June 21st to 27th: Chapter 2 – Intellectual Antecedents

Reading: Chapter 2 – Intellectual Antecedents

The Rembrandt painting became an icon for Nouwen, a gate through which he could walk into the house of God. But he could only do so because he
had been practicing that kind of seeing for a very long time. (p. 42)

What a wonderful first week of sharing! Thanks to each of you for your thoughtful comments on our reading and your kind exchanges with each other. It is rewarding to learn how Henri’s readers respond to Gabrielle’s insights and to see how that deepens our understanding of Henri and his work.

This week Gabrielle helps us “see” Henri and his spiritual classic in a new way by introducing us to the techniques and disciplines Henri himself practiced to “see” the world and its people. She probes how Henri’s refined ability to enter into a piece of art through the practice of visio divina or “divine seeing” empowered him to place himself into Rembrandt’s painting—first as an observer and then as each of the main characters. The icon to the left is the one that Gabrielle mentions as she begins the chapter.

Henri’s artistic vision was complemented and enhanced by his doctoral studies in psychology where he mastered the approach pioneered by Anton Boisen to see a person as a “living human document” where our life experiences are written. Henri’s profound insights about Rembrandt’s painting and his own journey result from his “divine seeing” of the “living human documents” that he encountered by gazing at Rembrandt’s masterpiece.

We have the opportunity to apply our newfound understanding of how Henri saw the world as we continue our summer discussion together. We are interested in hearing whatever you gained from the reading. Here are some excerpts and questions that might prompt your thinking.

  1. Nouwen was on the lookout for “glimpses” of God at all times. (p. 35) . . . (H)e didn’t simply see a beautiful painting–he walked through the gate and into the outstretched arms of the father. (p. 38) When and where have you seen “glimpses” of God on your spiritual journey? Is visio divina a prayer technique you use or might be interested in considering? When you are visit an art museum, are you more like Henri or Sue?
  2. Perhaps more suitable than any other definition of who he (Henri) was is the term “artist.” (p. 41) (Be sure to read footnote 37 too.) Gabrielle Earnshaw never met Henri Nouwen. She is sharing her insights after two decades of “living with” Henri’s work and speaking with many people who knew him intimately. Does thinking of Henri as an artist help you better understand him, his work, and his impact on you and other readers?
  3. “When I left I was very thankful that I had had the opportunity to meet this man whose suffering had become a source of creativity.” (p. 47) Gabrielle carefully reflects on Henri’s notes written after his visit with Anton Boisen. Does this give you new insight into Henri, help you to better appreciate the The Return. . . and the impact that book or other Nouwen books may have had on your spiritual journey?
  4. In seven important ways, Nouwen stood on the shoulders of Boisen while writing The Return of the Prodigal Son. (p. 57) Gabrielle briefly describes each of the seven themes where Nouwen built on the work of Boisen. What is your response to Gabrielle’s analysis? Does her assessment help you to better understand Henri and The Return of the Prodigal Son?

You are invited to share whatever is on your heart and mind–your thoughts on the reading, a reply to the questions, or a response to another’s comment. If you are following along silently, you are most welcome here.

May we all be blessed by another week of sharing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We look forward to a great week of sharing.

June 10th to June 13th: Welcome and Introductions

Reading: None

You will understand Nouwen more deeply after you read Earnshaw.
 A new and wonderful contribution.
– Ron Rolheiser, OMI

A warm welcome to the Summer 2020 edition of the Henri Nouwen Society online book discussion. If you are a regular participant, welcome back. And if you are joining us for the first time, we’re glad you’re here. For the past decade, a caring community of believers and seekers has gathered each Advent and Lent to read and reflect on the writing of Henri Nouwen and to share our experiences, insights, and questions with each other. This year is our first summer book discussion since 2015 and we are excited to be back. It is also the first time that we will be discussing a book written by someone other than Henri Nouwen.

This past Lent we completed a deep and fruitful discussion of Henri’s best-selling book, The Return of the Prodigal Son – A Story of Homecoming. This summer we have the unique opportunity to go behind the scenes to discover how this spiritual masterpiece came to be written through the eyes of Gabrielle Earnshaw Nouwen scholar, founding archivist of Henri J. M. Nouwen Archives at the University of St. Michael’s College, Chief Archivist for the Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust, and editor of three recent Henri Nouwen books.

In Gabrielle’s new book, Henri Nouwen and The Return of the Prodigal Son: The Making of a Spiritual Classic, she expertly and insightfully explores and illuminates the interweaved stories of Nouwen’s spiritual journey and how the book came to be published nine-years after he first saw a poster of Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son in 1983. Gabrielle adds depth, color, and substantial new detail to what Nouwen himself has written about the writing of The Return. . . Through her insights we may come to see why Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son is, in Gabrielle’s words, “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.” I know that is true for me, as my brief biography below attests.

Let’s briefly describe how our online book discussion works. If you’ve joined us before, this will serve as a review.

Beginning on June 14th and for five consecutive Sundays, a new entry or post will be added to the book discussion (the blog) home page. The post will present a brief moderator’s reflection and suggest some questions for discussion. Participants are encouraged to comment on the post by responding to the suggested questions, by sharing their own reflections, and by replying to the comments of others.

To read the comments or to leave a comment of your own,  scroll down to the bottom of the post.  If you don’t see any comments, click on the small link at the bottom that says
## Comments.  To leave a new comment, continue scrolling down and use the “Leave a Reply” box.  To reply to someone else’s comment, click the Reply link directly below their comment and complete the box.  After you submit a new comment or a reply, either the moderator (me) or Will at the Nouwen Society need to “approve” it, so it may take a few hours before it actually appears on the blog page. The instructions on how to submit and reply to comments are also included at the bottom of the Reading Schedule (follow link in the black bar above). If you have any questions about the blog, please don’t hesitate to ask either by submitting a comment or sending me an email at the address in my bio below.

As we begin our journey together, it’s always nice to learn a little bit about each of you. Over the next few days you are encouraged to introduce yourself. You may choose to share:

  • Your general geographic location.
  • To whom or what you dedicate your days or energy, and why.
  • How you came to “know/read” Henri Nouwen and whether or not you participated in a previous discussion.
  • What you hope to experience during this discussion.

We begin Henri Nouwen & The Return of the Prodigal Son – The Making of a Spiritual Classic this Sunday, June 14th.  Join us to begin a spirit-filled and enriching summer journey.

In gratitude,

RAY GLENNON: Ray came to know and trust Henri’s written word in a special way in 2004 when he discovered The Return of the Prodigal Son for sale after Mass in Singapore. He began participating in Henri Nouwen Society book discussions in 2010 and has served as a moderator since 2014. He developed and led a six-week adult education course on “Henri Nouwen and A Spirituality of Living.” Ray volunteers in his parish Confirmation program and other ministries. He and his wife are candidates in the Secular Franciscan Order (OFS). You may contact Ray by email at ray.glennon@1972.usna.com and you can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/@RayGlennon.