coaching from other family members on the side, and with the safety net below. Parent coaches assess the child’s growing skills and ability to attempt riskier maneuvers until the child is ready to let go, fly freely, and “stick” the next move confidently and competently. A successful trapeze performance also requires that each performer knows his or her part and is confident that fellow performers can do their part as well. Unfortunately, Henri seemed to have lacked the kind of childhood experiences that would have more readily engendered this kind of modeling, encouragement, development of incremental skills, teamwork, solidarity for a common cause, and confidence that one may fly free but always with the assurance of a safe landing with family. Henri was on his own to explore the lonely places in his own soul and to listen for that small, still voice of love reassuring him of his worth.

    I think of my own parents telling me to go for it academically but sacrificing to make sure that I had school supplies and books (though they later couldn’t afford something like college tuition). I think of their confidence in me that I could, at age fourteen, care for four younger siblings and a household while my mother was in the hospital for several days. I think of my dad and me having “grown up” conversations as we arose before anyone else in the family to have breakfast together in the predawn darkness. I think of how my parents modeled love, affection, hard work, and spiritual faith that helped me to take that huge, scary leap into marriage and becoming a parent myself. Still there are “leaps of faith” and risks in life that we can’t fully be prepared for. Sometimes we just have to let go and let God. We may slip from the swinging bar and feel ourselves falling and falling without the prospect of a safety net below. At the time, we may feel that we are going to keep falling forever. But in God’s world, there is always some kind of safety net. And notice how performers BOUNCE on a safety net, hopefully with new momentum, new lessons learned, new energy that we can, despite new challenges and new suffering, get through the current agony and rebound. Easier said than done in the moment, but hopefully true in the long run.

  14. Sharon K. Hall says:

    I am deeply appreciative of your offering this book discussion this summer and there are things I have learned about Henri’s journey that are assisting my own. My study of Henri’s wisdom and insights is going on because besides the book from amazon written by Henri meditating on the Eucharist, which hasn’t come yet, last night also ordered “Sabbatical Journey: The Diary of His Final Year” and also “Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity and Ecstacy in Christian Perspective” and also during this summer pandemic time am going to reread “The Return of the Prodigal Son”. The statement on page 143 “Self-rejection is closely tied to our image of God. By healing our relationship with God, Nouwen helps heal our relationship to ourselves.” And I believe also to others. I never knew anything about this whole trapeze part in the final couple of pages in the book. Henri was a Priest and I am a lay woman but it was interesting to become aware of this common struggle. Just a couple of sentences regarding my own experience and thinking–at some point Jesus started coming at me embodied and I feel like I am returning embodied. This all is revolving around Word and Sacrament, liturgy, but it has been very healing since when this more embodied relationship with Jesus started materializing, then my horizontal people relationships started evening out too, marriage got better and so forth and so on. But I still have so much more to grow in understanding of all of my own journey and the things Henri writes about from his journey seriously do help–maybe because it is a universal human condition or something. I look forward to reading all the comments on the blog and also Gabrielle Earnshaw’s contributions and especially to reading and reflecting on more of Henri’s wisdom in the books I am ordering from amazon. Thanks a million for offering this book study for us and giving us the opportunity to read and reflect together!!!!!!

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