Reading: The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom “Conclusion” (pages 116 to 118) & Review the Spiritual Imperatives that spoke to you
I discovered that I was no longer the person who had left the community
in despair. I discovered this not so much in myself but in those who,
instead of being embarrassed by what I had gone through, gave
me their confidence and trust. Most of all, I found
new confidence in myself through the gradual
renewal of the friendship that had
triggered my anguish. (p. 116)
We have arrived at Palm Sunday, the beginning of the most sacred week of the year for Christians, and the final post of our Lenten book discussion. In our reading this week, Henri looks back eight years to when he wrote the sixty-two spiritual imperatives during “the most difficult period of my life. . . a time of extreme anguish” (p. xiii) and reflects on his spiritual and emotional growth that allowed him to publish his “secret journal” (p. xiii) with the encouragement of Wendy Greer and several other friends. Henri acknowledges the “radical changes I have undergone. I have moved through anguish to freedom, through depression to peace, through despair to hope.” (p. 116) The impact of those radical changes in Henri’s life is captured in the quotation in bold at the top of this post. (Note: Henri completed the final preparations for the publication of The Inner Voice of Love during his 1996 sabbatical. The final copy was sent to the publisher in the months prior to his untimely death from a heart attack on September 21, 1996. It was published posthumously.)
Now let’s step back several years (1991-2) to the period closer to when these imperatives were first written. In the Prologue to his spiritual masterpiece The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, Henri alludes to the difficulties that led to his emotional and spiritual breakdown during which he wrote the spiritual imperatives. He writes, “Much of what has happened since my arrival at Daybreak is written down in diaries and notebooks, but, as it stands, little of it is fit to share with others. The words are too raw, too noisy, too “bloody,” and too naked. But now a time has come when it is possible to look back on those years of turmoil and to describe, with more objectivity than was possible before, the place to which all of that struggle has brought me.” (The Return… p. 15) We have been reading the words to which Henri is referring.
As the prologue continues, Henri points to the crucial role that Rembrandt”s painting the Parable of the Prodigal Son played in his healing. Henri came to see it as, “my personal painting, the painting that contained not only the heart of the story that God wants to tell me, but also the heart of the story that i want to tell to God and God’s people. All of the Gospel is there. All of life is there.” (The Return…, p. 15) And just what did Henri find in Rembrandt’s painting? Many, if not all, of the spiritual imperatives: “Trust the Inner Voice” (p. 6), “Come Home” (p. 12), “Open Yourself to the First Love”* (p. 28), “Let Jesus Transform You” (p. 40), “Avoid All Forms of Self-Rejection” (p. 86), “Know That You Are Welcome” (p. 101), and “Keep Choosing God” (p. 113), and many others. And most important, Henri realized in the depth of his being that, like Jesus, he and we are God’s beloved sons and daughters.
This week you are invited to reflect on Henri’s journey and to identify which spiritual imperatives spoke to your heart. Henri has provided us with a bountiful feast of ideas ands insights to enrich us on our journeys. Did you (re)discover something about yourself that will assist you as you continue your spiritual journey? Are there steps you can take in the coming days, weeks, and months that will allow you to better live your life as God’s beloved. (Full Disclosure: I often come to the end of these enriching discussions with the best of intentions and then fail to write them down or, if I do, to follow through and hold myself accountable.)
As was mentioned last week, we are planning to have an optional Zoom virtual meeting this Tuesday, April 4th at 8:00 p.m. EDT (UTC-4). Over 20 participants have already expressed interest and they should have received an email from me with the link to join the Zoom meeting. If you are interested in joining and haven’t received an email with the link, you can simply indicate your interest by posting a comment below or by contacting me directly at email@example.com. Anyone that wishes to participate must request the link in advance. I will not be publishing the link publicly on this site.
While I haven’t completely thought through how we will conduct the Zoom meeting, here are a few ideas for your consideration.
- A brief (literally 30-45 seconds) introduction: Name, Location, Why Henri? (e.g., what drew you to Henri, how has he been a companion on your journey)—Everyone that wanted to share would have the chance
- A brief (60-90 second) sharing about something that touched you in the book (e.g., a single or group of imperatives, thoughts about Henri’s journey, the impact this book had on you)—Everyone that wanted to share would have the chance; I might provide a very brief facilitator response to a sharing, if appropriate
- Facilitated discussion where participants can engage with insights and comments of each other and ask questions about Henri, the making of this book, etc.
If you have other suggestions, please let me know in the comments. I look forward to meeting many of you in cyber-space on Tuesday evening.
Finally, on behalf of the Henri Nouwen Society, I want to express my deep gratitude for this wonderful and spiritually enriching Lenten discussion. It has been a privilege to share this journey with you. May you and yours be richly blessed during this Holy Week and the Easter season.
Peace and all good.
*Facilitator Note: “Open Yourself to the First Love” evolved to “The words ‘You are my Beloved’ reveal the most intimate truth about all human beings.” (Life of the Beloved, p. 30)