Advent Week 1: Nov 26th to Dec 2nd 2017

Reading:  Letters starting with the letter addressed to Jeff on July 13, 1988 (page 176 in book) through to the end of Part II.

Welcome to our first week of readings!  The letters we are reading this week cover a short but important period in Henri’s life from mid-1988 until December 1989.  To better understand this time in Henri’s life, read the introduction to Part II beginning on page 117.  The first letters we read this week are from mid-1988 as Henri is returning to Daybreak following seven months of intensive therapy at a retreat center in Winnipeg for clergy needing spiritual and psychological help. Henri shares with friends the personal and spiritual difficulties he faces as he returns to Daybreak.  Fortunately, he also shares some of the deep spiritual truths he has been learning through this time.

1. In a letter to Jurjen dated September 5, 1989 (p 225) Henri explores the practical application of the first and second commandments.  Henri reminds us that “Jesus calls us to… love without wanting anything in return.”  Henri also refers to the great Saints in history “who were so passionately in love with God that they were completely free to love other people in a deep, affective way without strings attached.”
a) How does one cultivate this type of love?
b) How is this different than the meaning of “love” commonly understood and practiced in our society?

2. If the concept of love highlighted above seems daunting, refer to Henri’s letter to Brian of February 6, 1989 (p 199).  Brian admits he feels incapable of loving people for who they are, rather than for what they bring him.
a) How do you understand Henri’s caution and encouragement to Brian in this letter?

3. Many of the people we are called to love are members of our church community.  In a letter to Rose dated March 12, 1989, Henri encourages us to continue to build the church despite obvious criticisms.  Additionally, in a letter to Seth dated September 26 1989 Henri affirms the church “will never cease to be also the way to God.”
a) If you’ve been struggling in relation to the church, what stands out to you from these to letters?

4. In love/relationships there is so often a struggle for power.  In a letter written to Ed dated June 23, 1989 (p 219) Henri distinguishes between a power that come from God’s love flowing through us,verses a power that relates to our own need for affirmation and success.
a) How are you currently experiencing power in your closest relationships?
b) Henri reminds us that in order for the power in our life/relationships to come from God, we must be deeply rooted in Him. As you consider this letter and many others in this week’s reading, what is Henri’s advice to us as to how to develop deep roots in the Father?

5. In a letter to Annice date October 31, 1988 (p194), Henri clarifies what he means by the concept of the Wounded Healer.
a) Based on these letters, how do you understand Henri’s concept of the Wounded Healer?
b) How does it apply in your own life?

As always, these questions are meant to get our discussion going, but please do not feel bound to them in any way.  You are welcome to share whatever comes up for you in the readings.


Ray and Brynn

19 Replies to “Advent Week 1: Nov 26th to Dec 2nd 2017”

  1. Henri then describes to Sue and to us how he intends to confront his beast: “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!”
    The hope Henri expresses seems to be an effective way to tear away at he masks of egocentric self. Such beasts we all have struggles with. For me to be open with trust, having no great desires, happens only when I connect in prayer with the Divine energy to propel me forward. Every day many little, ordinary challenges can become beasty when I forget Who directs me, and rely on my own feeble resources.
    Being patient on the check-out line, or at the Post Office could release my beast from its cage! Making time to pause throughout my day, recalling the Presence of the Good Shepherd leading me, is a practice I hope to fine tune.

  2. A quick note before moving onto Week 2! I am enjoying the letters very much. The timing jibes with Henri’s book, Journey to Daybreak, which is my favorite, so the letters are an interesting epilogue to that reading. Two things strike me as I read. First, (as others have mentioned) is Henri’s care and time given to others who are hurting or seeking in the midst of his own pain and depression (and physical recovery)! It is remarkable! Second, Henri’s love and devotion to the Church is very edifying to me as a Catholic Christian. Even with Henri’s internal “demons”, he remains faithful and resolute to Christ, His Church, and his priestly vows. I admire this so much in Henri and draw strength from his example and words. Have a blessed week, everyone!

  3. I just finished reading our first week letters while at the same time studying a chapter in the Bible’s Book of Romans. The Holy Spirit has revealed to me that the never changing Love of God can be found in both the written words in Romans and in the words of Henri’s letters . Henri’s words speak to me today like the words in the Bible which were written so many years ago. We can learn so much about our earthly and spiritual journeys from those who have gone before us. I am asking God to take me deeper in my reflection of Henri’s words as I enter into my 2017 Advent spiritual journey here on earth.

  4. While reading this book I am also in a group of men reading VERY slowly the book Henri references on page 180–Letters to Marc, a book he wrote to introduce his agnostic nephew Marc to ‘meet Jesus’. This one sentence says so much of Fr Henri’s first love—The personal relationship with Jesus is the core of the spiritual life, the way to a life of uninterrupted communion with the Divine Life of Father, Son and Spirit. It is so sad to see so much human suffering coming from broken relationships and so little experience of the healing love of God.’

    I love that Fr Henri stayed connected to Jesus as his ultimate Source of spirituality. Inspires me to learn from many wonderful traditions/spiritualities, but to stay faithful to a Christ centred devotion.

  5. Thanks to all for the wonderful reflections on Saturday. My apologies for the delay in getting them posted. My wife and I are having my children and grandchildren over for a late Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow and we have been preparing.

    It is a joy to share this Advent journey with all of you, those that have posted comments and those following along silently. All are welcome here.

    With Advent starting tomorrow, today is the last day of the church liturgical year. At Mass today the priest’s homily noted that in the first reading the prophet Daniel is terrified by the fourth beast. Yet, in the end, the Most High triumphs–a vision of the triumph of Jesus through his cross and resurrection. And in the Gospel Jesus cautions us to “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from… the anxieties of daily life.” And the priest suggested that for many of us (certainly for me), the anxieties of daily life are the terrifying fourth beast in our lives. And how do we confront those challenges? By trusting in Jesus.

    As Henri nearing the end of his retreat he is confronting his own anxieties as he writes in his letter to Sue Mosteller (July 25, 1988): “The week after Daybreak (Henri returned for a short visit) was a very hard week interiorly. I do not know yet what it all means. Most of all God… won’t give me any consolation based on the ‘old ways.'” And Henri then describes to Sue and to us how he intends to confront his beast: “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!”

    May the Lord give you peace.

  6. agape love selfless, sacrificial, and unconditional is what we strive for. Nouwen cautions us to have compassion for ourselves when we come up short. the spiritual truth is we must allow ourselves to receive his abundant Mercy . Nouwen says this gives us the ability to accept our own imperfections and allow us to be cared for by Jesus mercy and Love . present our wounds to Jesus and let his agape love heal so we can approach the second commandment as he wants us too.As Nouwen says the power that comes from our deep connectedness with God is life giving and healing. Those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the spirit desires. Romans 8:5

  7. In his letter to Jurjen, Henri stressed the importance of the order of the two great commandments that Jesus taught us, the first being to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul; and the second to love our neighbor as ourselves. He wrote, “As soon as the first commandment is no longer truly the first our society moves to the edge of self-destruction.” On the surface this sounded like something of an exaggeration to prove his point to his friend. Yet, nearly 30 years after Henri wrote that bold statement, the truth of it jumps out at me. Lately, it feels as if we as a society are moving closer to the edge of self-destruction. I consider what a difference it would make within our troubled world, if we all took the first and second commandments to heart. I consider what a difference it would make in my own life to own life if I truly lived from a place of loving God first.

  8. Waking up early and reading this book has become the favorite part of my day. This past year i intentionally have set my alarm earlier so i could getup and have some quiet time before leaving for work. But the mornings up until this week have been filled with less spiritual readings – not my initial intention. I am so grateful to be getting on track with starting my day with life giving truths! I look forward to this quiet contemplative time.
    An obstacle for me is having people in my world that i can share with – but i think often it is myself that gets in the way. For example right now – i overthink what i want to say and am probably overcautious in my sharing. I am so taken with Henri’s chronic honesty and faithfulness.
    I really connect with the wounded healer and the importance of doing my personal work – going into my own valley and finding light. Honestly attending to my own wounds takes a huge amount of courage and faith. It can be an easy distraction to focus on my husband’s (example) wounds – but this i know now only causes more harm. Grant me the courage and faith to tend to my wounds… to be open to God’s first love.

  9. I want to thank all of you for your comments. They were all helpful as I read the letters written by Henri. I am amazed how he was able to correspond with so many people.

    I have to say that one of his books that was helpful to me was Wounded Healer because I was going through some difficulties myself. Henri was so transparent with his own woundedness because he knew that God was with him in it. He recognized his own needs and wounds and surrendered to God’s love and healing so that his open wounds did not inflict wounds on others or create needs on others, although at times his neediness pushed other people away which caused him intense pain. The more I come to know myself and the more I come to know God’s healing love which is beyond human love, I am more accepting of myself in my woundedness and more accepting of others in their woundedness. As I became more healed myself, I could use the wisdom I gained in my own dark night to help others in theirs. I agree with his response to Annice, he was talking about how we can be wounded healers only as we recognize our own needs and attend to our own wounds so that healing can take place within ourselves. We too can become wounded healers as God heals others through us.

  10. Like Ray, I noticed Henri encouraging many people to pray daily and to spend time being attentive to God’s presence. This past month as I’ve worked with other family members planning my mother’s funeral, I was often inclined to work at top speed and to get many tasks done and details seen to. Sometimes it was hard to rest and it was easy to be too busy to pray. That’s when Henri’s words drew me back to taking time to allow space for more than quick prayers.
    Taking time to pray with scripture and to sit silently in prayer keeps me centred and nourished. As soon as I return to my prayer practices, I feel my heart opening and enlarging. I know God is in me and with me.
    Reading Henri’s letters in this section has been an encouragement to me this week.

  11. Hello All!

    Thank you to those who have shared thus far. I also know there are many people tracking with us who have not yet shared. Thank you for being there too!

    I appreciated the letter to Annice referred to in the last question above. I don’t think Annice is the only one to have misunderstood Henri’s concept of the Wounded Healer. He does not suggest we minister to others out of our wounds, but rather that we attend to our wounds (primarily by drawing deeper into God’s healing love) and share honestly with others of our journey, that it might be an encouragement to others.

    I think about this, and to try to understand the difference. It will be interesting to see if we note any change in the way Henri ministers to people through his letters in the final part of this book…which represent a time in his life when he was experiencing more “inner rest.”

    Looking forward to hearing from others over the next few days. Again, please feel free to share whatever came up for you from the reading. It doesn’t have to be long or profound!



  12. Friends,
    Let me begin by emphasizing the concluding sentence in the post, “You are welcome to share whatever comes up for you in the readings.” While the questions may help prompt a discussion, we are most interested in hearing whatever touched your heart from the readings this week. For me, it was a rich and thought provoking week.

    One major theme was Henri’s emphasis on the need for daily prayer. In fact, I went back the final letter from our discussion last Advent (to Ed, p. 175) where Henri wrote, “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…) Always know that God is calling you to ever greater things.” Henri is concluding an intensive seven month retreat. Daily prayer has been a key aspect of his spiritual and emotional healing in a deeper way than before. Henri shares that with many of his correspondents, and in this book with us as well–and me in particular.

    In his letter to Ann (Sept 23, 1988): “I would very much like to recommend ghat you try to spend at least one hour a day in contemplative prayer during which you can pour out your wounded heart to God and let Jesus really touch you with his healing love.”

    Writing to Cynthia (July 11, 1989): “One very concrete suggestion I have is to spend every morning a half-hour simply speaking in your heart a sacred text, e.g. Psalm 23, Psalm, 131… the prayer of St. Francis… or other passages that speak to you. Let these sacred words enter deeply into your consciousness and try to live from that place during the day.” In a letter to Walt the same day: I reallyt believe that it is possible for you to develop a simple life of prayer that can give you that “holy indifference.” By that I mean the place where you feel so truly safe… I have personally found much help in spending each day a little time just repeating in my mind a sacred text such as the prayer of St. Francis…”

    In his letter to Cindy and Jim (August 4, 1988) Henri simply and powerfully points to the central reality of our existence and our calling: “The personal relationship with Jesus is the core of the spiritual life, the way to an uninterrupted communion with the Divine life of Father, Son, and Spirit.” And he gently reminds us in his letters, and by his life, that a commitment to daily prayer is key to developing that all important personal relationship.

    May the Lord give you peace.

  13. There are so many directions that our discussion could go. A couple of observations:

    As I read Henri’s letters, I really noticed the word “really” cropping up often. ie. “I really appreciated the article….” I haven’t read enough of Henri’s books to know if this is a word he overused, but as I thought about it, I decided I liked it. There is an intentionality behind this word that makes me trust that Henri is being present with each person he writes to. There are other words and phrases he uses which convey this same attention, and perhaps this is one reason that his letters have been treasured. Perhaps it also carries some authority that might be expected from a spiritual director. The advice he gives various friends is important for us, also.

    One letter that I paid particular attention to was the letter to Walt on page 210. I appreciated the tone of hope towards the end: “Somehow we have to keep choosing very consciously to live towards the light….” During this dark, rainy month in the northern hemisphere I often struggle with mild S.A.D. (depression). My energy level goes down, along with my creativity and general disposition. I hope to consciously live towards the light. I look forward to reading other thoughts from this community.

  14. I am taken with Henri’s letter to Jurgen. His thesis that reversing the first commandment to love our neighbor first before God would “end up in chaos.” Like Henri with Nathan, I’ve experienced that. When my husband left 17 years ago, my twin daughters and me circled the wagons. Our little family triad became too tight. That dynamic caused me to rely too much on my daughters’ emotional support, to the point of eclipsing my reliance on God. To Henri’s point “here is the source of much of the suffering in contemporary society: We have such a need for love that we often expect from our fellow human beings something that only God can give” (p 226).

    The relational pain of that distorted dynamic, continually calls me back to true center: To love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind…and your neighbor (in my case daughters) as yourself.” To do otherwise is a form of idolatry toward the Lord and an impossible demand on my daughters. This reversal of the commandment has all kinds of strings attached in the form of expectations that always end in hurt and disappointment.

    But the question of loving God “with the whole heart, soul and mind.” How do I do that? It’s easier to love someone seen that has flesh on. I want God to be my First Love and to find my needs met in Him. But it’s hard. I don’t know how. “Lord God, hear my prayer and give me grace to seek you. May I see you seeing me and experience your lavish love in such a way that loving you back becomes a reflexive movement of my heart.” Amen.

    1. Beverly,
      I, too, was deeply touched by the letter to Jurjen. This is so rich it could be the basis of a weeks discussion by itself.

      I was particularly struck by Henri’s recognition that “…the closer I come to the poor and broken people of the world, the greater my desire is to speak directly about God… Somehow these people are calling me to be more and more God-centered and seem to ask me less to help them solve their problems than to reveal to them God’s immense and intimate love for them.” And I asked myself, why is this so? I think it may be that the poor understand, in a way most of us do not, that need to trust in God for all things. Consequently, they ask Henri, and each of us, to reveal to them the God in whom they trust. Similarly, Jesus said “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” (Luke 18:17). And how does a child accept the kingdom, or parental love? With complete trust. What does it mean to “speak directly about God”? Perhaps it’s as simple as telling others why we trust in God. And for Henri, the reason to trust in God is because, like Jesus, we are Beloved.

      Peace and all good.

      1. Ray,

        Thank you for this response. You’ve offered some deep thoughts here. Reflecting on what you’ve said, I think too, the poor and broken accept their situation in ways that we who have resources don’t. ‘It is what it is’ and to your point, they aren’t looking for answers but God’s love…to see some shards of goodness and grace reminding them that God is real and holds them in His heart. If I’m honest, I’m one of the ‘poor and needy.’ And to your point some of the problems don’t have a solution. So trying to fix, manage and control or expecting others to fill that won’t work. Trust…a faith that holds God’s hand no matter what… offers hope.

  15. From Monica Edgar
    Hi, I’m Monica Edgar. My husband, Carl, and I have two kiddos, Fiona (9) and Will (6). I live in Helena, Montana and work full time as an Intake Specialist for Medicaid Transportation at Mountain-Pacific Quality Health. I have a Masters in Ministry for a Multicultural Church degree from the Franciscan School of Theology in California. I love Henri Nouwen’s work and just recently facilitated a discussion group on Henri’s Can You Drink the Cup at my parish, Saint Mary Catholic Community. I enjoy writing, cooking, and talking with friends and family. I am looking forward to reading and discussing Love, Henri with all of you! Peace and all good!

  16. What strikes me about all of the letters is how Henri was willing to devote so much time and energy to writing to so many people despite the physical and psychological strains he was experiencing in his own life. He did not hesitate to offer wise counsel and encouragement, but he never judged or pontificated. He always drew his friends back to the basic message to trust in a loving God who can best read our hearts and lead us back to our own best selves. And so many people, recognizing the wounded healer in Henri, were able to lay out their vulnerabilities, uncertainties, and spiritual quandaries before him, just as Henri urged his correspondents to open themselves up in a similar way to the Lord.

    My initial take-away this week:
    (1) I started the week by sending Thanksgiving emails (but way shorter than Henri’s letters) to family and friends to express appreciation for the blessing they are in my life and to offer support for challenges they may be experiencing now. The process of writing was affirming and energizing for me, and the many responses I received contained some anecdotes that were new to me—confidences that I will cherish forever.
    (2) Instead of resuming my practice of daily journal writing (a resolution that I frequently make but do not always faithfully execute), why not write personal letters to God? Yes, one might call those “prayers” after all, but somehow the tone and style of Henri’s letters to his friends suggests to me a different approach: to use Henri’s letters as a kind of “coach.”
    (3) I think it is important to both post and reply in our Advent blogs on this site. I want to affirm your points that most resonate for me, for I always value the wisdom I find in this community.

    1. Elaine,

      I really appreciated your take-aways. Especially the Thanksgiving letters. What a great idea to express blessings to others and write personal letters to God. It reinforces the urge in me to sit down intentionally and write a letter to someone more regularly, expressing my love for them and remembering God’s grace that they have shown to me. I want to write it out but struggle some with arthritis in my hands. That said, receiving a written note is a rare gift in today’s world!
      Thanks for your great insights and suggestions!

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