Dec 11th to 17th – Letters

Reading: letters on pages 117 (beginning of Part II) to 175 (letter to Ed dated July 13, 1988)

Welcome to our third week of letters.  It has been a wonderful discussion so far, with such rich participation from each of you.  We also always like to remember those who are tracking with us silently… you are valued too!

1) In the letter to Father Paul Walsh (p 148, dated February 16, 1987) Henri summarizes his experience of how the more vulnerable among us can be a true and special gift:  “By revealing to us that being is more important than doing, the heart is more important than the mind and community is more important than individual stardom, they are truly messengers of the Gospel and witnesses to the Lord who became poor for us.”
a) Please share a similar experience of how a vulnerable person or group of people became a messenger of the Gospel in your life.
b) Does the idea of engaging the vulnerable in your community bring up resistance in you?  Why do you think?
c) Is your heart stirred to take any particular steps this Christmas or this year to engage the vulnerable in your community?  Please share.

2) In a letter to Connie (p 149, dated April 2, 1987) Henri affirms, “it is the Spirit of Jesus we need.  Keep your eyes and the eyes of your sisters focused (fixed) on him.  Words like ‘God’ and ‘Spirit’ so easily tempt us to overlook the ‘word became flesh and dwelled among us.’  Your special task as superior is to keep Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord, in the heart of your people and in the center of your community.  Keep speaking about him and keep his words calling you and your sisters to faithfulness.”
a) Do you also tend to fall into the temptation to use more general terms when talking about your faith?
b) Why do you think this is such a temptation? / Why does Henri warn against it?
c) What does it look like to speak clearly about Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord, while still creating a place of hospitality for all people?

3) Below are a few very powerful quotes that came out of this set of letters, you are most welcome to share your thoughts, reflections and / or responses to them:

Letter to Nathan 5/19/1986:

“America is such a world in need of Jesus. Everybody asks me to speak about him…Whether you become a priest or not, will marry or not, you are clearly called to proclaim the love of Jesus.”

Letter to Jurjen 9/10/1986:

“I hope and pray that you will be able to use all your creativity as a minister of God and will especially be able to keep the Lord Jesus in the center of your and your people’s life.  I am increasingly convinced of the importance of preaching the Name of the Lord Jesus as the rising Lord, the Lord who overcame the powers of death and came to set us free.  The freedom that that Gospel offers is a different from what the world can bring us, and it is so important for people today to really come to know and experience this freedom.”

Letter to Barb 11/5/86:

“Only when Christ really is alive in your heart can you recognize him in your neighbor because it is the Christ in you who calls forth the Christ in others.  I really feel that it is very important for you to have a regular discipline of prayer and spiritual reading.”

Letter to Bob 5/19/1988:

“What I am experiencing is a really deep spiritual crisis in which I realize that God wants all of my heart, not simply a part of it.  It seems as if He wants to test my faithfulness and my commitment in a new way.  He is really asking me to let go of everything that does not bring me closer to Him.  He calls me to a more generous prayer life and a more fearless ministry.  This year is a kind of desert year to purify my heart.  It is painful but also full of grace.”

Letter to Ed 7/13/1988:

“Try to take little steps in the direction of your inner call (a regular hour of silent prayer, talks with people who can truly listen to you, reading books that help you sharpen your own inner vocation, visits to places and people where some of your dream is lived out).  Be sure never to let your life go flat. Always know that God is calling you to ever greater things.”

As always, we look forward to hearing whatever comes up for you in the reading.  Looking forward to another rich and life-giving week of discussion.

Ray and Brynn

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40 Responses to Dec 11th to 17th – Letters

  1. I would like to thank Ray for making me aware of the online conversation about Henri’s letter to me in the book, Love, Henri. Think it would have been even better if they included in the book, my letter to him.

    The discussion of possible books between Henri and I go back to the mid-1980s. I still remember sitting with him in his tiny kitchen in the apartment he lived while teaching at Harvard. Although we spoke about many things, one was a book I was planning to write tentatively titled: Relationships: Enjoying the Gift of Availability. He had read some of my early pages on it but reacted primarily to the title: “Most of us don’t see availability as a gift. We see it as a problem.” Needless to say, I changed the title to Availability: The Problem and the Gift. (Ave Maria Press, recently reissued this book but changed the subtitle.) He also was intrigued about what could be pulled from Scripture to give us an orienting point for the book. I asked him what he thought would be good and he said he didn’t know. However, a half hour into our chatting about my work with professional helpers and healers on the themes of resilience, self-care, and maintaining a healthy perspective, he suddenly became animated, and said, “I’ve got it. ‘Pruning’ is the word you want to embrace in writing this book. When you prune something it doesn’t blossom less, it blossoms more fully.” I did embrace it, not only in the book, but in my life and in my guiding physicians, nurses, psychotherapists, social workers, educators, relief workers, and those in full time ministry.

    With the above as a backdrop, it wasn’t unusual in a letter of support for him to also bring up a book I was considering writing. When we seek to be present to persons who are going through a dark time in their lives, after providing what encouragement and reflections we feel might be of help, I have felt it is often a good idea to include an area in which they can be of help. In this way, the person (in this case, Henri) was able to feel me by his side during a tough time but also that I hadn’t lost my belief in him and the respect I still had for him even during his own trial period.

    In terms of the phrase, The Psychological Perils of Spiritual Intimacy, the thought I particularly had was that many people don’t realize true spirituality changes things. It makes us lean back from our life so we can see things differently. When theonomy (God’s will) and autonomy (our will) intersect at those moments, our perception of what is important is altered.

    A simple example may be two people who become married with an eye to success, the good life, and possessing certain things. Both of them are religious people but have not accessed the contercultural aspect of what it means to seek the fullness of God (JN 10:10). Then one of the pair decides to enter spiritual direction. The person’s eyes are opened to seeing an abundant life in a different way. These values are brought home and find themselves in conflict with the couple’s original goals. There is possible, usually unforeseen psychological upheaval. The question then is: how can this couple move to a new place in their relationship and life? It is not easy and it is not straightforward. There are no simple answers.

    I didn’t write this book although I think the ideas did show up in various ways in such books of mine as Riding the Dragon and Crossing the Desert. It certainly has found its way into my respect for “If your eye is good, your whole body will be good.” and is reflected in a secular way in my book, Perspective: The Calm within the Storm. The whole tenet of perspective which has been at the core of all my work is: It is not the amount of darkness in the world or yourself that matters…in the end, it is how you stand in that darkness that makes the difference.

    In the past year I have gone to Beirut to address caregivers who live and work in Aleppo, Syria as well as presented on resilience in both Haiti and the Philippines. As I encounter those good souls, we search together for what helps them maintain their healthy perspective amidst so much darkness. It often turns out to be both prayer and friendship–great gifts to unwrap as we encounter the psychological perils of spiritual intimacy with a God who wishes to call us to experience real fullness in the little time we have on earth, not what society would have us value.

    Well, a long-winded response, eh? Thanks again goes to Ray and Brynn as they and you who participate in this vibrant Advent discussion of Henri’s letters. Caring about these values as you do certainly reflects that you are good people seeing to do beautiful things in a world that can be quite stressful, anxious and confusing. Good for you.

  2. Chris K says:

    I am a mother of grown boys, 2 of whom suffer from depression, one of whom has thought about suicide and has a plan. I have been trying to get them to seek help, one has, the other one is resistant. All the boys grew up in the church where both of us were actively involved in music and youth ministry, however, now they are agnostic and claim to be atheist. I continue to pray for them everyday.
    The quote that hurts me is when Henri said that the depression and hopelessness were clearly rooted in our earliest experiences before we could think or speak. He then goes on to talk about “forgiving our parents”.
    While I know we as parents and humans are not perfect, and I have often wondered “where we went wrong”, I have also realized that we tried to lay a foundation of love and faith and once they became adults they have the free will to choose despite our love and care. Our boys were never neglected, abused, or abandoned. They were very active in church life as middle school/high school students(at least the 2 who are depressed).
    So, while I don’t think he’s saying that I as a parent am to blame for their mental state, as a health professional I know there is a lot more involved including chemical imbalance in the brain and coping mechanisms that were learned, not necessarily from us but from society at large I still can’t help feeling hurt, responsible and “thrown under the bus” so to speak. I must admit, after a very emotional night last Saturday with both boys, at least they were talking to someone, this passage did not help at all!
    I am enjoying his letters and because they do speak to many areas of life.

    • Gilly Beardmore says:

      Dear Chris my heart goes out to you.I can remember the anguish my mother felt years ago watching my sister experience mental illness .But I also was brought up by the same mother who loved us both deeply .She in her unique way loved us in each moment and her loving ntentions grew seeds of love that scattered and grew throughout the family.

      Jesus is at the centre of our lives and knows our intentions better than we do ourselves Visusalise him smiling at you and forgiving us when we need it day by day .I pray he will be there as presence of love for you and all your boys

  3. jerry kirks says:

    Hi all Just got here. Been reading but not writing. Hi Ray. It never ceases to amaze me how Henri, from my first reading, has know what my problems were and how to bring God into the picture to help. I shared the summer session with some of you.

    Since my first exposure to Henri, 3 years ago in a class at Virginia Theological Seminary on Spiritual Direction, he has been my Spiritual Director. I have attended many classes and finished one year at Richmond Hill in Spiritual Direction. His books are a part of every course. I am now pursuing classes and experiences in contemplative prayer, and there he is!

    This book is remarkable. Pure gratitude goes to Gabrielle and all who made this possible.

    The letters speak to what is current in the changing world. It amazes me how Henri can take actions that are clearly not spiritual and find a spiritual answer or reason for them. In this section that ranged from divorce to sexual preference. He also admits his own failings but expresses his hope that he will do better.

    Yesterday the Pope turned 80. He has brought much the same understanding and true spirituality to us that Henri did. It is such an amazing experience. Thanks to all, and especially a loving and understanding God.


    • Gilly Beardmore says:

      Jerry and Henri thank you for reminding me not to be afraid in touching the vulnerability of others for it is there that we find great gifts to our hearts . Because of past life experiences I had a tangible fear of death .

      This is the end of my first year of lay ministry .4 deaths have taken place this week amongst us .I had been visiting one lady in hospital before she died.Stella in her 80’s loved our small village church and had worshipped there all her life with her childhood friend Rene .Over the past month in conversations she has shared her memories of her what church has meant to her.And I in return described how the church was being prepared for Christmas because she had lost her sight in those last months

      I had the privilege of witnessing the loving friendships at the foot of her bed .The tears of a student nurse who came into the room to say goodbye to Stella as she completed her placement and a staff nurse after prayer with me said Stella was lady of great humility.

      I was with Stella (who was a bright star for our Lord ) hours before she passed peacefully I held her hand .I thank her for the light of love she had given me to conquer my fear of death .I heard myself given these words to pray “Bless all the dear children in thy tender care and fit us for heaven to live with thee there”

  4. Todd says:

    1. a) How has a vulnerable person become a messenger of the Gospel in your life?

    “By revealing to us that being is more important than doing, the heart is more important than the mind and community is more important than individual stardom, they are truly messengers of the Gospel and witnesses to the Lord who became poor for us.” -HN

    For 19 years, I have taught special education at a school designed for children with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. It has been a privilege to work with these wonderful young people, and in many ways I have been able to experience “being with the poor”- without really being aware of it.

    One experience stands out in light of the above quote. About 10 years ago we had a visitor touring the school. She came upon a young student- this boy had profound mental and physical disabilities and was confined to a wheelchair. The visitor become overwhelmed by the beauty of this child, and rocked him gently while sitting on the floor- repeating “thank you Jesus” over and over. She had met Jesus in the poor and vulnerable. It was astonishing for us staff in this secular public school. It is something I will always remember.

  5. charles says:

    letter to Brock Dec 27 1987 p161 Henri is in a time of emotional fatigue. he is mourning. Brock quotes a beautitude “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”Henri refelects that he should really meditate on these words . i did the same.experiencing darkness can be a gateway to finding God in the nothingness.trusting in him enough to live with him relationally unafraid and totally defenseless in his presence.sitting with him with this inner poverty is mourning.Maybe it comes down to our orientatation.When we mourn we find the courage to direct our desire towards God not away from God.With patience we are comforted by Grace leading to an increase in Faith, Hope, and Love. Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted.

  6. Nuala Doherty says:

    Michael, an autistic core member of a L’arche community in Canterbury (UK) became a messenger of the Gospel in my life. It was at his funeral service (he died from a heart attack aged about 50) where I realized the affect he had had on people’s lives and how much people loved him. Many gave testimonies of the gift he was to them. Michael couldn’t speak but was able to communicate a gentleness, a quiet presence and a loving acceptance of people. He would softly rub his nose on the back of your hand to show that he liked you and felt comfortable in your presence. A cloth, adorned with silver milk bottle tops, was draped over his coffin. He had a fascination for them. For me, they were a symbol of the “sparkle” that he brought to people’s lives just by being himself. He, like Adam, brought us to community and showed us the value of simply “being”.

  7. Marge says:

    I’m probably lagging behind in my reading, but this a.m. in Henri’s letter Bob, 5/19/88,
    I was intrigued by his comment, “the spiritual perils of psychological intimacy and the psychological perils of spiritual intimacy”. What does this mean, knowing that Henri is writing this during a “deep spiritual crisis”? Maybe understanding this better will grant me a new, inner strength that I feel is needed to serve on my church board in 2017. Can anyone explain this in simple terms, or is Henry doing that, and in reading on, will I get a glimpse into something being called forth? Deep calls to deep, yes? m

    • Beverly says:

      I loved the insight in your question. It made me go back and re-read the introduction to this section (p 117-120) and the letter to Bob. Re-reading the introduction made me realize Bob’s letter was written during the 7 month period that Henri was in Winnipeg. He was sent there for spiritual and psychological help after his intimate relationship with Nathan broke down (Christmas of ’97). He was in Winnepeg for 7 months, likely from Jan through June returning returning to L’Arche in July 1988. Its a guess but I believe his question to Bob came from this context. Surmising, since my own call has similar components to Henri, I know how it feels to think you’ve found home and then have that intimate dream shattered. Speaking for myself, balancing intimacy with Jesus with a deep love for people can become a tough tightrope. Often I fall off on one side or the other. So for me the spiritual perils of psychological intimacy is the danger of letting my love for people eclipse my love for God. And the psychological perils of spiritual intimacy is becoming so curved inward in my intimacy with God that I deny my need for others and become an island out of the fear of hurt, rejection or abandonment. It’s paradox, a sacred struggle that seems to be the journey of any pilgrim’s progress who is sincerely seeking home.

      • Nuala Doherty says:

        Thanks for your explanation. It has helped me to understand the phrase more. I too find it difficult at times to receive love from others. Good to know that we are not alone in our struggles.

      • Marge says:

        Thank you, Beverly…I was afraid to log on, afraid of being rejected for my questions….thank you for your validating, loving response that helps me understand…..thus, realizing my own suppression of questions are probably rooted in an authoritative orientation from childhood….yes, a tight rope…..m

        Naula…thank you, I am not alone with questions, and my need to understand, at least get a clearer glimpse of….m

        Ray….thank you for being vulnerable, like Henri, with your own experience…for anchoring this in the context of Dr. Wicks work and writings….and like Henri, you have offered me an ongoing read…..I am familiar with writings of the authors you mention at the end of your response…Lisa Cataldo is not one I have read, but I will check out.

        Thank you all so much…in reading ahead in Henri’s letter to Sue 7/25/88, Henri writes, “God’s little people”, that so describes me. Also Henri writes of his deep sense of uselessness…but maybe ” that is the kind of soil God needs to sow His seed”….for me, a softened heart……like springs rains soften the soil for planting, thus my heart needs that softening for the good Seed to grow…may it be so….m

    • Ray Glennon says:

      Thanks to Marge for the probing question and to Beverly for her thoughtful response. Both were very helpful to me.

      As Gabrielle noted in her introduction, Henri was a trained psychologist, a pastor, and a pilgrim like us. I reread the letter to Bob and it seems to me that Henri is expressing genuine interest in the ongoing work of his friend at this difficult time in Henri’s journey. This is particularly relevant since today Dr. Robert J. Wicks is Professor Emeritus at Loyola University in Maryland. Dr. Wicks’ major area of expertise is the prevention of secondary stress which encompasses the pressures encountered in reaching out to others. He integrates sound psychology and basic spiritual truths to set the stage for profound personal transformation. It is from this perspective that Wicks was writing about the psychological perils of spiritual intimacy that Henri was eager to learn about, especially at that transformative time.

      Regarding Beverly’s comment, I continue to struggle with the perils of intimacy, both psychological and spiritual. It is the residual effect of a dysfunctional childhood where parental love and care was missing from our home due to mental illness and alcoholism. As the oldest of five sons, I learned to count on and look out for myself and not to depend on my parents as most children did. I was blessed to belong a wonderful Catholic parish that became my home away from home, however, even there I didn’t share my innermost thoughts and feelings out of fear of rejection. Said more succinctly, I spent a lot of time in the house of fear and not so much in the house of love. So while God has always been present and important in my life, the personal relationship with Jesus remains a work in progress for me. Henri’s words in this letter to Bob that are cited the post above speak to me: “…I realize that God want all of my heart, not simply a part of it…” I continue to gain great comfort from Henri’s seminal insight that like Jesus, we are the beloved sons and daughters of the father. It is that assurance that I hold onto as I strive to open my heart and mind to the Lord and to trust him in all things as I continue my journey from the house of fear to the house of love. For me it’s a daily struggle, but one I take up willingly, if not always joyfully. Thanks to both of you for prompting this reflection.

      A brief aside: Robert J. Wicks (the Bob in Henri’s letter) is the General Editor of a new book Prayer in the Catholic Tradition–an Handbook of Practical Approaches that was recently published by Franciscan Media. It is large compendium (45 chapters, over 600 pages) with articles by experts in the many types of Catholic/Christian prayer. Contributors include Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, Fr. James Martin, SJ, Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM and many others. It includes a chapter Praying with Henri Nouwen–a Journey toward Home by Lisa Cataldo from Fordham University. It is an excellent reference book and I plan to savor its richness in 2017.

      Blessings, Ray

      • Nuala Doherty says:

        I too need to hold onto that assurance that I am a beloved daughter of the Father. My problem stems from lack of affection as a child!! It seems that many of us are “wounded healers”.

    • Nuala Doherty says:

      I too was struggling with the same phrase in Henri’s letter to Bob. It’s great to have companions on the journey to help us.

  8. Beverly says:

    Henri’s letter to Connie (p 149) made me think of words of the writer in Hebrews: “The Son (Jesus) is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being sustaining all things by his powerful word.” That’s a wow. Jesus is more than a great teacher, but God very God. Last spring when I struggled with my decision to leave Boston and return to Louisville, I spent several days with the Sisters of Notre Dame. Sister Mary became my mentor and we speak now on the phone once a month. Her words to me like Henri’s are “Behold Jesus and hold your gaze. Behold him beholding you.” That phrase has held me strong and steady in deeply troubling times.

    • Nancy H says:

      Thank you, Beverly, for sharing the words of Sister Mary. I have a “Minute Book” (a suggestion of Fr. Thomas Keating) in which I add quotations that touch my heart. This small notebook goes with me when I travel, in the car to open when I’m at a red light or some other place when I have a few minutes to let one of the thoughts light my life. Now I’m adding Sister Mary’s words to my Minute Book. YOU light my life today and I am grateful.

  9. Susan DeLong says:

    The words “try to take little steps in the direction of your inner call,” written in the letter to Ed 7/13/1988, stood out for me in this section. They reminded me of a collage I made several years ago, which includes a picture of a woman walking in the snow. Above her are the words: “Making everyday extraordinary” and in front of her “small steps.”
    Small steps are different for each of us. Henri lists a few that he considers little steps, but for me, small steps are like the Stepping Stones to Adoration that Richard Foster describes in his book, “Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home.” Foster says gratitude needs to be learned. He says we learn about the goodness of God by watching little creatures like a butterfly or a bird or a squirrel. In November, I sat by my window and watched the sunlight reflect on the droplets of water hanging on the bare branches of our maple tree, today I watched a red headed woodpecker with its feathers fluffed up against the cold, and tonight I gazed out my window at the full moon. As I watch, I’m quiet inside and so thankful for the beauty God has created in all God has made.
    Now as a retired person, my inner call is to be present to the people who come into my day. I’m generally not in a hurry, so I take my cue from others. My goal is to listen attentively to the person in front of me rather than on checking off the things on my to-do list. Sometimes I’m more attentive than others but when I fail, I can always try again. God knows my heart and my intention.
    And when no one’s around I can be attentive to the beauty of my surroundings and the little creatures who come to visit. At the end of the day, I can recall and savour it all and say thank you, Lord.

  10. Beverly says:

    I was struck with Henri’s letter to Paul Walsh (p 148). Increasingly throughout my life the mentally handicapped have been a gift to me. Interning at Westborough State Hospital I worked on the 3rd floor with the severly mentally ill and criminally dangerous. I was afraid at first. But we did a group together and read the Psalms. And at that spiritual intersection I knew that we were all one. All created in the image of God and thereby due dignity, honor and respect. Reflecting on this with my Clinical Pastoral Education Group (almost 20 years ago) it struck me that these men and women were no different than I was. Any one of us could be on the opposite side of the table: a client rather than clergy, or in the vocabulary of the day a consumer rather than a provider. Some balked at that. But gratefully my supervisor, a Jewish psychologist agreed. I knew in my heart of hearts that given similar conditions growing up, not having resources, or simple genetics could potentially put me in the place of any one of these men or women.

    Sitting in a Summit yesterday with legislators and movers/shakers to strategize how we could help the needy presented a sharp contrast to Westborough State. There were no personal stories. Instead political gladhanding. There was no talk of compassion. It was about political spin to gain media attention. There was no building relationships and recognizing our solidarity, but cheerleading attendees into committing to give their gifts.

    How very different Westborough State and Henri’s letter to Paul Walsh was. Because of the incarnational ministry that Henri lived the net result in relationships with people was so very different. His view of “being” rather than “doing,” that the “heart” rather than our resources is “the core of our being,” and that “community is more than individual stardom” is the posture that I want to choose regardless of the stature of the person I’m sitting next to. Lord, hear my prayer. Have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.

  11. Elaine M says:

    While I do offer workshops to youth about the poor and vulnerable and have led direct service projects, I am inspired and awed by those who devote their lives to the care of the most vulnerable. As a teacher of profoundly handicapped children, my daughter has spent every day of her eighteen-year career teaching elementary school-age children who may not be able to speak, walk, or feed themselves. Crass people have told me that public school programs for such children are “a waste of tax dollars” since these children will never “give back” to society as “productive, tax-paying citizens” themselves. Yet I have seen the joy on the faces of these children when they have mastered (well, not really “mastered”) the fine art of crossing the room in their walker or when they hear their favorite song or when they snuggle with their teacher. Their parents are my heroes too because they face the prospect of caring for their children every day of their lives with courage, resilience, and often humor. I have seen these parents dance with their kids at fundraising events, the surrender to the music a testimony to their embrace of whatever simple joys they can find in life. What it must take to face the heartbreak, the frustration of scrambling for funds and support service, and the fear that the next seizure may bring the child’s last day on earth.

    • Susan DeLong says:

      You might like to read “The Power of the Powerless” (1988)by Christopher de Vinck, who was a friend of Henri’s and Fred Roger’s. Henri wrote an eloquent Forward to his book and Fred the Afterword. The book is centered on an article Christopher wrote in the 1980s about his severely handicapped brother, Oliver.

      Henri writes: “Chris had no great questions, problems, or plans. He just came to tell us how beautiful life is, in case we had forgotten. He was so light, sunny, open, uncomplicated, and in love that it seemed as if he came from another world.”

      Like you, Elaine, I worked with many disadvantaged adults for decades, and I have a daughter who worked with terminally ill children for 15 years. The gift my daughter was given and that I was given, was the gift of working with people who were present to the joy of the moment when it appeared. Small things like an encouraging word, a smile, or a gentle touch were noticed and received.

      Thank you for bringing de Vinck’s story to mind and with it, Henri’s Introduction. It’s time for me to read this inspiring book.

  12. From last week’s reading, I want to share with all of you but before I do. May I ask for your prayers? Today I will spend a good portion of my day at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, FL where 6 months ago today 49 beloved people died at the hand of a terrorist and 53 were wounded physically, and so many more left wounded in their spirits. I am going with a team of people who will be a presence, a comfort, to silently pray, to give hugs, light candles and to remember those who are gone and to be with those who are left. Thanks in advance for your prayers: May Jesus be present in us who are there as ministers of Life.
    These letters are touching me in very deep places. It feels really vulnerable to write today, but I believe that I need to share. So thank you for the safe space here on this Advent Discussion group.
    “Jesus’ invitation to “lay down my life for others” has always meant more to me than any physical martyrdom. (to quote from Alexander Hamilton, “dying is easy, living is harder”) I have always heard these words as an invitation to make my own life struggles, my doubts, my hopes, my fears, and my joys, my pains, and my moments of ecstasy available to others as a source of consolation and healing. To witness for Christ means to me to witness for Him with what I have seen with my own eyes, heard with my own ears and touched with my own hands.” . . .
    “I have always felt that the center of our faith is not that God came to take our pains away, but that He came to share them and I have always tried to manifest this divine solidarity by trying to be as present to people in their struggle as possible. It is most important to be with people where joy and pain are experienced and to have them become aware of God’s unlimited love in the mist of our limited abilities to help each other.” Page 72
    Just days after Thanksgiving my dear sister in Christ and I shared an experience of going into the Holy of Holies, being in God’s presence and tasting the fear of the LORD in her home, the house of Love. I spent a good part of the time on my knees. The Holy Spirit was meeting me with fire to burn off what had been weighing me down. My dear friend and sister never left my side, never stopped praying either silently or out loud. I image that there were angels, warring angels all around, though I did not see or hear them, however, the Words that my sister spoke to me, were straight from the WORD and in the midst of them I knew that we were in the presence of the Holy One, The LORD had his way with me, I could no longer wrestle with God, like Jacob I needed to surrender. And now today, I need to continue a daily surrender of my will to His, there is still a bit of holding on to certain thoughts and feelings but I must let go. There are deaths to die in order for Resurrection Life to emerge.

    • Joni says:

      Catherine, may your day be blessed and may you feel the Presence of God that you expereinced so uniquely after Thanksgiving, still burning within you as you minister today.

      Your letter is a special blessing to me this morning as I too am trying to “stand with” a special friend going through a heart wrenching custody battle. To “be” with people, exactly where they are, whether it is a time of joy, sorrow or waiting…this is Jesus’ eternal gift to each of us, this is the Sacrament of Presence that Henri lived and wrote so eloquently about…this is the gift I pray for each of us this day. Amen

  13. Ray Glennon says:

    From Jack Sandberg (Copied from Dec 4-10 post)

    My favorite prayer of gratitude: Just before the start of the Eucharistic prayer: “let us give thanks … it is right and just” and then “It is truly right and just, proper and helpful for our salvation, that we always and everywhere give thanks …”. That always and everywhere covers a lot of ground including, as Henri keeps reminding me, joys and pains.
    One big take-away from these letters: while being there for someone by listening is important, being there means unguardedly sharing my own joys and pains and moments of ecstasy.
    Regarding the letter to Senator Hatfield: I remember how strongly Yuri Zhivago reacted when his brother told him (lied to him) his opinion of his poetry. Maybe a poet is the best example of someone with an inner vision being driven to share it in spite of what others may think. I need to trust my inner vision. On what basis can I trust that my inner vision — my conscience — is well formed. Henri’s answer is to remain centered on Christ, on the Eucharist. I’ve been trying to understand what that means for me.
    My high point in the readings this week: The letter to James (10/30/85) included Henri’s lament about the difficulties of speaking the full truth … communicating the mystery of God’s presence … of knowing God. This is such a powerful bit of Love from Henri, as he is admitting to his weakness as a pastor.


  14. Jerry says:

    “America is such a world in need of Jesus”.

    I found myself giving thanks in prayer for all of my material blessings. I was struck with the thought that we have unique stresses as Americans, or those of us in the “First World”. “First World”-what an ethnocentric term, by the way! It implies the “we” are “first”, and probably the best, the standard.

    I think that we find a tremendous pressure to perform, and to perform well. We need to be physically fit, young looking, our finances tidy, our expensive iPhones charged and our dreams all coming true…and yet there is an emptiness. We are frenzied and distracted, and can’t find a place to pray. Even I think that I’m not swept up in the culture, but you know, I am. You probably are, too. I don’t wish to negate our wealth and opportunities, but I wonder if some of our “poorer” brothers and sisters in other places are actually much richer than us. Less worries can mean a more open heart to receiving God’s greatest gifts. As my minister said today in his sermon about gifts, “Money is actually the cheapest gift we can give”.

  15. Elaine M says:

    I must share a quote that really resonated. This is in regard to Henri’s reference to the painting of the suffering Christ, offered to comfort those suffering during a time of pestilence (p. 126-127). Henri says, “People are looking for strength to live their hard life faithfully….They often find more consolation in knowing that God is with them in the struggle…than in the knowledge that finally life will prove stronger than death….There we come to understand fully what it means that God is compassionate, that God is a God who suffers with us.” Somehow Henri’s phrasing speaks to me more powerfully than the elementary school sisters who told us to “just offer it up and don’t complain” or that “Jesus had to die because we are so sinful.” I am sure the good sisters were well-intentioned, but such phrases just made little me feel guilty and weak, so unworthy in God’s eyes. Henri’s emphasis evokes the transformative power of God’s love and His community with us (compassion=to suffer with), “the solidarity of the Son of God with all human suffering.”

    This afternoon on NPR’s TED Radio Hour, Krista Tippett, the winner of the National Humanities Medal, shared some wisdom on compassion that reminded me of the quotation from Henri. She views our human problems as “probably our richest sources for rising to this ultimate virtue of compassion – towards bringing compassion towards the suffering and joys of others.” She says that Einstein became a humanitarian “not because of his exquisite knowledge of space and time and matter but because he was a Jew as Germany grew fascist.” He understood the power of “suffering with.” Tippett suggests that we might view compassion, which she feels is a skill and mindset that we can develop with persistent practice, as a “spiritual technology” that can connect us in a powerful way and “set before us the terrifying and wondrous possibility of actually becoming one human race.” And isn’t this a goal that Henri set for himself, his correspondents, and all of us who are reading his words today?

    • Beverly says:

      Elaine, Your share struck a deep cord. I love Tippet’s connection of suffering and compassion with coupling it with a spiritual practice.

    • Ray Glennon says:

      Thank you for sharing Krista Tippett’s thoughts on compassion. It seems to me that Tippett’s view of compassion can be found in the words of Jesus: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) and “…as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matt 25:40). And just prior to his arrest Jesus prayed, “I do not pray for these (i.e, the Apostle’s) only, but also those who believe in me through their word (i.e., all humanity), that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you…” (John 17:21-22a). Certainly, the life work of Henri Nouwen guides us on our journey that we may all be one with each other and the Lord.

    • Nancy H says:

      Krista Tippett has recently written a wonderful book rooted in her “conversations” with many people called “Becoming Wise.” I recently took part in a 4 session discussion of the book and highly recommend it.

  16. Don says:

    I have continued to enjoy and appreciate the comments posted in the discussion. I appreciate the wise pastoral counsel found in Henri’s letters. There is much to encourage reflection, prayer and meditation. As I’ve read, I’ve wished I could also correspond with him. So I wrote the following letter:

    Dear Henri,
    Thanks for your letter. It is really good to hear from you. I appreciate your openness, your vulnerability, and your kind, accepting, pastoral counsel. I need to hear your frequent encouragement to prayer, to spending time in silence and solitude in the presence of Jesus, to love God first with all my heart, mind and soul and then to love my neighbor generously. Thanks for encouraging me do all I can to help others know how deeply they are loved by God. I want to do that.

    You have been honest to tell me that you have often spent time in the “desert” on your spiritual journey. Yet, you seem to quite easily suggest to me and to others that we can enter into and live in the “mystical” experience of Jesus in some “intimate” way. While I understand the importance of trusting our lives to Jesus, daring to believe in the reality of his life, death and resurrection, it seems unlikely that some of us will ever “experience” Jesus in some mystical kind of way. Some do. You apparently did. I am very happy for all who can. However, to suggest or imply that we all can—in the face of our years of seeking, over and over, just such an “experience,” seems to induce in us some of the guilt and shame and spiritual inadequacy that you otherwise have worked so hard to help people overcome. Is it not possible to live faithfully as a follower of Jesus, to seek to be loving and obedient, relying on his grace and strength—yet not be able to speak honestly and authentically about this walk of faith in intimate relational categories?

    Just wondering about these things as I read with great appreciation your letters. I suspect you’ve written in response to the question I have attempted to raise in one of your many life-giving books. I need to re-read some of them.

    Thanks for your faithfulness in the Spirit. Your legacy lives on in the Church.

    Warm regards,

    • Jerry says:

      cool idea!

    • Ray Glennon says:

      Thank you for your beautiful and honest letter to Henri. I can affirm that your comment, “it seems unlikely that some of us will ever ‘experience’ Jesus in some mystical kind of way,” spoke directly to my personal faith journey. Like you, I truly believe in the reality of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and I know that my savior lives and is active in the world today. And I can look back in my life and see the many times when Jesus, through his Holy Spirit, has helped me on my journey. Having said that, I have not directly experienced hearing the voice of God (aloud or silently in my heart) or received a prophetic vision, or similar mystical experience. (Note: As a member of a Catholic charismatic community I know many people who have had such experiences.) I have come to realize that the Lord speaks to me in the voice of others and, more frequently, through my reading. In honesty, I’m not a great conversationalist with other people, so it’s not surprising that I’m not a great conversationalist with Jesus. But I know He is there and I know that, like Jesus, I am God’s beloved.

      While I pray each morning and frequently lift my heart to God during the day, I still lack the spiritual discipline that Henri encourages in many of his letters. It is my firm desire (and, I hope, commitment) to use this Advent discussion as the catalyst to establish the needed spiritual discipline. I’m confident that if I do so I will continue to be drawn closer to Jesus and, perhaps, into a more mystical spiritual life.


  17. Pat H says:

    I once volunteered at a home for abandoned and abused children. There was an eight year old boy there who had been locked in a cage for years by his former caregivers. He was severely malnourished, unable to speak and could not straighten his limbs. My job was to gently touch him – touch his face and stoke his arms and legs. When I did this, tears would flow from his eyes and he would make noises and would try to smile. He was deeply moved by just being touched. This was at a time in my life when I was going through a divorce and had taken a year off from a very demanding career in order to “find myself”. His response to my touch comforted me and assuaged my feelings of loneliness. Gradually he began to straighten his limbs. So two wounded people were being healed by a loving touch. So he was my “messenger of the Gospel”.

    Who is defined as ‘vulnerable’ in society? There has been increasing gang violence where I live in the Caribbean. When a teenage boy tells you he does not expect to live beyond the age of 23 years – that’s vulnerable. Earlier this year, the community I belong to launched a Nonviolence Project in response to the increasing violence in society. The project is geared to making individuals and families more conscious of their own violent tendencies and educating them on the principles of nonviolence. We also pledged to live nonviolent lives. This has been quite challenging and intense spiritual journey. However, we do not go to ‘gang related neighborhoods’. Besides the fear for our personal safety, we also do not think we have the knowhow to help the people in the area as there are many issues and solutions seem very complex.

    But just yesterday I encountered someone whose community is actually working in a ‘gang related neighborhood’. She spoke of dialoguing with the residents, taking time to know them, worshipping with them, developing relationships and discovering their skills, talents, dreams and needs. Her community also has members who chose to reside in the neighborhood. She invited me to visit with her and ‘come and see for myself’ , which is an invitation I intend to accept in the coming year.

  18. John says:

    Dear Friends,
    Thank you all for your thoughts & prayers as we form this online community. The letters in this section are so thought provoking, it’s difficult to select one. Perhaps meditating on a different suggested one every day will be “little steps in the direction of my inner call” and “never let my life go flat”. As I read this letter to Ed (7/13/88), I am realizing that my life is flat. So much of life’s time is wasted, yet I find it so difficult to pray. You’d think just turning a small amount of wasted time into prayer time would be easy. Time to re-focus. I find solace in Henri’s letter to Sue Mosteller (7/25/88): “Well, no wishes, but much hope, no big plans, but trust, no great desires, but much love, no knowledge of the future, but a lot of empty space for God to walk in!” “maybe that is the kind of soil God needs to sow his seed!” It amazing to me how some of these letters are connected and reading them with a prayerful spirit can give encouragement. Thanks for listening. May the Lord bless all your souls.

  19. Ray Glennon says:

    From Nancy H
    Tonight I am grateful for a dear friend who had successful cancer surgery on Thursday. This beautiful, sensitive man accompanied his wife on her journey to death from brain cancer a little over two years ago…and now found himself with cancer. We shared lunch, conversation, prayer and even laughter at my convent home on Tuesday preceding his surgery and he told me he missed his wife’s “calming” presence. How could he not? But as he left he thanked me for listening to his memories. So I am grateful for God in his heart, Gods healing presence.

    This week also our mayor issued a proclamation kicking off an Embracing Muslim Neighbors Initiative with an event at the Columbia SC city hall chambers. We participants were encouraged to come an hour ahead to get acquainted with each other and during the event a Jewish rabbi, a Muslim imman and a Christian woman minister each read three quotes from their “holy book.” This wonderful evening culminated with dinner in the Mediterranean restaurant across the street owned by a Muslim who hosted us all at no charge – and our meal tickets were coded with colored dots so we sat at assigned tables and continues to make new friends. I am so proud of Columbia SC and grateful for the interfaith and intercultural inclusivity that is present.

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