Dec 22nd to Dec 25th – Advent Week 4 & Christmas: Following Jesus

Reading: Review the complete text

We have come to the end of our Advent journey. Hopefully our time together will encourage us to continue following Jesus throughout the Christmas season and the coming year. I want to thank each of you for joining us. It has been a blessing to share this time with you and Henri.

In his conclusion, Henri writes, “May my words be little seeds planted in your hearts.” (p. 132) As we celebrate the Incarnation when Jesus enters into the world, Henri’s little seeds show us who we follow, how we follow, and why we follow him. Henri’s guidelines for following Jesus are my takeaway from this wonderful book.

  • Following Jesus is focusing on the One who calls and gradually trusting that we can let go of our familiar world and that something new will come. (p. 30)
  • Following Jesus is moving away from fear and toward love. Always toward the Lord. (p. 45)
  • Following Jesus is following the voice of the One who calls us away from useless wandering or from just sitting there. (p. 46)
  • Following Jesus means to let go of the “I” and move toward the “other.” Following Jesus means to dare to move out of ourselves and to slowly let go of building our “self” up. (p. 46)
  • Following Jesus means to live our life in his spirit, in his light, in his heart, but with our spirit, our lights, and with our heart. (p. 47)
  • Following Jesus requires a conversion. It requires a new heart and a new mind. (p. 48)
  • Following Jesus means to live a life in which we start loving one another with God’s original love and not with the needy and wounded love that harms others. (p. 59)
  • Following Jesus in a life of discipleship, the Christian life, is about discovering how God’s presence can be made visible here and now by our love for each other. (p. 63)
  • Following Jesus means moving in the right direction. Suddenly we know where we are going, and our lives take on a more regular pattern and we have focus. (p. 69)
  • (F)ollowing Jesus . . . is in fact a letting go of our worldly self to find our true self in Jesus. (p. 70)
  • Following Jesus means to live our life in companionship with the One who understands us fully. Following Jesus means a life in communion, with a guide. (p. 71)
  • Following Jesus makes life very different and very new. (p. 72)
  • Following Jesus cannot be a form of discipleship if it is out of fear. . . . Jesus does not want us to follow him out of fear. He wants us to follow him out of love. (p. 86)
  • Following the One with whom we are in love is the full meaning of following Jesus. We follow not out of fear but out of love. (p. 89)
  • Following Jesus means following the Risen Lord. Following Jesus means following the Lord who is the Lord of history, the Lord who is with us now and here, at this moment. (p. 109)
  • (F)ollowing Jesus is following the Lord who speaks to you day after day and calls you always to a deeper and deeper communion with God. Following Jesus is entering more and more into the intimate mystery of God. God became flesh so that we could be led through him, with him, and in him in the glory of God the Father in the communion with the Spirit. (p. 111)

Do any of these statements touch you in a special way? What does following Jesus mean to you? What is your takeaway from Following Jesus? Please share whatever is on you heart.

As we end our Advent discussion, please plan to join us for our Lenten book discussion of Henri’s most popular book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. We begin on Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020.

Once again, thank you for joining us. On behalf of myself and the Hienri Nouwen Society, may you and yours have a blessed and joyous Christmas season.

Peace and all good.
Ray Glennon

Dec 15th to Dec 21st – Advent Week 3: The Reward & The Promise

Reading: Chapter 5 – The Reward; Chapter 6 – The Promise (p. 91 to 133)

The mystery of life is that Jesus came to suffer with us so that we could be joyful. He didn’t come so we wouldn’t suffer but so that we could taste
the eternal life, that lasting joy that is of God, that is already
in this world, already now, already precisely here.
– Henri Nouwen p. 104-105

Thanks to each of your for another wonderful week of sharing. Many of you mentioned Henri’s emphasis on the first love or the original love. Henri’s understanding of the first love deepened in the years after these talks in 1985. He recognized that the words Jesus heard at his own baptism–“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased”–are the ultimate manifestation of God’s first love. Perhaps Henri’s core spiritual insight is that the words Jesus heard are equally true for each of us as children of God. In 1992 Henri put it this way, “‘You are my Beloved’ reveal(s) the most intimate truth about all human beings whether they belong to any particular tradition or not.” (Life Are the Beloved, p. 30.) Our challenge is to claim our belovedness and to live it out daily. And the way to do that is by following Jesus.

This week we conclude our reading of Following Jesus. Having reflected on who we follow (Week 1) and how we follow (Week 2), this week we explore the reward and the promise of following Jesus, or why we follow. Jesus came that his joy might be in us and that our joy might be complete. (Jn 15:11). Joy is the reward for following Jesus. And our joy will never end since Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, has promised, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20)

As we rapidly approach Christmas, it is a time for celebration. As Henri writes, “Celebration is, first of all, living out of joy. Celebration is what we are called to.” (p. 106). I found these to chapters to be particularly exhilarating. You may want to celebrate with us by responding to one of these questions or by sharing your thoughts and insights prompted by the reading. We are also grateful for those reading and following along silently.

1. In Chapter 5 Henri writes about an icon of the Risen Lord by Andrei Rublev that became the centerpiece of his chapel at home at Harvard. Henri brought this icon with him when he moved to L’Arche in 1987. Henri writes, “By praying to the Lord of history, and by following the Lord of history, you will be drawn into the mystery of God’s eternal love.” Below are photos of Henri’s altarpiece and Rublev’s icon that I took this spring at L’Arche Daybreak north of Toronto. Place yourself in this chapel. Pray with this icon. Share what you experience.

Altarpiece and icon in Henri Nouwen’s chapel at L’Arche Daybreak

2. A recurring theme of Henri’s work is the presence of God in our world today. In Chapter 6 he writes, “We have to live fully in the present, because God is always the God of now, of here. . . . The great art of spiritual living is to pay attention to the breathing of the Spirit right where you are and to trust that there will be breathing of new life. The Spirit will reveal itself to you as you move on. That is the beauty of the spiritual life.” Take some time for yourself to sit with the Spirit in these hectic last days before Christmas. Be quiet. Be present. Breath deeply and slowly. Listen. . . . Listen. . . . Be grateful for the your time with the Lord. If you are willing, share your experience.

3. As always, we’re interested in hearing how the issues Henri brings up connect with your own experience.

In these last days before Christmas, Henri offers us a great gift. May we all take some time to savor it and share with each other.

We’ll return next Sunday for a wrap-up for those that are able to join us. I want to take a minute now to thank each of you for sharing your Advent journey with us. May you follow Jesus each day for the rest of your lives. And may you and yours have a blessed and joyous Christmas.


Dec 8th to Dec 14th—Advent Week 2: The Challenge & The Cost

Reading Chapter 3–The Challenge; Chapter 4–The Cost. (p. 51 to p. 90)

The original love is the original blessing.
The original love is the original acceptance.
Long before we talk about original sin or original rejection
we should speak of God’s original love.

– Henri Nouwen, (p. 57)

What a wonderful first week of insightful and thought-provoking comments from so many of you!  I have been deeply touched by your reflections. Your comments strengthen my conviction that Following Jesus is a superb addition to the Nouwen canon  Thanks to all of you joining us on our Advent journey—those sharing their thoughts and comments and those reading and reflecting silently. 

Last week we heard Jesus’ invitation to “come and see” and we chose to answer his call to “come follow me.”  Those are important first steps on our spiritual journey—necessary, but not sufficient. In essence, we focused on who we follow (Jesus). This week we realize that to move forward when following Jesus we must accept the challenge to live a Christian life of love. We must also be willing to pay the cost through our compassionate suffering, but knowing that we are not suffering alone. So, this week we focus on how we follow Jesus. Henri gently guides us to “love your enemies” through acts of forgiveness and service and to “take up your cross” by connecting our suffering to the suffering of Jesus. This and so much more is awaiting your discovery in our reading this week.

Here are some questions that might prompt your thinking as you reflect on the reading. As always, the questions are merely suggestions.  Please share whatever touched your heart and mind from the reading. You are also welcome to share your reflections and insights prompted by the comments of others, as you did so wonderfully last week.

1. In chapter 3 Henri says, “Jesus came to reveal to us the first love. The original love. We are called by Jesus to come in touch with that first love.” (p. 56) In the next paragraph Henri further describes the first love. He then writes, “The whole spiritual life is a life where we come in touch with that first love.”

  • Before describing the first love, Henri discusses our woundedness. What is your response to Henri’s understanding of our woundedness? Have you seen this in yourself or in others?
  • What is your understanding of the first love as described by Henri?  How do you experience the first love in your life?
  • How does the first love relate to worldly love in our society? In your life?

2. In chapter 4 we read, “God came to invite us to connect our burden with God’s burden, to connect our suffering with God’s suffering, to connect our pain with God’s pain. . .  Compassion means not only that God suffers with us but that now we are invited to suffer with God.” (p. 80) Henri then describes several great saints that spoke about their suffering as a participation in God’s suffering and how, as a result, their difficult suffering becomes something new.

  • How does Henri’s description of suffering better help you understand the suffering in our world? 
  • What do you think about Henri’s idea to start focusing on our small problems when we are considering what it means to suffer in our lives?
  • What is your response to Henri’s description how to link our suffering and our prayer? (p. 83-85).

3. Finally, as we asked last week, do the issues Henri brings up connect with your own experience? If so, how?  You might want to share the insights you have gained, the questions that arose, or how your life might change your life as a result.

May we have another fruitful week of Following Jesus.
Peace and all good.