Dec 15th to 21st: Becoming the Beloved – Given

Reading:  Becoming the Beloved – IV Given

This week we explore the fourth aspect of becoming the Beloved – to be given.

1) Henri shares his experience that “it is only as people who are given that we can fully understand our being chosen, blessed, and broken.  In the giving it becomes clear that we are chosen, blessed and broken not simply for our own sakes, but so that all we live finds its final significance in its being lived for others” (p105).  
a) Do you ever find yourself holding back from giving to others?  What causes us to hesitate?  What do we fear most in giving?
b) Is that thing we fear the truth or could it be a lie?
c) What happens when we hold back from giving, especially in our most intimate relationships?

2) Henri encourages us that “we become beautiful people when we give whatever we can give: a smile, a handshake, a kiss, an embrace, a word of love, a present, a part of our life… all our life” (P106) and later writes that “…friendship, kindness, patience, joy, peace, forgiveness, gentleness, love, hope, trust, and many others… are the true gifts we have to offer each other” (p114).
a) Has a stranger ever gifted you a smile, and it lifted your spirit?  Or vice versa?
b) Who in your life needs you to truly share a part of yourself with them this week?  INVITATION:  This week, every day ask God to help you see the person who needs a smile, a handshake, a word of love, or just some part of you.  The invitation includes acts towards strangers (except maybe the kiss ;)), but be especially aware of what you can give to those closest to you, “especially on days when you experience distance between yourselves” (p109).

3)  Finally, Henri also wants us to consider how our death can be a gift to others.  “If love is, indeed, stronger than death, then death has the potential to deepen and strengthen the bonds of love” (p117).
a) Will your death, be a celebration of a life lived with love?
INVITATION:  Consider what Murray did to prepare himself for his death (although he didn’t know when he would die).  Ask yourself how you want to live now, so that when your time comes it will be a gift to others to reflect on your life and be inspired by it.  “You and I have to trust that our short little lives can bear fruit far beyond the boundaries of our chronologies.  But we have to choose this and trust deeply that we have a spirit to send that will bring joy, peace, and life to those who will remember us” (p120, italics mine).

NOTE:  I think all here will intuitively know this, but taking ones own life can never, ever, be a gift to others.  Henri does not suggest we hasten our death, only that we prepare well for it.

4) Finally, I wanted to share this special letter written by Henri over twenty years ago.  It is a simple letter, but touches on so much of what we’ve explored together this Advent.  The woman he was writing too was someone who sent Henri and his community cookies and fresh bread every now and then… by courier, I assume.  This woman, if I understand correctly, struggled with a chronic and debilitating illness for much of her adult life.  Yet, in her simple act of care for another, we see how she was chosen, blessed, broken and given:

Screen Shot 2013-12-14 at 11.02.54 AM

This letter is a reminder that it doesn’t have to be complicated… it just has to be from your heart, and done in love.

As always, you are invited to share whatever came up for you in this week in the readings.  I very much look forward to hearing from each of you!

p.s. apologies to all who have a different version of the book, and therefore the page numbers don’t match… I only have this one version, so I couldn’t cross reference.

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43 Responses to Dec 15th to 21st: Becoming the Beloved – Given

  1. Liz says:

    I am going to ponder Brynn’s questions on Henri’s writing one at a time across this week.
    Yes, I do hold back, most frequently when I am tired and with those I am closest to. In part I think it is that I am giving out so much to others in ministry, that when I come home I want / need to withdraw. And I sense that at times this withdrawal may be necessary for healthy functioning.
    However other occasions when I hold back are when I try to multitask or I become preoccupied and distracted from the one I should / could be fully attentive to. I may be checking emails while talking on the phone or be opening the mail as my husband is telling me about his day at work. In not being fully present I am not fully sharing the gift I am offering and the receiver is missing out. A bit like Henri’s half hearted blessing.
    I know I would like to be more mindful in what I do, but I suppose I struggle with delaying my own gratification. To be fully present and to give fully would require that I don’t see Wharton is in that envelope or who is emailing me in this particular moment. It requires a greater level of self discipline than I am willing to commit.
    The consequence is a diminished relationship. Both I and the other miss out on a gift that could be shared.
    Maybe the invitation is to practice mindfulness in simple brief activites such as cleaning my teeth and drinking a cup of tea, so that over time I let go of the habit of multitasking which I have become so practiced in over the years, and which our society tends to affirm. An invitation for me to pursue in 2014!

    • Bob says:

      One of my favorite Nouwen expressions is ‘the tyranny of the urgent which keep you from that which is most important’. The things that say ‘Open me! Read me! Organize me! Clean me! Take care of me, NOW!’ and we do while that which is most precious to us, our spouse, our children, our friends must stand and wait for our full attention while a bill is opened, an email read, a desk is organized, and things are put in order. Subtly at work underneath that all is our agenda trumping the agenda of love, a.k.a. God’s agenda for our being. We have to be proactive in creating a time to get those things done around the time spent doing the most important things, being in relationships. It is a challenge but a doable one.

    • Rose says:

      Liz, my Spiritual Director (who struggles with multi tasking), often reminds me that multi tasking isn’t what it is cracked up to be! Of course sometimes we don’t have much of a choice but a five minute cup of tea in solitude will pay dividends. I’ve really forced myself to watch the birds or in this season, to sit by the tree for five minutes here and there without doing anything else. Wish you the best in 2014 in this and I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised that even more will get accomplished and your batteries will be recharged. Peace. Rose

  2. Martha Donnadieu says:

    It happens to me often that good ideas cross my mind and give me the opportunity to give myself to others. Maybe is the work of the Holy Spirit. The problem is that I immediately make excuses for not doing so. I think to myself: You better not visit that person because she may be busy; You better not make that comment because maybe you will be judged; You better not propose this initiative because it may complicate everyone; You better not open your soul completely to your spiritual director because he may misinterpret things, etc.. Henri’s invitation is clear: if you have a gift please give it … If you have something to offer do not stop … The work of giving is from God and is needed in the world. I need to open myself to the grace and not put obstacles. Henri’s letter is beautiful: To be contemplative in the simple things, in the most ordinary activities. It’s a challenge but with the help of God can be achieved.
    Please forgive my English, translating is difficult! Peace and blessings to you.

    • Bob says:

      I didn’t notice a problem in translating…and after you mentioned it, I still did not. Martha, you have a beautiful way of relating to others; flush all anxieties from your thinking because, as in the concern of translating, they don’t exist. So what is your primary language?

  3. Jack says:

    This section on Giving confuses me. Fulfillment through giving seems somewhat contrary to the idea: Being the Beloved without having to earn the fulfillment.
    Why I hesitate to give: Worry about loss of security of maintaining distance. Not wanting to have the connection which arises through giving! I don’t want to start a friendship. I don’t trust others. Perhaps one feels they will make a mistake in their giving strategy and be open to embarrassment or judgment.
    By hesitating I lose an opportunity for growing closer. A door is also opened to guilt shame. I find myself nearly bombarded by requests to give. Hesitation to give might be a rational thing to do, and better in the long run, say, for family. So I have to keep thinking about this section for a while.
    As for intimate relationships–why hold back from giving in an intimate relationship? There must be some real pain/brokenness there. What a gift it would be to have the courage to embrace that pain and be willing to talk about it with the intimate partner.

    • Brynn Lawrence says:

      Hi Jack,

      I think you are totally right in that we are the Beloved without having to earn it. Our being the Beloved does not depend on whether or not we give. Rather, I think Henri is trying to express that the act of giving helps us understand, or perhaps experience, our Belovedness. What do you think?

    • Bob says:

      Jack, your first paragraph gets me thinking about another aspect of being a giving person. Let’s go hypothetical at this point. A person has great means and scripture does call ‘the haves’ to reach out to the ‘have nots’ among us. Truly for someone with means to give to people or causes can be a source of blessing in giving. The problem that enters in here is that for some who are without means, there is an expectation that the one with means should give to them. When this occurs, is it still giving in the purest sense the Henri is talking about? In the church I serve, people in need in the community know that they are likely to find help at this church. So they come in their need. A high majority are very grateful and it truly helps them over their particular hardship at the time. And it is a blessing to help (give) to them. But there are a few that seek help because that is what a church is suppose to do and they expect help. In those cases, the blessing isn’t what it is as in the other cases. This can easily produce a sense of wanting to guard the giving, maintain the distance, and not be completely open. Interesting question: can there be a time that to not give materially is to give spiritually? If the answer is yes, may the Lord grant us wisdom in those moments.

  4. Liz says:

    “We become beautiful people when we give what ever we can give.” As I ponder this line two things come to mind.
    1) I need to be grounded to give and to receive. On the days I start with a time of quiet before I enter the busy word I know I am able to give and receive the smile, the word of love . I need to be present to myself in order to allow me to be present to the other whether it be to give or to receive.
    2) I need to trust. Yesterday I was in a “Martha” space, I often am, worrying and fretting over so many things. I had thirty guys on my “list” wishing to see me or wanting something from the Chaplain. There was no way I could address the needs of all 30 and I was beginning to worry and fret. Another staff member brought a guy to me who was not on my list saying he wanted a Bible. We sat and spoke for 5 minutes then, despite my lengthily list, I asked “how are you?” In a way that invited a deep response. Over the next half hour he shared the source of his pain that he had been numbing for 24 years with drugs. He shed tears and heard words of acceptance and love. We will meet again to dwell together on sacred ground as he continues to tell his story and hopefully continue on the journey of healing and forgiveness. For this graced conversation I needed to trust that I would be present to the person and present to the moment that I needed to be, so that the “Mary” part of me would not be overwhelmed by the “Martha” part of me.

  5. Chuck N. says:

    This week’s readings have been particularly interesting for me. Two things struck me this week. First, I was reading on pages 87 and 88 (in my copy of the book) when Henri Nouwen says that he realized “that there is a mysterious link between our brokenness and our ability to give to each other.” This notion finally started to make sense. Reflecting on my own past, I can finally see his point here. At one time in my life I had a successful career, all the things of this world if you will. Well, things happened, and due to a number of factors I was thrown into and diagnosed as suffering from a functional depression, and ended up losing everything in the process. Although it was all most painful, and lasted several years, I would not have changed a thing looking back on it all. In the process, I came to know who I really was, and had to face the reality of my own existence. But I can now look back and reflect on how that entire experience allowed me to begin giving to others. And I don’t mean giving “things” as I had nothing. But I was able to begin giving of myself, and that has persisted through the present. What I once thought to be a curse, in the end, was a blessing.

    Second, on a totally different note, I was fascinated on pages 88 to 89 (again, in my copy), by Henri Nouwen’s thoughts on meals, and coming together and breaking bread together, and the effect it has on individuals. I work with youth who on occasion are in conflict with one another. What I began doing was bringing them in together to eat lunch with one another. At first it is tense, but I assure you, after a few times, they walk out at a minimum getting along with one another, and sometimes in the process befriending one another! It is amazing to watch.

    In all, I really enjoyed the readings this week, and could definitely relate to them, and see their application in my own personal life. Thank you.

  6. Jonathan says:

    Giving yourself to another is hard, high risk.
    But there is no real sharing of person without it, only loneliness and isolation, all be it masked by superficial “socialising.”

    It is even harder if having tentatively reached out with a giving fingertip; they then hurt you (even inadvertently). And of course they will do so sometimes, for they too are broken, hurting, imperfect people. The great temptation then is to pull back, fold in on yourself, protect, nurse your wounds. To disappear back down the rabbit hole of defended, closed living.
    The vision must be to be open and remain open, through any hurt. To offer our cheek to the one who plucks the beard. The trouble is that my flesh cries out – “I don’t want to!” Let me give my talents, my effort, my work, my busyness; but let me keep my real-self secure, hidden, and un-given. This is our choice, we can live shallowly with one another, “safe” but distant, or we can give ourselves to one another, risk it, and live in true community and so be what we are intended to be – distinctiveness in unity.
    Isa 50:5-9
    “The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard ; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me! It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me. Who is he who will condemn me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up.”
    He gave himself, for us.

    So that’s the theory, the problem is it isn’t something I’m much good at, I find it incredibly challenging. I fight far more often that I overcome by surrendering. What was Peter’s toughest challenge – to not fight, not defend, not chop off the ear, but to surrender, and accept. I identify with that! Give me a sword and an ear to chop, but not a humble walk of acceptance, to – dying to self, self-giving!

    But it seems to me this is our calling as Christ’s body. – In which case, I feel like I’ve got a long way to go yet, hardly started in fact.

    • Marianne says:

      I appreciate your honesty here, Jonathan. You only have to offer a mustard seed sized portion of a smile, handshake etc. It’s OK if you only try to start. God will show you everything you need to know. Blessings on your week.

    • Ann says:

      Jonathan, your words describe my own experience so well: “Let me give my talents, my effort, my work, my busyness; but let me keep my real-self secure, hidden, and un-given.” They bring to mind a blog I read recently—by another Jonathan—in which he describes the Japanese art of kintsukuroi, where broken pottery is repaired with a mixture of resin and powdered gold. Its value thus unwittingly becomes increased, despite the damage.

      It is a beautiful blog, one that I have reread many times. “Perhaps the wounds we all have credit us with a special strength we would otherwise not possess,” the author suggests. “A strength that may be of benefit to someone else, or for something else we are unaware.”

      My heart stops there. God is in those words. Did not our Lord also reach out in love, knowing that he would be broken by others and rendered a shattered vessel? And did he not do so for the benefit of “someone else”?

      Such selfless strength is unfathomable to us. We reduce it and say that our Lord was forced to surrender to his fate because he subjugated his will and did not fight back. Secretly, we begin to think he was more like us than like God, and our faith weakens. Privately, we go from one relationship to the next, vacillating between getting our hearts crucified and hiding in fear of it. Publicly, we put on a brave face and say that we must surrender, too, if we are to be Christ-like.

      Yet our Lord did not surrender. His was an indomitable spirit that remained whole, despite bearing all suffering, all rejection, all brokenness. His was not a human power, but of God. When we face that power, we accept our smallness and admit that we can never be Christ. Neither does God expect us to bear the weight of all human misery. That magnificence was His Son’s alone.

      What is asked of us is that we push beyond our primal fear of a personal crucifixion, and reach out in love to others, one human being at a time. As did our Lord. In so doing, we become very much like him.

      Thank you for blogging, Jonathan, you have inspired me today.

  7. Dottie L. says:

    Martha’s response spoke for me. Often–usually in the early morning, when the day seems limitless– I think of actually speaking to friends and family whom I see on Facebook, or those I see from time to time. Then the schedule kicks in, and my good intention dies in the fast lane. I remember a long time ago, when I lived in a new neighborhood and felt I hadn’t connected to anyone, I wanted to prepare a meal for a neighbor who just had a baby, just as my friends in the old neighborhood had done for me. What stopped me were the fears that the receiver would have felt obligated to me and that it might have appeared I was doing it to make a connection, that I was attaching strings to my gift.
    Nowadays I am older and wiser and I don’t see it that way, but I do find that my general busy-ness still gets in the way..and wondering if I have enough time, given all the other things going on, I figure a phone call with a someone I haven’t seen in a while
    will last two hours and something will have to be sacrificed. Also–thanks in part to reading Henri and everyone’s responses, I have come to reflect that I still fancy myself as Wonder Woman who can handle everything–my compulsion to do rather than simply be. I admit–I wish to accomplish more than I am able….and I disturb my peace.

    • Chuck N. says:

      Dottie, I can relate to your busy schedule. I, too, wake up in the morning and start the day with great plans, and ways that I can honor God throughout the day, and then the day starts, and all bets are off. But then maybe you don’t give yourself enough credit. Being is a Christian is all about how we live our lives, and the example we are to others. If you are living a truly authentic life as a Christian, you don’t have to think about it. Sometime, at the end of the day (so far we have been talking about the start of the day), reflect on the events, and I am certain you will find that you gave a great deal of yourself throughout the day. I will bet money on it!

  8. Bonnie J says:

    I really identify with so many other comments this week. I am so glad for all your honesty and openness. I have a hard time being completely open with most people in my life. Even my family and good friends. I sometimes think no one really knows me. And I guess the truth is that I’m afraid to let them really know me because then they won’t like me. But even with that insecurity I live with, I never doubt that God loves me. That I am His Beloved. So there is a bit of a disconnect there I realize.
    I also, like Martha, think of things I will do for others and then through what I believe is my sometimes perfectionism, I decide not to take the chance. What if the “gift” isn’t perfect? The act of kindness might be misperceived. Or like Jack, I might be afraid it will lead to a loss of security that arises from being too close to someone, from not maintaining distance. Oh, I see I have much to work on. Henri is so open; he allows himself in his writing to be so vulnerable. I need to allow myself to be vulnerable (broken). It is only then that I will be able to fully receive all God’s rich blessings and then give them back.

  9. Janet McDonald says:

    I was touched by what Henri wrote about the difference between ‘talents’ and ‘gifts’….I had never thought of that distinction before. Made me think that ‘gifts’ are maybe not even realised by ourselves until we ‘give’ them – so a smile, or a kind word – it only comes alive when we give it.

  10. Marianne says:

    I am very grateful that I have experienced a lot of joy given back to me from my parents and family and then in my occupation as a nurse. It’s nice to have chosen an occupation that pushes me farther along in my faith although with it brings a different set of problems. That is setting healthy boundaries.

    I really like p. 113 where Henri says, “As I grow older, I discover more and more that the greatest gift I have to offer is my own joy of living, my own inner peace, my own silence and solitude, my own sense of well-being.” These are words written by a wise person! It is very difficult when we encounter those people that knock us off our centre. I understand more as I age that time spent in meditation and study of God’s word is necessary to keep a sense of who I am.

    I so much enjoy the imagery that our small acts of kindness and love are like a mustard seed that will grow large enough for birds to sit in its branches.

    I also find the statement on the bottom of p 123 “Imagine that, in the centre of your heart, you trust that your smiles and handshakes, your embraces and your kisses are only the early signs of a worldwide community of love and peace!” This is a great solution to being discouraged at the “state of the world.” Especially at this time of year when Christmas is defined as “the things we do.” “Are you ready for christmas?” means have you bought and wrapped your gifts, have you decorated your house and have you bought food for your Christmas meal. And as I’ve said in other years, these are activities that are for the most part placed on the women in the household. The spirit of Christ living in our homes is certainly tied to how we behave toward others but this comes from who we are in Christ, not what we bought or how perfect our meal was.

    I guess for me there’s also an invitation to be satisfied that my smiles, handshakes, embraces and kisses are a good start. I don’t have to do it all or be it all in order for my life to be a blessing.

    • Joseph Piccione says:

      Yes, I also resonated with Henri’s statement (p 113 in 2013 edition) that as he grew older he found the importance of sharing the joy or life and inner peace. This is truly a gift others. His meditation on the gifts (113-114) flows from this nicely and reminded me of St Paul’s important statement of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).

      Henri’s comment to Fred on the occasion of his marriage to Robin was particularly touched me: “…giving yourself to Robin was a decision that would have to be renewed day after day….” (108-109). I think that as human persons we can commit ourselves forever but we live it out an encounter at a time, a day at a time.

      As we renew and deepen our experience of being the Beloved daily, we renew our response and love to others daily. Our relationality is a temporal response and participation in the relationality of the Trinity, which is such an important part of my spiritual life. The call to the Beloved begins within the life of the Trinity and continues to us in creation.

  11. Diane D says:

    First, I would like to say that my feelings and actions echo many that have been revealed here – the thoughts of good and kind things to do for others that never come to fruition due to my getting too busy or the fearfulness that it won’t be received in the spirit of the giving.

    Second, this points out to me what a wonderful thing this community is for me. It helps to quiet those voices that say “you’re not doing what you should”, and “why should God love you when you don’t take care of these little things”. And by that I am not excusing that I’ve neglected to do what I can, I certainly should be doing what the Spirit is prompting me to do. However, what a relief to know that I am not alone in my brokenness – that others have gone through these same emotions, and in the end, we are still all the beloved!

    Thank you all for honesty and sharing! And it inspires me to find more ways to give something – even a note, a smile, a greeting – whatever I can to others.

  12. Ray Glennon says:

    Beloved pilgrims on the way to Bethlehem,

    There is so much in the reading this week. I wanted to capture some of Henri’s key points for myself and I collected the following excerpts in a way that tells a story to me. I will offer some comments below the excerpts.

    BEGIN EXCERPT FROM GIVEN
    Our greatest fulfillment lies in giving ourselves to others… (p.106) …there is a mysterious link between our brokenness and our ability to give to each other. (p. 109)
    …I very much like the expression “breaking bread together” because then the breaking and the giving are so clearly one. (p.110) As the Beloved ones, our greatest fulfillment lies in becoming bread for the world. (p.112)

    The real question is not “What can we offer each other?” but “Who can we be for each other?”… More important than our talents are our gifts. (p.113)… the true gifts that in us, seemingly non-handicapped people, remain buried beneath our talents. (p. 115)

    We ourselves are responsible for the way we die. We have to choose between clinging to life in such a way that death becomes nothing but a failure, or letting go of life in freedom… This is a crucial choice… (p. 118) You and I have to trust that our short lives can bear fruit far beyond the boundaries of our chronologies. But we have to choose this and trust deeply that we have a spirit to send… (p. 120) One of the greatest acts of faith (Note: In another book Henri notes that in Greek the same word is used for faith and trust)is to believe that the few years we live on this earth are like a little seed planted in a very rich soil. (p. 123)

    How different would our life be were we truly able to trust that it multiplied in being given away!… if we could but believe that every little act of faithfulness, every gesture of love, every word of forgiveness… will multiply and multiple as long as there are people to receive it… (p.123) Imagine, imagine… Could you ever be depressed, angry, resentful, or vengeful?… Could you ever despair?… we are mere beginners in the spiritual life and have not claimed the full truth of our call. But let us be thankful for every little glimpse of the truth… and trust that there is always more to see–always. (p.124)
    END EXCERPT FROM GIVEN

    As I mentioned in an earlier post, my wife Dawn and I have been married for five years. Before beginning this post I read the section about Fred’s wedding to Robin aloud to Dawn and it was uncanny that I was able to substitute Dawn for Robin and what Henri wrote to Fred was largely applicable to me in great detail (e.g., … the grief over the failure of your first marriage came to an end …given you a new confidence… encouraged you to trust… loved you for who you were…). When Dawn and I met we learned that we were both fond of Shel Silverstein’s book The Giving Tree. . In his unique way, Silverstein shows us what Henri means when he says, “Our greatest fulfillment lies in giving ourselves to others…” Very early on in our relationship Dawn decided that she and I were “two trees.” Our life together is a great gift and evidence of the gifts that God want for us all. And through Dawn I am slowly learning how to open myself up as gift for others.

    In the excerpt above you will note that I added bold to the words choose and trust. God calls us the Beloved, but we have to choose to accept his call and to live as the Beloved. We do this when we choose to listen to the “voice” of God (generally through other people or God’s creation) telling us that we are blessed rather than the “voice” that curses us by telling us “your no good… you don’t measure up… you don’t deserve it…” Equally important, and probably more difficult, we need to trust that God is with us as we take risks and give ourselves to others. For me this is especially difficult–although I am working at it. Growing up in a very dysfunctional home I learned how to hide behind a mask of “doing” for others rather than opening myself up to “be” with others. There was lots about me and my family that I didn’t want others to see because then they would “know” I wasn’t good enough. I struggle daily with the need to “choose” and to “trust” in a way that lets me claim my blessing, allow myself to be broken, and then to be truly open in personal relationships.

    Henri’s conclusion to “Imagine…” conveys a feeling of joy that I seek but I often am lacking. And why? I believe that it is simply because I really have trouble “trusting” enough. Earlier this fall, I heard the “voice” of God say, “I have healed your physical heart. Let me heal your emotional heart.” I believe that sharing this Advent book journey with each of you is an important part of that healing. And Henri already provided the other two keys — Prayer and Attentive Presence. Now I just need to CHOOSE to make those keys priorities in my life and to TRUST that this will make a difference.

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share this long reflection.

    May God give you peace.

    Ray

    • Bonnie J says:

      Ray, thank you for your thoughtfully summing things up in the beautiful way you have done in this response. Many blessings on you and all who are sharing this book and this journey. And many thanks.

  13. Sharon says:

    I am inspired by reading Henri Nouwen’s book and also by the many entries on the blog. It all is strengthening me in my walk with God and strengthening my family, I believe. On page 122, it is written, “We may be little, insignificant servants in the eyes of a world motivated by efficiency, control, and success. But when we realize that God has chosen us from all eternity, sent us into the world as the blessed ones, handed us over to suffering, can’t we then, also trust that our little lives will multiply themselves and be able to fulfill the needs of countless people? This might sound pompous and self-aggrandizing, but, in truth, the trust in one’s fruitfulness emerges from a humble spirit.” My husband and I are committed to the Church and we give a lot of our money, time and energy to the Church and the work of the Church in this world. A lot of our extended family have not found their home in the institutional Church yet. This past week, one of my husband’s brothers is driving cross country with his son–to help him move–and they stopped into visit with us and stay overnight. We live in a very simple home, filled with used furniture, etc., and, while we have what we need, it simply looks like a home that the people in our community who are without jobs and money and so forth live in too. We are not fancy. The people in our Church understand this kind of lifestyle but I think our extended family think we are a bit daft and sometimes when they visit us the kind of shame that rises up in the comparison of our lifestyle choices is a bit uncomfortable. I personally need to read things that remind me that the world values efficiency, control and success and helps me to realize the long-term values, even after my death and my husband’s death, of the blessings I know and believe in from God. It’s kind of hard to walk the spiritual path and realize at certain moments people think you’re kind of a failure in life and foolish in your choices. This Advent and reading the book are certainly preparing us to receive again the Good News of the Birth of Jesus.

    • Ray Glennon says:

      Sharon,
      Thanks for sharing. This is just what I needed to read as I sit in our small simple townhouse getting ready to head out into the world of “things” to shop on this last weekend before Christmas. Like you, Dawn and I have what we need and we aren’t fancy. But the world tries to tell a different story–that you have to measure up to some set of expectations. In fact, it is far simpler than that.

      Henri reminds us that we are called to be the Beloved. All we need to do is to accept the call. On Twitter last night Fr. James Martin, SJ, (author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything) offered a simple meditation that can help us to hear the voice of God in these last few hectic days before Christmas:

      “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
      Be still and know that I am
      Be still and know
      Be still
      Be

      May God give you peace.

      Ray

  14. Liz says:

    I have been giving much thought to death this week, partly in response to question 3 raised by Brynn and partly in response to 3 recent deaths I have been connected with this week. On Monday I attended a funeral of a colleague aged 56 who died after a long illness, which he fought against for a long while and only recently accepted that he was dying. As chaplain, I also was hearing various staff members reactions to his death and death in general. And it is amazing how there are nearly as many different responses as there are conversations.
    Then I visited the partner of a young man who had died. And I was there just to listen to her as she talked about his life and death, her life and the life of there children now he has died, and her reactions to others who tell her how she should be feeling!
    Finally my brother in law’s elderly father died yesterday. He was a good man, a great pastor and a man of great faith who lived life to the full.
    Each of these deaths have focused my attention on my own death. For many years I have felt ready to die, although I am not expecting to die soon. If I knew I was going to die soon, I would continue living more or less as I am (provided I had the energy to do so). My biggest regret would be that I would not be there physically for significant events in my adult children’s lives e.g. weddings, birth of their children etc. but I know that I have offered them what I have been invited to offer, and I have offered the world what I have been invited to offer. Most importantly I am taking any opportunity I can to restore relationships with others and seek healing for wounds that may still be causing me pain as I become aware of them. I know I cannot change the past but I can make choices as to how I live this moment. I can make choices as to what I let myself be imprisoned by and what areas of my life I seek healing and forgiveness, leading to freedom. I am so grateful that I have been given this gift and I pray that I may be able to share it with others mostly by the way I live and only occasionally through words.

  15. Christine says:

    I’ve been thinking about who in my life I can share part of myself with right now. My son with whom I now live, is that person. At age 38, he is newly divorced, learning to care for his children single-handedly every other week, while still recovering from the hurt of a broken relationship he thought would last a life time. He works very hard to take care of his two children and make them feel secure, and he is there for me as well. I need and want to reinforce and remind him constantly that he is indeed beloved by me, by his kids who really do adore him, and by his heavenly Father. He spends most of his time taking care of everyone around him, and I want him to know that it’s ok for him to accept care too. He has found solace and hope in God’s love with the help of a gifted minister, yet he still wears a tough exterior, a protective armor of sorts. I can show him that I can see beyond that exterior to the loving person he is. Hugs and words of love and support, listening, and just helping him in his day to day nurturing of his kids, my grandkids, are the gifts I can give to him.

    For me that’s the easy part – after all, I do truly love my son. Over this year that I’ve been living with him we’ve learned better how to share with each other. Having both lost my youngest son, this son’s beloved little brother, we recognize that time is precious. We’ve learned to be more open and caring with each other, I think as part of that shared loss.

    The harder part for me is the sharing of my gifts beyond the home walls—without hesitation or fear. Even at the age of retirement, I feel as if I am taking baby steps beyond the threshold and comfort of home. Having moved about 1200 miles to be with my son and his family, I sometimes feel a little lost and, being a fairly introverted sort, I find it hard to just step out. I truly believe that the spirit had a lot to do with my move, though, engendering in me a yearning to renew myself and my relationship with God in this new place.

    In a rather circuitous way, all the moving and changing led me to reconnect to the church that first formed me in my knowledge of God. It is the same church I left behind for many years in favor of focusing my energies on the busyness of the secular world. Now that I’ve timidly stepped through the church doors, though, I’ve found a sense of peace and reconciliation. I have a new understanding of the breaking of the bread that is celebrated there each week. I can see how Jesus–taken, blessed and broken–gives himself to us unreservedly. Accepting that unimaginable love is step one. Step two will be to carry the gift of God’s love beyond the church doors…

    • Liz says:

      Christine, your story seems to be living the life of the beloved in a simple, beautiful and very real way. It complements the stories and experiences described by Henri. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Ray Glennon says:

    I have a question regarding the passage (p.122) that begins, “It is in the humble spirit of Hannah who exclaimed in gratitude for the new life born in her: My spirit exults in God my savior… all generations will call me blessed.” The words Henri cites here I recall from Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55. I looked up the Song of Hannah (1 Sam 2:1-10) and did not find many of the words that Henri attributed to the “humble spirit of Hanna.” This song includes a footnote in the New American Bible that says, “This canticle has several points of resemblance with our Lady’s Magnificat.” Am I misreading this or simply confused? Is it possible that Henri or the publisher referred to Hannah and then inadvertently included a quotation from Mary?

    Of course, this is really just a point of curiosity because the next sentence–a truly meaningful sentence–applies whether Henri was referring to Hannah or our Lady. Henri teaches us, “The fruitfulness of our little life, one we recognize it and live it as the life of the Beloved, is beyond anything we ourselves can imagine.”

    Peace and all good.
    Ray

    • Christine says:

      Ray, I was perplexed by what I recognized as Mary’s words being attributed to Hannah as well. I looked up the 1 Samuel reference too. When I re-read this section of the chapter, “Given,” it occurred to me that Henri was saying Mary’s words of praise and thanks for the news of her miraculous Child, Jesus echoed Hannah’s praise and thanks to God for the miracle of her son, Samuel. It is in the part of the chapter when Henri is speaking of our lives “bearing fruit beyond our chronologies.” I think what he was saying here was that Mary’s words of praise and thanksgiving were somehow imbued with the spirit of Hannah’s similar words spoken all the generations before Mary.

      • Ray Glennon says:

        Christine,
        Thanks very much for your insightful comment. I have gone back as well and I agree with your interpretation.

        To make the sentence clearer for me, I re-wrote it this way: “It is in the humble spirit of Hannah that Mary exclaims in gratitude for the new life born in her: … ”

        Thanks again.

        Ray

  17. Ray Glennon says:

    In the last few pages of this chapter, Henri asks us to lift our minds and our hearts to consider not the the world as it is but, rather, to imagine the world as it would be if everyone lived life as the Beloved.

    Henri asks us to imagine. “…live it as the life of the Beloved, is beyond anything we ourselves can imagine… How different would our life be if… Imagine yourself being deeply convinced that your love for Robin… Imagine that, in the center of your heart, you trust… Imagine that your trusting… Imagine, imagine…Could you ever be depressed, angry, resentful, or vengeful. Could you ever hate, destroy, or kill? Could you ever despair of the meaning of your short earthly existence?”

    I’m at an age (63) that each time I read these words of Henri, I can’t help but hear the voice of John Lennon, “Imagine there’s no… Imagine all the people, Living life in peace… Imagine all the people, Sharing all the world…” Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that the worldly and self-centered approach to life espoused by John Lennon in his song “Imagine” is remotely similar to the Life of the Beloved that Henri is pointing us toward–they’re not.

    What is striking to me, however, is that in some ways the goal (at least in this world, Lennon doesn’t allow for heaven) is similar–to live in such a way that there is: “…No need for greed or hunger, A brotherhood of man. Imagine all the people, Sharing all the world… You may say I’m a dreamer, But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, And the world will live as one.”

    It seems to me that in describing the world as it could be John Lennon was writing from that place in his heart where God was already present–even if John Lennon wasn’t aware of or willing to acknowledge it. Lennon was experiencing that yearning for God that St. Augustine powerfully described this way: “You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised … You have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Unfortunately, John Lennon appeared to live with a restless heart. During our Advent journey, Henri has shown me that in order for my heart to rest in God I need to choose to listen, to open my heart, and to live the life of the Beloved. It is not easy, but he has pointed the way.

    May you have a joyous and peaceful weekend as we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Lord.

    Ray

    • Bob says:

      Ray, I agree with you; as I read Henri’s words ‘to imagine’, Lennon’s song couldn’t help but pop-up in my thinking. Is it because we are so inundated with that song in the season or are we inundated with it because it truly touches a human longing within each soul? It truly is a very spiritual song and I agree, it does reflect the words of St. Augustine. To apply all that we have been reading and discussing, John Lennon was the beloved and his music which shows his heart was trying to discover it. And Lennon left us this gift of himself much as Henri speaks about in the close of this chapter.

      • Lata Hall says:

        Sorry Friends: I have not been able to participate. I had emergency suregry last week and have just come home. It is hard to sit in front of the computer and read. I was well looked after and the prayers of my bible study group and OSL prayer group kept me going. I will continue to read the book as it feeds me. May the Christ Child fill your heart with His Love, Joy and Peace. Blessings and prayers, Lata Hall

  18. Liz says:

    An angel. While preparing for today’s homily I was reminded that “angel” means messenger. The bringer of good news. Then as I was sitting this morning, taking some quiet time before I start a very busy day with Christmas celebrations inside the jail and a family Christmas gathering, I was feeling disappointed that this year I we have not sent out our usual family Christmas letter to family and friends. And I realised that I was being imprisoned yet again by my own expectations. I was invited to let go of these expectations and reflect on what lay behind them. I desire to maintain the relationships with these significant people in my life. So I can still do so in other ways? This is when Henri’s letter, shared with us by Brynn came to mind. Yes, I can still maintain these relationships in other ways. Maybe in the quieter month of January I can write a letter, send an email, make a phone call or share a cuppa or a meal with these people. Thank you Henri, thank you Brynn, thank you to all the correspondents in this discussion group for being angels, the bringers of good news, and for enabling me to be attentive to God’s message in my life in this moment.

  19. Judy says:

    Greetings and blessings to all who are gathered here,

    This week I am back to reciting the hymn “In the Garden” in my daily Passage Meditation (which Henri cites himself!) It is so very powerful for me.

    Jesus “tells me I am his own” = taken and blessed.

    “He bids me go; through the voice of woe His voice to me is calling.” = given

    As for broken, the wounded and lowly seem to be healers / helpers par excellence.

    Thank you to Brynn and everyone here for another blessed week.

    Thank you above all for God’s giving to us, the gift that taught us how to love,

    Judy

  20. Dr Connie says:

    Thank you for all the beautiful words.

    I have been following closely and reading and reflecting. Not having much time for writing. I love the little letter from Henri. Thanks Brynn. I have been trying to make time for peace and solitude, but there were families without presents that we were trying to help. At first, I thought that more presents to talk care of would distract me from my spiritual exercises. Well that was not the case. Simple cookies can be a spirtual work, and somehow for me the materialism ( gifts for needy families) became a very spiritual work.

    I have been thinking and thinking about being given, and that John Lennon song does make sense in the way that Ray mentioned. Maybe we start there. From that vision and look to the behaviors and attitudes needed to bring this about

    Giving reminds me of Philipians 2. The emptying that Our Lord accomplished for you and me. How great a gift. I know it intellectually but…..

    I have a hard time because I am so busy, that I feel that I am running on empty. I am afraid to share extra time with someone because I feel so depleted. Tonight, I stopped and deliberately had a conversation with a man who I knew stuttered severely. It took several minutes for him to tell me a simple phrase. I thought of Henri and the gift I could give this man ( by the way it had nothing to do with talent) it was a gift of presence and my time. At the end he wished me the most sincere Merry Christmas I have had in a while. There was a connection between the beloved of God in that moment. I had experienced community.

    If I could just remember to not be afraid of giving extra time, and not being afraid of running on empty. I wish I could remember that in giving multiplication happens.
    On pg. 123 Henri said, ” How different would our life be were we truly able to trust that it multiplied in being given away” Please pray for me that I will be able to realize this.

    • Jonathan says:

      Thank you Connie,
      I identify with what you said. I too feel this fear.
      But, I agree we must over come this fear and be prepared to give of ourselves, of our time.
      Thanks, I found your comments helpful.

      • Ann says:

        Just as God made the stars in the heavens, and we peer into its beautiful depths thinking we could not possibly see it all, so too the view of our lives in relation to others. We think we have nothing more to give, that we have only a limited amount of time in which to give of that limited self to others… All the while missing the simple truth that in having been created by God, we are enough, we have enough.

  21. Todd G says:

    This was a difficult chapter for me this week. My life is being given to my wife and teen children– but often begrudgingly; with conflict or anger or attitude. I pray that I will find a better way before they grow up and leave.

    One thought remained with me all week: Being chosen, blessed, broken only makes sense in the context of being given. I will pray for this.

    Peace to all of you.

    • Ray Glennon says:

      Todd,
      Thank you for your honest sharing. As the father of five grown or almost grown children, I was very active in the life of our growing family and I understand and can almost feel the frustration, concern, and hurt that you seem to be experiencing. There were certainly more than a few times when I felt overwhelmed and inadequate to the task of being a good husband and father. There were other times that I felt resentful or unappreciated. Thankfully, now that the children are grown, but not necessarily settled, those times are fewer but not totally absent.

      I would like to offer you a word of encouragement–and I want to use your words to do so. In Week 1 your wrote, “I have been told I was the beloved… a few years ago… a kindly, old priest told me those words with all the love and compassion in the world. It was like Jesus himself was speaking to me. That beautiful moment will stay with me forever–a glimpse of the paradise to come…”

      Yes, you are the Beloved and you are greatly blessed. And your blessedness is more than just “a glimpse of the paradise to come”–it is the reality of our world today, even if we don’t always see it or experience it that way. Our challenge is to remember that we are the Beloved, even when we don’t feel that way–and as Henri’ says, the way to do so is prayer.

      I don’t often take 30 minutes in solitude to pray (improving my prayer life is something I hope to take away from this book), but I will stop during the day–especially when stressed–to pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be with me today and always.” Or I will substitute the name of my current wife, or one or more children, or grandchildren in this brief prayer. Perhaps this is a prayer that would be helpful, especially in these busy last few days before Christmas.

      In addition, there is a prayer by Thomas Merton (an inspirational figure for Henri Nouwen) that has been very important to me (especially in times of stress and uncertainty) that you might find meaningful as well.

      Prayer of Trust and Confidence
      My Lord God,
      I have no idea where I am going.
      I do not see the road ahead of me.
      I cannot know for certain where it will end.
      Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
      But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
      And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
      I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
      And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
      Therefore, I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
      I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
      –Thomas Merton

      May you have a joyous and blessed Christmas and may the spirit of peace reign in your home during this holy season.

      Ray

      • Penny says:

        Thank you for sharing this prayer.

      • Todd G says:

        Ray, Thank you for your wonderful words of encouragement. It means a lot to me, especially from someone who “has been there”. I will heed your suggestion on prayer (also a habit I have been trying to hone). I love the Merton prayer. I will print it and keep one at home and one at work. I appreciate you and this entire community. Truly a blessing.

        Have a Merry Christmas.
        Todd

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