Nov 28th to Dec 4th: First Week of Advent

1. From Solitude to Community to Ministry (1993), p. 1 to 15
2. Spiritual Formation and Community (1977), p. 16 to 24
3. Finding Solitude in Community (1978), p. 25 to 39

As we begin our Advent journey, my sincere thanks to those of you who introduced yourselves. We have a wonderful group of returning regulars and new participants gathering in this virtual space from across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. to discuss Henri Nouwen’s wisdom and insights in Community. As Henri says in Chapter 1, “Community is not an organization; community is a way of living: you gather around you people with whom you want to proclaim the truth that we are the beloved sons and daughters of God.” (p.7) By that definition (and my personal experience), the strength and durability of these book discussions is that 25 years after his death Henri continues to draw people into community where we are nourished, encouraged, and supported. We’re grateful to each of you for joining us this Advent.

Our readings this week provide a unique opportunity to explore how Henri’s thinking and writing evolved from his time in academia to his years as the pastor of the L’Arche Daybreak community. Chapter 1 is a talk Henri gave in 1993 after seven years at Daybreak. (This also the year after the publication of The Return of the Prodigal Son and Life of the Beloved.) It is immediately followed by two publications from 1977 and 1978 when he was teaching at Yale. As we read in Robert Ellsberg’s Forward, “(We) can see not only the continuity in Henri’s commitment to the pursuit of community, but his movement from an attitude that was arguably abstract and impersonal, to something concrete and real.” (p. xiii) You may also discover in comparing these essays how Henri’s language becomes simpler—but no less profound or impactful—in his later writings. Henri concludes his reflection on living a disciplined life in Chapter 1 saying: “Solitude, community, ministry—these disciplines help us live a fruitful life. (p. 15)”
Reflection Questions:
a) Are there specific examples from these three essays of Henri’s changing attitude and simplifying language that touched you? Have you experienced similar changes in attitude on your spiritual journey?
b) How do you live the disciplines of solitude, community, and ministry in your life? What changes might you make after reading Henri’s essay?

In Chapter 2 Henri describes his understanding of community: “Christian spirituality is in essence communal. The prayer life of a Christian can never be understood independent of community life. Prayer in the Christian life leads to community and community to prayer. (p. 21) . . . (W)herever authentic spiritual growth takes place there is always a strengthening of community, and that wherever authentic community is found there is always a growing desire for the deepening of the spiritual life. (p. 22) . . . So spiritual life is always communal. It flows from community and creates community. It is the life of the Spirit in us, the Spirit of God who dwells in the center of our heart and in the center of our lives together. (p.23)”
Reflection Questions: Where have you found authentic community in your life? How has the life of the Spirit in that community influenced your spiritual growth?

The centrality of solitude to the spiritual life is another recurring theme in Henri’s writing; Chapter 3 explores the complementary relationship between solitude and community. Henri writes, “Solitude is not a private space over against the public space of community. . . . Solitude is essential to community life because in solitude we grow closer to each other. . . . We take the other with us into solitude, and there the relationship grows and deepens. (p. 30-31). . . . Solitude is inseparable from community because in solitude we affirm the deepest reality of our lives together, namely, that as a community we are like the hands pointing to God in prayer. (p.37)”
Reflection Questions: How do you practice solitude in your life? What is the role of solitude in the authentic communities to which you belong? What is your reaction to Thomas Hora’s symbol of the relationship between solitude and community (p. 37)?

We look forward to hearing from many of you this week. The reflection questions above may prompt your reflections, but pleased don’t be limited by them. Our community thrives and grows closer together when you share whatever touched you in the readings and respond to the comments of others. We are also grateful for those who are joining us for this Advent journey who may not choose to post comments. We are all God’s beloved sons and daughters and everyone is welcome here.

As St. Francis (Henri’s favorite saint) said to those he met, “May the Lord give you peace.”

Nov 24th to Nov 27th: Welcome and Introductions

Foreword by Robert Ellsberg, p. vii to xii
Introduction by Stephen Lazarus, p. xiii to xviii

(We) can see not only the continuity in Henri’s commitment to the
pursuit of community, but his movement from an attitude
that was arguably abstract and impersonal,
to something concrete and real.
Robert Ellsberg from the Foreword (p. xiii)

For Henri, it is in community in its many different forms where
we can discover and claim our shared humanity
and our vulnerability to be empowered
to live more compassionately.

Stephen Lazarus from the Introduction (p. xiv)

Welcome to the Henri Nouwen Society Advent 2021 book discussion. Whether you are a long-term participant returning for another discussion or joining us for the first time, we are glad that you are here for what promises to be an enlightening and fruitful experience.

We will be reading and discussing the recently published Community—a collection of ten essays by Henri Nouwen, edited by Stephen Lazarus. Although the human need for community was a recurring theme in Henri’s writing, he never published a book on this important and life-giving topic. This volume, published on the 25th anniversary of Henri’s unexpected death, was proposed by Robert Ellsberg—Henri’s longtime friend, editor, and the publisher of Orbis Books—after re-reading Henri’s essay that Ellsberg published in the Catholic Worker in 1978 (see chapter 4).

These essays, spanning nearly two decades, show how Henri’s initial understanding of community was sound but somewhat abstract. As Ellsberg notes in his Foreword, it was only after joining L’Arche Daybreak in the last ten years of his life that Henri really found the home and community he was seeking. Ellsberg writes, Henri “had undergone the ‘radical conversion’ the had described in that article so many years ago—steadily growing into the ideas he had explored in his earlier writings.” (p. ix) Reflecting on the 1978 article four decades later Ellsberg asks, “Had I finally acquired the ‘human gifts’ to understand what Henri was saying? Or had he found a different voice—‘more compassionate, more gentle, and more joyful.'”

This Advent we will explore these questions together as we journey with Henri and reflect on the meaning of community in our lives. We have the opportunity to undergo our own radical conversion and to grow in the way we live in the families, workplaces, civic organizations, churches, and other communities to which we belong. I encourage you to take the next several days to carefully read both the Foreword and Introduction as we will refer back to them in the coming weeks.

Our discussion begins in earnest on Sunday, November 28th, the First Sunday of Advent. If you are joining us for the first time or if you would like a refresher, the instructions for our online book discussion are provided below my brief biography.

As we begin our journey together, it’s always nice to know something about our companions. 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 and read Henri Nouwen and whether or not you have participated in previous Henri Nouwen Society online discussions.
  • What you hope to gain from this experience.
  • Any thoughts and insights you gained from reading the Foreword by Robert Ellsberg and the Introduction by Stephen Lazarus.

For those of you in the United States, we wish you a blessed and joyous Thanksgiving holiday. I’m looking forward sharing a spirit-filled Advent season with this online community of seekers as we gather together to to discuss Community by Henri Nouwen. Please scroll to the bottom to post your comment.

In gratitude,

Ray Glennon: Ray and his wife Dawn live in Columbia, Maryland. He 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 at a transformative point in his life. 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 professed members of Secular Franciscan Order (OFS). You may contact Ray by email at and you can follow him on Twitter.

Henri Nouwen Society Online Book Discussion Instructions
Let’s briefly describe how our online book discussion works. If you’ve joined us before, this will serve as a review.

Beginning this Sunday, November 28th, and each Sunday through December 19th, a new entry or post will be added to the book discussion (the blog) home page. The post will identify the reading for the week, present a brief moderator’s reflection, and suggest some questions for discussion. Participants are invited and 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 throughout the week.

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. After you submit a new comment or a reply, it needs to be “approved” either by me or Will at the Nouwen Society so it may take a few hours before it actually appears on the blog page. If you have any questions or problems, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at