Nov 27th to Dec 3rd – Letters

Reading: Letters from Dec. 29, 1973 to Don and Claude (page 7) through Feb. 26, 1982 to Jim and Cindy (page 60)

A very warm welcome to our first week of discussion.  Thank you to all who took the time to introduce yourself last week, and we also gratefully acknowledge those who are following along silently.  We are excited to finally dive into the letters this week.

1. As mentioned in the Preface, in many ways these letters represent Henri’s invitation to all of us, to move from the house of fear to the house of love by living a spiritual life, praying at all times, and thus breathing God’s breath.
a) As you consider your daily experience in life, in what ways do you find yourself living in the house of fear?
b) As you read over the letters Henri wrote, what specific words or instructions stand out to you to help you make the journey into the house of God’s love?

2. In the letter written to “George” on August 11, 1981 (page 45) Henri responds to a question about our whether our world will survive the present difficult times.  Henri re-frames the question and instead asks “if we can continue to live with hope?” regardless of the circumstances of our world.  He suggests the answer is affirmative because “our Lord has given us his promise.”  He then challenges us to avoid the temptation to despair by deepening our awareness of God.
a) How do you see these words of Henri applying to our world 35 years later?
b) How do you deepen your awareness of God and avoid despair?

3. In the letter written to “Mike and Pat” on October 6, 1981 (p51) Henri wrote of the centrality of the sacramental presence of Jesus in the Eucharist to his life as a Catholic.
a) Based on this letter, what do you understand Henri to mean when he says “the Christ life [is] something radically different form a life inspired by the ideas and stories about Jesus.”
b) Regardless of denomination / background – how can each of us live a “Christ life” day by day?

4. Generally speaking, these letters reflect the way Henri cared for people around him, often by sharing from the heart his own experiences. 
a) In this set of letters, does anything inspire you or stand out to you about the way that Henri cares for others, and responds to their life experiences?

As is always the case, please feel free to reflect on whatever stands out to you from the reading.  These questions are only meant to provide us a starting point to the discussion.

Looking forward to hearing from each of you,

Ray and Brynn

61 Replies to “Nov 27th to Dec 3rd – Letters”

  1. I would like to reflect on Henri’s letters to Beth’s parents with her death (our former reading schedule). Today is the 34th anniversary of our oldest son’s death. He was 21 years old and had complications after a kidney transplant. Henri mentioned –
    “If a grain of wheat dies
    It produces much fruit”.
    This has become one of my favorite verses. It also reminds me of another of Henri’s famous quotes. “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our life means the most to us, it is not those who offer advice, solutions or cures, but rather those who feel our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”
    The depth of Henri’s compassion and love gives me a renewed sense of hope today.

  2. My “house of fear” centers a lot on the discord, violence and lack of simple concern for the common good that has multiplied during this election time. I pray for all of us, even those with whom I disagree and for myself to see good, to hold on to hope. It is difficult because I live with someone who watches television Election/post election news analysis ad infinitumin our living room. Henri’s letter to Walt and Jet (7/8/79) spoke to me: “I see more and more how blind and deaf I can become for the Reality which Is right in front of me and can lift me out of my prison (of focusing on my fears)…indeed, love is stronger…” In meditation, Henri invites/challenges “simply pay attention to God and find your real self in him.” I find myself more deeply once again reminded to choose life. So many of you have already named the way Henri repeatedly calls his friends to prayer, solitude, contemplation, to keep our eyes on God. I hold this close in these days: “we will overcome demons by forgetting them in an all-consuming love for God.” In my call from Baptism, I find quiet power and joy!

  3. Wonderful comments. I am not as gifted with words as many of yiu and usually don’t put my thoughts in writing where they can be “immortalized”. Best to keep your mouth shut and let people think yiu are a fool then to open it and remove all doubt! LOL! Something that I keep coming back to relates to the ” house of fear” and the temptation to avoid despair. This past year has filled me with disappointment in my fellow man, society and even some religions. That things like racism, bullying, disrespect for all who are not ” white or male” are so prevalent is disheartening. My children talk about leaving the country, going to live off the grid,etc in an effort to minimize being affected by this oligarchical government we have. I have come to realize that while I had been feeling some despondency, I can’t control or change vey much of the big picture. Hi we’ve, I can change and control my “little corner of the world”. The “world” where I live, work, worship, exercise, shop, etc. that’s where I believe that we each need to be our own “house of love”. To be an,e to avoid the “house of fear” and avoid the temptation despair.

  4. As we are preparing for the second week of Advent, I am pondering the heartfelt letters that Henri Nouwen wrote and, also, the many comments. I want this period to be a time of growth in my spirituality and prayer life. I am trying to have more silence in my life to be able to devote more time to reading scripture, being more prayerful and also, extending myself to people who are in need, which reminds me of Henri’s compassion and kindness with his many friends.
    I see a common thread of Henri’s life and mine. He speaks of Thomas Merton often and I constantly read his books and spirituality. My late husband was on retreat at Gethsemane, Kentucky at the same time Thomas Merton was there and what a beautiful experience it was for him! My daughter was studying at Gannon University in Erie, PA and was involved and working with L”Arche and Madonna House. Her heart was touched by the many experiences she had, which will remain with her for the rest of her life. Jean Vanier and Henri were scheduled to come to
    Erie, but they did not make it due to Henri’s death.
    As a side note, as we are enjoying and learning from these letters, I am reminded that the “art of letter-writing” is becoming lost today. In spire of all of our modern technology, when a letter is hand written, it is much more meaningful!
    As we ponder Isaiah’s readings, may be experience God’s blessings.


  5. Good morning All,

    It is early Saturday morning. My little guy is still asleep. I’ve had a chance to carefully read/ re-read all your thoughtful comments. Thank you, each of you, for sharing!

    Henri is reminding me at every turn to never forsake my time with God. “Keep taking time for Him and Him alone,” “Keep your eyes on Him” “You need a lot of time to pray” “Be in constant conversation with Him” “Pray with words, songs, silence or just pray by being here and now” “take time out for God and God alone” “Keep some quiet time every day to be with God and him alone” “Be faithful to a regular prayer life.”

    Up at Daybreak where Henri lived for the last ten years of his life, there is a small chapel in one of the houses. Somewhere along the way I heard a story of someone coming upon Henri in the very early morning in that chapel, and he was laying completely prone before the alter. I know Henri struggled to be still, and I know he was always extremely busy. But I also know it was his surrender to God in this way that allowed him to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, hear God’s voice of love for him, and to be used by God in such a powerful way.

    As I mentioned in my intro I’ve always had to fight to keep quiet time in my daily life. I’m a bit of the Martha type. Well, in the last year that discipline has slipped significantly. And the more it slipped, the less I wanted to think about it (guilt). With Henri’s unrelenting encouragement I know it is time to return. And I want to. As I was reflecting on this yesterday I was thinking to begin by praying with songs of worship throughout the day, praying while being present to my daily life, praying by being in constant conversation with Him. This I can do, and I know that this will lead me to taking time, even if a small amount of time, for Him and Him alone each day.

    “Be in constant conversation with Him who loves you most intimately, and let yourself be swept off your feet in that great encounter.” (p22)


    1. Thanks for sharing this, Brynn. Congrats on the baby and best wishes as each week brings something new! Maybe the first lesson I learned from Henri is that I don’t have to find “quiet time,” but rather, I should strive to find a bit of “quiet” in any given moment. I say I learned it, but that’s not really true. I’ve been working at it for 40-plus years, and each day I get another chance. I no longer think in terms of successes or slipping… I find that when I’m just stepping out of my house, if I take two seconds to notice a leaf on the ground, or a nest in a tree, or a bird in the sky, it can change my whole day for the better. That’s my quiet time. Henri first taught me this, and now I recommend to others: Go to your front door, look outside, and notice something that you didn’t see yesterday.

      1. Hi Ed!

        Thanks so much for sharing this. Actually what you wrote is in line with Henri’s words in a letter that comes up in next weeks reading (about gratitude).

        And thanks for the congrats on our baby boy. He is AMAZING!


      2. What a realistic and wonderful way to experience quiet-in-life!
        Thank you for sharing this example of ways to be attentive and mindful each moment.

  6. Good evening from Oklahoma! I am enjoying the comments of others in this Advent online gathering with Nouwen’s letters. I have benefited from participating in a few earlier groups. After 44 years as a pastor and teacher, I am scheduled to retire in May, 2017. As I prepare for that time, I am praying for a sense of renewal in my heart and clear direction for the “next step.” I suspect that is why I found Henri’s comments (quoted in the Preface) to a friend struggling with aging very encouraging and hopeful: He wrote “I believe that being an elder can be a real grace. After having seen so much of life. . .there is still that possibility of growing into a second childhood, a second naivete. . .that is an exciting possibility and I pray that God will allow you to be reborn in such a new way of being” (xvi). I’m praying for that and enjoying many other wonderful insights from all the letters I’ve read to this point. Blessings to all!

    1. Don, May God bless you abundantly in this next phase of your life. I am a Catholic Sister who is already formally retired from ministry. When my plans to “retire” from a position became known, a dear friend told me: “Just be attentive and responsive to the people and situations God puts before you and you will continue to minister as he wishes.” That call to be attentive has been a great blessing and I am filled with gratitude for God’s grace each day as he leads me in loving service. You, too, are following God’s plan and are in his loving care…this Advent is our time to be readied for the next steps in living his call. Let us be attentive.

    1. Welcome Lois. Pilgrims participate on this Advent journey in a way that best meets their needs–some posting comments and others silently following along pondering Henri’s words and the comments of others. Thanks for joining us.


  7. As I have been meditating on Henri’s words about being used and being useless, I found my focus shifting away from what first caught my attention, which was my dislike of being used, to Henri’s words on being “useless.” Henri mentioned his book, Clowning in Rome to Walt (July 8, 1979) and in the introduction to the letter to Judd and Evy (Aug. 31, 1981), the editor observes that “Henri loves clowns.” Although Henri expands on his love of clowns, their position of being “peripheral people”, and on being useless in Clowning in Rome, in his letter to Judd and Evy, he asks them to “come in touch with the experience of ….being useless.” I feel drawn to accept Henri’s invitation by journaling through some of my experiences of being useless.
    This sentence from the letter to Judd and Evy resonates: “The great challenge remains to find the eternal in the midst of the temporary, to touch what remains in what passes, and to love the ever living God in the love of the quickly passing family of people.”

  8. The phrase “house of fear to house of love” has resonated with me as it has with so many of us on this on-line discussion. I am a natural worrier – have been and always will be, but hopefully, less and less as I grow in the Lord. I am very privileged to have a small chapel in my house (convent) so my morning prayer times are spent sitting on a big cushion on the floor under the gaze of the Living Presence from the tabernacle. These past mornings I have imagined Jesus shedding His rays of love (from the tabernacle – “house of love”) on this beautiful bundle of anxiety(me!!! the “house of fear”). And I have just sat quietly, without words, basking in these embracing rays of love allowing them to dispell the fear and despair (sometimes) within. Well. that is the hope.
    So the way I try to deepen my awareness of God and avoid despair is PRAYER, PRAYER and more PRAYER, as Henri writes on numerous occasions in his letter. Also spiritual reading and sharing with like minded people (like yourselves) is another support. Not forgetting, of course, daily Eucharist when possible. This feeds my soul and helps me to live a Christ life every day.
    The way that Henri has cared for others and responded to their life experience in his letters has touched me deeply. He seems to empathize with each one of his readers, putting himself in their shoes. He has tremendous respect for each and every one of them. His letters are “heart to heart” as in he makes them feel that they are the number one concern in his life at that minute, making them feel seen, heard and LISTENED TO!!! Isn’t that what we all want!! To be truly listened to!!! To be loved as we really are, warts ‘n all? He sincerely wants to accompany them and help them in their hour of need. Wow!! How blessed these letter readers were!!! But how blessed am I (and each one of us) to read these letters because there is always something in them that speaks to my heart and my situation. I too can draw from Henri’s well of wisdom, love and compassion and be spiritually nurtured on my journey.

    1. Nuala, you put into words what I have been sensing as I read Henri’s letters. I like so much that he begins many of them with “Many thanks for your very good letter.” Those words weren’t addressed to me but I nonetheless feel blessed by them, and I feel personally affirmed by them in some way. Each letter contains a gem of wisdom for me and reading the group’s reflections points me to others that I missed on my own. I’m not the best of listeners and often don’t listen well to what I am reading. The same is true for me even after a visit with a good friend I hadn’t seen in a while. I become caught up in details of packing, traveling, catching up on things, etc., that as I leave I feel that I have missed some of the true essence of our friendship. I invariably think that I didn’t listen well. Then on the trip home my reflection on the visit becomes a revisiting; a deepening of the friendship. Same thing with Henri’s letter writing and everyone’s reflections.

  9. My reply is to the daily experience of “life in the house of fear.” I didn’t reply during introductions because of my fear of not writing as well as all the thoughtful and articulate comments by others. I felt vulnerable; it usually requires courage for me to do something like that. This gives me insight in to how Henri Nouwen could be both vulnerable and strong; that description had confused me. I am seeing that strength is judged as such when compared to weakness in self or other, and that BTW, I live in central Illinois.

  10. 3. Letter written to Mike and Pat

    The passages of the Gospels are not just stories to memorize. Gospels contemplation with all our heart and with our senses as if we were there, like entering in scene, give us more knowledge of Jesus.
    Sometimes, on a daily basis, I reflect upon my actions asking what Jesus would have done on a particular occasion. We find in the Bible the panoply of human behavior. Jesus divine and without earthly ambitions surprises and invited us to a meaningful life. We will know much more about ourselves if we deepen our relation with our Father, with our friend Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit. God has a special mission for each of us.

    1. 4. This set os Henri letters impressed me by its transparency. Most of the time we discuss religion without conveying the beauty of the message of Jesus. We rarely reveal to a friend what Jesus has helped to transform ourselves.

    2. Isabel,
      Thanks for bringing up “without earthly ambitions”. I find it so easy to connect my intentions and sometime successes to my ego and my hope for recognition and advancement. The attitude of “living with Christ in me” has its focus on the Praise and Glory of God in all things.

  11. 2. Letter to George 11,1981

    Politics these days is chaotic. Leverage groups manipulate our choices. Frankly speaking, an important part of our day involves activities that collide with our consciousness. We have become accustomed to the injustice of an increasingly competitive and polluting society.
    Henry Nouwen advises us to continually avoid the temptation of despair.
    Despair, impatience, irritation, deconstructive criticism, don’t solve the world’s problems. On the contrary, it propagates negative waves, especially visible in social networks. Criticizing in this way, gives an impression that one fights for ideals, but in fact is not solving anything.

    Henry Nouwen says in a letter (Walt and Jet, 1979) “love is stronger than death”.
    It is much more prudent to do regular examen of conscience with a good petition for God’s guidance, in order to help, love, and support those who are in the same condition as we. In an altruistic environment new directions may arise. Like He said, “Throw your net to the right side of the boat and you will find some.” (John 21:6)

  12. Reading these letters is like looking into Henri’s soul– such a personal and moving way to build relationships which is what Henri is all about. Several things touched me in this first section, but the one I keep going back to is Henri’s response to Jim who is struggling with faithfulness. I don’t consider myself unfaithful, but I am not sure I am giving it my all. New job, aged mother to take care of . . . who has time? “A simple-minded simple-eyed commitment to God is all that counts. . . .Don’t spend too much energy fighting demons, but give all you have to God” were the words I couldn’t let go. I think the demons keep us in the house of fear and therefore away from God and the house of love. The energy to analyze the demands of life could be better spent in prayer and service to God. Henri’s response reminds me that it is a choice on where my energy goes and if it’s not to God then my spiritual life will (and has) suffered. I think this advent gift to myself is a great first step to recapture the discipline and schedule some time with God. Perhaps I should write some letters . . .

    1. Michele,
      I too was thinking that I ought to take some time to write some letters. Maybe some Advent greetings to dear friends. I spent the holiday with a dear friend and sister in Christ. Her home is the House of Love. I experienced the Great Love with which He loves me through my friend and her dear family. I love what you said, “Henri’s response reminds me that it is a choice on where my energy goes and if it’s not to God then my spiritual life will (and has) suffered.” I agree with that whole heartedly.
      Thanks for sharing,

    2. First Ray and Brynn, thank you for your thoughtful leading discussion questions. For myself, I had to discern, go with your lead or go with what has touched my own heart. Henri’s letter to Richard on page 46, 47
      “It is amazing in my own life that true friendship and community became possible to the degree that I was able to share my weaknesses with others. Often I became aware of the fact that in the sharing of my weaknesses and sinfulness started to reveal itself to me, not as a source of despair but as a source of hope. As long as I try to convince myself or others of my independence a lot of my energy is invested building up my own false self. But once I am able to truly confess my most profound dependence on others and on God. I can come in touch with my true self and a real community can develop.
      All of this I am saying to restate my conviction that often deepening the pain is the way to healing because deepening the pain means to go to that place in me where I am broken, sinful, dependent, and where I’m no longer trying to stay in control but where I can reach out to God and to my fellow human beings without fear.”
      It is this type of Christian community that I desire and one that in many respects I have received. The Lord has me in a very vulnerable, exposed state right now. It is for me to trust Him. I was able to spend the holiday with a great and trust friend, a life-giving friend who was willing to go into the furnace with me as God exposed more of my rebellion toward him in a certain area of my life, I surrendered with my friend by my side.
      I am so grateful for all of my fellow pilgrims who are on the way to the Celestial City and the ones like Henri that have gone before us and still are pointing the way to Christ.
      Much Love to all,

  13. Henri’s words invite me to “simply listening to God, loving God, and loving those around me as God has called me to do.” Do I make the call too complicated? Will I grasp the reality of BE-ing in the here and now with confidence that God meets me in that moment? I liked how the living Christ life differs from knowing about Christ. Someone said that we have only inches from our head to our heart. But we seem to keep too much in thoughts rather than embracing the love of God in our hearts. My Advent challenge is to move from thinking to loving, even in the small acts of daily life.

  14. “Jesus said: It is good for you that I leave, so I can send my Spirit” (letter about Beth comforting her parents after her death)

    We often don’t find the right words or the correct attitudes. We fail before others even though we have good intentions. Even the apostles of Christ felt broken and discourage by His death. They did not understand the fullness of all teachings without going through the experience of pain and repentance. And this is very distressing, because our thoughtless deeds can induce discomfort in other people.
    On these occasions friends help little. They will tell us what we like to hear. But they can not forgive us because they were not the offended. Christ is the head, and I am part of the body. I have no other choice but to help myself by listening God. How can I be sure that I’m really listening? How can I know that I am receiving the fruits of my contemplation?

    “What did I do until now and where do I want to go?”
    Sometimes I am so exhausted, even though I feel the presence of God…

    1. And when I feel so exhausted, I go to Eucharist because God calls me by my name. My assumptions lose intensity. They are so confusing that they are not real. They are insignificant in face of what God has to give me.

      I can not do anything good without hosting God inside me, because I’m a believer. It’s my way. My reference. My commitment is to Love God and to serve Him. And trusting, maybe, one day, I will be sure to have gone to a more spacious and more suitable place to welcome God.

  15. Hi! I have never participated in one of these discussions, but I find myself homebound and thought this a worthwhile thing to participate in. I just got the book so I need to read faster before I can comment.

  16. Upon reading Henri’s letter to Jim Antal….he exhorts him to be intentional about clear-cut decision to make the most of his “study” time and “become hospitable by creating a quiet, restful place where people can find healing.” I need that kind of intentionality, and to realize that doing out of being in and being this quiet, restful place can be so much more life-giving.

    Especially drawn to “Life is like a wheel. God is the hub……..” the Sunday School class I participate in each Sunday, calls ourselves the “COG” class…..Circle of Growth……I think my holiday wishes for other class COG’s will include these thoughts somehow.
    Makes me smile! Timeless words that transcends past, present, and future…..WOW!

    1. In a 9/1/74 letter to his friend Richard, Henri outlines the shape of his days and a path that speaks to me:
      early hours
      manual work
      many hours for prayer and meditation
      read, study and write (w/o interruptions!)
      very good spiritual guidance
      He also asks two significant questions that I want to contemplate further this Advent:
      “What did I do until now?”
      “Where do I want to go?”

      1. Marsha, what a concise and helpful catalogue of Henri’s formula. I can really make use of this as I consider my own priorities.

  17. From the Dubuque, Iowa area. Have read many of Nouwen’s books. I started Love, Henri over the weekend. The thing I found the most touching was his discussion on loved ones sending us their spirit(s) when they die. I never thought of it that way, but when I read it, it seemed so true. I am an active Catholic involved in various ministries in the Church.

    1. John, I have experienced what Henri describes. My father died 22 years ago and feels so very present to me every day. I find this remarkable because when he died I was heart broken and wondered how I could live without him. God was so good to me during those early years of my grieving. I mourned, received comfort and grew in maturity and love. I am thankful to carry my compassionate father’s spirit in my heart.

  18. From Marilee Benson
    I am new to this on-line book discussion. I live in Austin, Minnesota where I am a retired United Methodist pastor. I am supporting my soon to be 99 year old mother with running errands, giving rides to medical appointments, getting groceries etc. I first became aware of Henri Nouwen while in seminary. I am glad to read these letters. This Advent is a time in which I can leave the disappointment of the election season behind and focus on the love and peace of the Season.

  19. Henri’s letter to Judd and Evy (p. 48-49) challenged me. Henri writes: “…if you come in touch with the experience of being used or the experience of being useless, you might in fact be close to a true Christian experience…”
    I don’t like being used, so I am holding these words and thoughts of Henri. Perhaps there is an invitation here for me to “dare to be” a fool for Christ or to come closer to “an experience of self-emptying.”
    This fits with the theme of living in the houses of fear and love. When I am afraid of being used, I live in the house of fear. How can I be open to an experience of self-emplying that could move me into the house of love?

    1. I also found these words of interest. I know I am bothered by being used but not sure why yet. He has raised a good challenge for me to see this in a different way. I am glad you addressed it. I am going to need to set with this idea more because I can’t even name what it is about be used that has me hooked yet.

    2. i also have struggled with this.being exploited can derail you. i thought it was my pride and lack of humility. it was not until i had a wise saintly friend explain specifically what he means by revealing the love of God to our neighbors.let me quote him ” i believe it means that we must learn to love as God loves.we can know that by the example that is revealed to us by Jesus in the Gospel. The gift of love that Jesus revealed to us , asks for nothing, expects nothing, and is willing to give everything.our responsibility is to offer the gift.if we worry of exploitation we will build walls between us and those we are called to love and serve.” The above has helped me move from the house of fear to the house of Love.

      1. Thanks Charles, this is very helpful, I like it! It focuses on ones responsibilities, actions not the others behavior … whatever I am to do, do lovingly , I need to do it without any expectations, kind of a letting go of the outcome as I give that over to God … I see how the walls are built if I don’t .. Thanks

  20. “How do you deepen your awareness of God and avoid despair”?
    -Before election day, there was so much tension in America. I found myself in prayer. In prayer, I felt that God said to me, “There is hope”. I think the Spirit does whisper hope to us. Sometimes hearing over the loudness of our own selves is very difficult.

    I appreciate in one of the letters that Henri writes that his schedule was a bit too much at one point. Those words inspire me to care for the internal sanctuary, to be confident in saying “yes” or “no” to things, in order to care for my inner space.

    I contemplate loss around me in conjunction with my own losses, and Henri’s words resonant as he quotes Jesus, “I must go, in order that the Spirit may come”. In each loss, there is also a seed sprouting of new life.

  21. In responding to question #3 …In the letter written to “Mike and Pat” on October 6, 1981 (p51): I understand Henri to mean when he says “the Christ life [is] something radically different form a life inspired by the ideas and stories about Jesus.”… that Christ life is, it self, living within me/us, it is a verb, active now that we can each get to know personally. In the past when I read, heard stories about Jesus, for me, it was a story about someone in the past, someone out there that I could only know through others who once new him.
    #4 I was inspire by something Henri said to Walter j Gaffney and his wife Jet on page 35 : ” ….the solution -I think- is not in moving to another outer place but to another inner place.” I find that meaningful because I have a tendency to search for the eternal in the midst of other people and what they know which is out there. I do not give myself credit to be able to connect with the wisdom that I have been given or can receive when I go to my inner place and set in silence with the living God… the God that is within me and all around me, holding me in love. In Henri letters he is helping his friends to come to this knowing by suggesting them to go inside and in prayer. I am retired so I really have no time issuer, reason or excuse for not getting to know the Christ. I do not know why it is so hard for me to go within, but it is … my longing and prayer for this advent is that I can get past this challenge.

    1. I resonate to your quote of Henri’s words differentiating the Christ life from a life inspired by ideas and stories about Jesus. I am currently captivated by the idea of intimate faith and am still struggling to articulate it. I think Henri’s words will help me do that. That’s for highlighting them.

    2. Thank you Maggie for your insightful sharing. You have highlighted my issue since I too am recently retired and I am finding it difficult to use my time for silent intimacy with Christ. I keep busy with other things and it is so difficult to sit and listen. This is my Advent longing, just to sit and listen.

    3. Maggie, I also thank you for sharing your heartfelt thoughts. Your idea that the Christ life is a verb so accurately captures Henri’s attitude about sacrametality, and his attention to real lived experiences that he and his correspondents share with each other.

  22. From Maggie
    I am Maggie Bjorkquist from west side of Wisconsin alongside the mighty Mississippi River. I have been part of on of HN book group in the past and I joyed it so much. I am late getting started because technically is always a challenge for me, so I procrastinated. I am keeping this post as I remember how too do this again.

  23. From Marsha
    From Monrovia, CA.
    When I learned that today was the first day of Advent, I immediately searched to see if there was a Nouwen book discussion. I was introduced to Henri’s writings years ago by a friend.
    In the forward by Brené Brown, I read and identified with, “I spend an excruciating amount of time analyzing my demons and overcompensating for them rather than simply listening to God, loving God, and loving those around me as God has called me to do.”
    Connecting spiritually is of paramount importance to me. I look forward to the next month in the company of others, similarly seeking.

  24. Here are several Introduction posts from late Saturday evening. Posting them here so everyone will see them…Ray

    From Deb Gustafson
    Good morning from Advance, North Carolina I first read Henri with a Monday night women’s study group over 5 years ago! Seven of us read many of Henri’s books and discussed them together! I find great comfort and peace in studying his words! I have participated in two of the online book discussions. I am a retired school teacher working part time mentoring new teachers and loving the extra time I am blessed with my two granddaughters. After reading the Preface, I was reminded of Henri’s honest and open vulnerabilities which provide me with such a sense of peace!

    From Joan
    Hi from Southwestern Ontario.This is my first foray in to a discussion group such as this.I am looking forward to our journey through Advent together

    From Brynn Lawrence
    So lovely to hear from each of you! This is obviously a really beautiful group of people gathered here. Nice to see some familiar names, and of course nice to “meet” some new people as well.

    I sign in from Ontario, Canada where I live with my husband and son. Our son was born during last year’s Advent book discussion, and he has since turned into a toddler!! Naturally he is the focus of much of my time and energy, and I joyfully give it to him.

    Reading the Foreword I was struck by Brown’s comments about time. “…we have no time. No time for prayer… no time to be still. No time for connectedness with God.” On one hand, I know I am in a season where one doesn’t have a lot of time to oneself. But I also know there is more to it than that. In every season of my life I’ve had to fight to make time for prayer, time to be still before God, and I know that I need to renew my commitment in this season as well. I look forward to these letters, and to receiving Henri’s insistent reminder to make time for Jesus every single day.

    1. I was also convicted by the comment “…no time for prayer…” It is a recurring struggle for me. Yesterday in my Twitter feed there was a link to a blog post by Catholic philosopher and Aquinas expert Peter Kreeft entitled Time. He writes, “I think the single biggest obstacle to our relationship with God (after sin, of course) is ‘no time.'” It is a sentiment Henri would agree with. You can read Kreeft’s entire (somewhat lengthy) post here

      1. Thank you Ray. Will have to read a few more times to let the wisdom of this article sink in, but it offers a wonderful beginning point to this journey with Henri and all of you duringvthis Advent. Blessings, Joni

      2. Thanks for sharing Peter Kreeft’s article. I’m afraid that I’d have several hours to pray each day by spending half my TV time in prayer. Is this another room in my house of fear? Henri’s letters are strongly nudging me in this direction.

      3. Thanks for sharing this provocative and helpful article. I especially like the idea that “prayer measures the movements of the soul” and that the body resides in the soul, instead of the other way around. I see now that I can make each movement, each positive gesture toward another, a kind of prayer.

  25. “timeless words”, “loving spirit”… mantra for this Advent experience.

    1st letter: unclear about vocation, yet is able to exhort others to “pray more, love more, make heart and mind open to Him, the Lord of life”…….I find strength in simple…when Henri writes about desiring the “good old times when we could play naked in the garden”, makes me smile…..there was a few years when I had an overwhelming desire to a return to innocence…Henri describes that feeling so much better!

    2nd & 3rd letters: it’s interesting to me that Henri mentions the communion plate in the first letter, then in the 2nd, seems to write his way into knowing what to engrave the communion plate with, of course, leaving it up to the parent to decide. Simply writing, “Jesus says……” brings those timeless words into present rather than writing Jesus said…..his ability to name grief, yet writes to Beth’s mother, “in a certain sense you have to die with her to find new life and new hope for yourself.” Truly, this has happened for me with several loved ones who have died, yet, continue to speak, remaining in my heart and mind…..and I realize that just as Nouwen was grateful for Beth’s kindness, her opening aspects of life which were new for him… friends do that for me! Thus, making my life so much fuller….how narrow my life would be if we were all alike. Now I remember!

    Sorry this is too long, but thank you for listening……m

    1. Thank you Marge. In our church family one long standing member died yesterday and another is in hospital very weak. Both in their late 80’s their journey home to our Father’s love has been a “God present “moment for all of us. Our love and respect of their trusting lives of Faith have in their turn lit our lives. It is now being expressed in so many ways IN us. e.g
      Mutually affirming friendly conversations around hospital beds in their last days feeding them ,praying gently with them ,prays for peaceful passing in our individual homes and in one case a sense of calling experienced in an everyday way..
      A member visited the hospital found one parking place only available as she arrived .She then happened to meet the hospital chaplain and tell him of our friend’s stalwart faith .He asked if the family ,some whom live in Canada ,would appreciate her receiving last rites . This lady opened her eyes as she was visited and did receive the last rites and passed peacefully . We can now reassure the family of this.Others unbeknown to the situation that night were woken to pray for her .

      We have been dying to their time and place in our church lives both for over 80 years but it has been giving us new life born from their example. God works in such mysterious and gentle loving ways. Last night we were invited to express our gratitude for this lady as we remember her contribution to our church lives and those memories will be written into her funeral service.- a bit like the message on the communion plate.Thank you Marge too for listening. Gilly

  26. What strikes me is the power of writing letters—letters that can be held in one’s hand, wrapped in ribbon and stored in a box, taken out when one needs a good pep talk or consolation from an old friend. I have tried to write such letters (though not nearly as eloquent) via email for the sake of providing an immediate response to one in need, but I wonder how many of us would archive letters in electronic form.

    I love that the letters reveal Henri as a seeker who relentlessly sought the best way to find his God and serve others. Would that be in academia, a Peruvian barrio, a monastery, a home for mentally challenged adults? He taps into the “seeker side” of his correspondents as they struggle to find their own place in God’s plan. He identifies each person’s gifts that might sustain him or her and help that person to find a direction in life. He calls us to accept our weaknesses as part of the human condition and, ironically, as the means to forge a connection with others. I love that Henri tells James (p. 50) that God will provide for his needs because “you really deserve it, and the Lord will not let your prayer go unanswered.” I also love that Henri gives himself and others permission to retreat from the busyness of the world. These words really resonate for me: “In order to live a hospitable life…you need a lot of time… to read, to study, to meditate, to pray, to just be alone. If you do not claim that for yourself, …you do not create the quiet restful place where people find healing.” From these words comes my Advent resolution. Amen.

    1. Elaine, your words about letters reminded me that I gave my father the gift of 5 prayer letters on his last birthday. By that time in his life, he had dementia, so being able to hold a letter and read and reread it gave him comfort. He loved those letters and I loved writing them. When Dad died, I got them back to cherish and to reread. Thank you for affirming the power of real letters that can be held and saved and treasured.

      1. Thank you, Susan, for this poignant reminder of what a powerful sign of love such letters can be. I am sorry for your loss, but clearly you have tangible reminders that you gained much from this relationship.

    2. Hello,
      I did not participate in the introductory session of this reading group, but I am looking forward to sharing our Advent journey through Henri’s letters.

      The phrase struck me comes in Henri’s letter to a friend who is a Communist. Here, Henri states that he sees his mission as one where he shares his struggles and his joy as our sacramental journey. That Christ is alive within and among us when we are truly present to others in their lives, the mundane (let’s do the dishes) and the ecstatic (Oh, Mom, I got a job!). It’s very hard to do – and requires, I believe, that we take time to pause. And reflect.

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