Letter I—Jesus: The Heart of Our Existence (p.3 to p. 8)
Letter II—Jesus: The God Who Sets Us Free (p. 11 to p. 20)
If you were to ask me point blank, “What does it mean to you
to live spiritually?” I would have to reply,
“Living with Jesus at the center.” (p.7)
Welcome to each of you. What a tremendous start to what promises to be a blessed and meaningful Lenten journey. Thanks to those of you who introduced yourselves—and for those of you that chose not to, you are most welcome here as well. We have a wonderful community from Canada, the United States, Mexico, and the United Kingdom (so far) joining us in this virtual space for our Lenten book discussion of Letters to Marc About Jesus: Living a Spiritual Life in a Material World by Henri Nouwen.
For Henri, writing was an essential element of coming to know himself, and understanding his relationship to God and the world. Henri’s great gift as a priest, pastor, and writer was his ability to share the spiritual insights he gained on his life journey in a meaningful and timeless way. And such is the case with this book. As we read in the Preface, these letters to Henri’s nephew Marc were written with the intent of publishing them. But they became more than that as Henri writes in the Preface, “In the course of writing I became aware that I was engaged. . . in rediscovering Jesus and the meaning of my existence for myself.” And what did Henri discover? The quote at the top of this post is one of my favorite Henri quotes—and it says it all. But how do we live with Jesus at the center? These letters point the way.
The first letter was written on Shrove Tuesday in 1986. And Henri immediately begins with a problem that I know that many of us face today—being preoccupied with urgent matters and never getting around to what is essential and “never starting to live, really to live.” Henri restates for Marc, and for each of us, life’s essential questions (p.4) and closes with the foundational question for a Christian, “Who is Jesus for you and me?”—very similar to the question that Jesus asked his Apostles at Caesarea Philippi (Mt 16:13).
Written in Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Henri’s second letter uses the gospel story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus to explore and explain the spiritual freedom that comes from following Jesus—a freedom that “enabled them to stand on their own two feet in the world, without being manipulated by that world. Their freedom was such that they had even overcome, to a great extent, the fear of death.” (p. 17). <Photo:Andreas Schwarzkopf, CC BY-SA 4.0, WikiMedia Common>
Henri, a Catholic priest, is writing to his Catholic nephew in the rapidly secularizing Netherlands. Henri emphasizes his Catholic understanding of the Eucharist throughout the book—making this one of Henri’s most “Catholic” books. Those of you with a different understanding of the Eucharist might consider Henri’s eucharistic reflections as pointing to the presence of Jesus in our world today—the same presence that was experienced by the disciples at Emmaus, “(T)he Jesus in whom they placed all their hopes, the Jesus who was indeed dead and buried, this Jesus is alive.” (p. 14)
You are encouraged to share and discuss whatever came up for you in the readings. You are also welcome to share your reflections and insights prompted by the comments of others. The thoughts and insights shared by the participants provides the heartbeat for every Henri Nouwen book discussion. Here are a few questions that may help get the discussion going, but please don’t feel bound to them.
- The spiritual life has to do with the heart of existence. (p. 5)
Consider Henri’s first letter and reflect on your understanding of the spiritual life. Share what you discover to the extent you are willing.
- But you know yourself that Freiburg doesn’t tell the whole story. . . . From everywhere there comes news of violence and oppression. (p. 11-12)
As we journey through Lent, we are witnessing aggression and violence that has not been seen in Europe in eight decades. How have events of the recent past influenced your spiritual life and your attitude entering this Lent?
- Freedom belongs to the core of the spiritual life. (p. 18)
How has Henri’s reflection on the gospel story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus and its relationship to spiritual freedom influenced your understanding of freedom and how will you respond?
As we enter in to this first week of Lent there is much to share from our reading and we look forward to hearing from many of you. It is an joy to be gathered with each of you, those posting comments, and those following along silently. Everyone is welcome here.
Peace and all good.