Advent Week 2: Dec 3rd to 9th

“I still consider it as the greatest of all good news that we have been chosen by God from all eternity…”
(p 264, Love, Henri)

Reading: Letters starting from the beginning of Part III through to the letter addressed to Judy on January 31, 1992 [page 290 in book].

Welcome to a new week!  As you’ll read in Gabrielle’s introduction to this section, these letters represent a very fruitful time in Henri’s life.  He produces many books, including his popular “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” and he accepts many speaking engagements.  More notable, however, is his growing sense of inner peace.

Below we offer a few questions to help you reflect on the readings, but please feel free to share anything that came up for you through the letters.

1) In a letter to Jutta dated April 8, 1990 Henri writes “the greatest temptation is to lose touch with the Blessing.  We are the Beloved Sons and Daughters of God.”
a) As you read through these letters please share any text or comments from Henri that help you claim or understand your Belovedness before God.

2) In a letter to Dan dated October 25, 1990 Henri speaks words of encouragement and direction to his friend who was going through a dark night of the soul.
a) What pieces of practical advice do you gleam from this letter, and others in the book, for ways to live through such painful times?

3) In a letter to Colin dated January 10, 1991 Henri encourages us to “choose life” at every stage, including later stages in life.
a) What would it look like for you to choose life in the situation and stage of life you are living?

We very much look forward to hearing from you!

Ray and Brynn

28 Replies to “Advent Week 2: Dec 3rd to 9th”

  1. Choose Life! In my late sixties I continue to hear the words of Choose Life. My life continues to call me to a place of total commitment and total surrender which is a life long journey. Growing old may be a real spiritual challenge as Henri writes. But there is so much joy, love, and inner peace to be experienced as we live out our years in a chaotic world. As I minister to female inmates in jail and prison, the God in them speaks to the God in me. I feel blessed and healed from past hurts more than I would have imagined if I never walked through those doors. With a child’s heart we are never too old to choose life and be surprised by Joy.

  2. contemplative living must be a discipline that keeps growing over time but over time it probably becomes less of a discipline and more of a being. i reflect on this as we seem to be seeing this with Father Nouwen.Thank God he shared this with us. to know God’s love for us , we are his beloved , must be at the foundation. without this nothing flows easy. we must embrace the mystery of our broken heart united with Jesus broken heart leading to a greater more intimate relationship with our beloved Jesus. there is a choice here. the other option is to bring our broken heart to the world exclusively. i wonder if this extensive attention to the talk of the world leads to lethargy , despair, and lifelessness.we can choose life . a life of intimate communion with Jesus, his Father, and the Holy Spirit that abides in us.Thomas Merton writes on how that might look.contemplative life is life itself. fully awake, fully active, fully aware that we are is a spiritual wonder. it is spontaneous awe at the sacredeness of life, of being. it is gratitude for life, for awareness, and for being. it is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible,transcedent,and infinitely abundant source.contemplation is above all , awareness of the reality of that knows the source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes beyond reason and beyond simple faith. it is a more profound depth of faith, a knowledge too deep to be grasped in images, in words, or even in clear concepts.

  3. Friends,

    In 2004 I found and read Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the the Prodigal Son at at a time I desperately needed it and Henri’s words helped to change my life. Now thirteen years later I once again find Henri’s words speaking directly to me. For some time now I have been confronting a difficult and uncertain work situation where I am limited in my ability to contribute in a meaningful way. This work situation has had a significant negative influence in many areas of my life. Eight of the letters this week challenged me to think more deeply about my current situation and what God may be calling me to do. In fact, I was able to take excerpts from six of Henri’s letters to craft a letter that Henri could have written to me yesterday.

    “Depression” can also be grief, or a mourning about what could not be. You may have come to a time in your life of new deep choices, which ask for much dying—in order to give much life. Be patient, very patient. God loves you, not for what you do, but for who you are. He wants to touch you in your waiting, your solitude, your silence. Be faithful, trust. Jesus wants to lead you to a place where he himself becomes the only safe way to God. It almost seems to me that he is saying to you, “Am I not enough for you?”

    The time may have come for you to look for another place to work (my note: or retire from current job and refocus life). I am quite aware that it is hard to change work after so many years in the same job and that it often creates much anxiety and uncertainty, but it might be one way to be faithful to your vocation—“to live beyond the familiar and to follow Jesus more radically.” I am quite certain that leaving your job would require some real risk-taking, and it might put you into a situation of uncertainty, but it seems to be always important to first of all pay attention to the voice of your heart and trust that God will reward you when you are faithful to that voice.

    The main thing I want to tell you is to let your spiritual well-being be your main criterion and don’t worry about the money, the job, your career or physical concerns. They will all be taken care of. “First the Kingdom, then the rest will fall into place.” I am deeply convinced that if you could keep saying the simple prayer of “Not my will but Your will be done,” you will gradually hear the gentle voice of God’s love for you and come to know which direction he is leading you.

    The readings this week have been a tremendous Advent gift for me. These letters allow me to see my current situation in a powerfully new way. As was the case in 2004, I believe the Lord is using Henri’s words to get my attention in a way that demands a response. Determining how to proceed and in what timeframe will require careful discernment with my wife. May the Lord give me the courage and strength to do so.

    Thanks for letting me share this lengthy note.

    Note: The italics includes excerpts from letters to: Marcus 1/29/90; Jutta 1/29/90; Dan 10/25/90; Hans and Marinus 11/21/90; Steve 2/25/92; Ken 6/9/92

    1. Ray,

      Thank you for this heartfelt sharing. It spoke to a seminal transition I’m experiencing myself. Expecially these two sentences: “The main thing I want to tell you is to let your spiritual well-being be your main criterion and don’t worry about the money, the job, your career or physical concerns. They will all be taken care of.” I’ve heard that from God in bits an pieces. And picked up on the phrases from Henri’s letters last week. But putting them in letter form as you did, aimed and hit the heart. Thank you.

      1. Beverly,
        Thank you for the affirming feedback. For me it’s another Sunday evening and, for me, Sunday nights are difficult. My challenge is to listen to and trust in Jesus.

  4. Regarding the Blessing of being a Beloved son/daughter of God, this is something I’ve known in my head for years, but not always with my heart…at church on Sunday our pastor shared the verse in Ephesians about our being chosen before the creation of the world. Such a big concept to wrap one’s head (and heart!) around. But I’m intrigued by a little bit of theology Henri puts in his letters–maybe as I am not a Catholic I’ve missed out on this, or maybe this is more Henri’s take on it?–the idea that our life started before we were born (letter to Walt, p.287, Albin p.265, Frank p.267). Sure, I believe I was in God’s thoughts, and I suppose love, before my earthly birth, but was I actually with God? In my Evangelical upbringing there was a lot of talk about heaven/hell after our earthly death, but not so much before our life. I wonder if shifting my thinking about this would help me to remember my Blessing. Thank you, God, for your Everlasting Love.

    1. Andrew,
      I write as a (somewhat) knowledgeable Catholic layman but not a trained theologian or expert. Here is my take on your question “before my earthly birth, was I actually with God?”

      Christians believe that God is all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), and the “creator of heaven and earth” (all that exists, creation in its entirety). Bishop Robert Barron (citing Thomas Aquinas) writes, “God is not a thing in the world but rather the reason there is something rather than nothing.” If that is true, then God is outside of, or unconstrained by, time. As C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following one another. If a million people are praying to him at ten-thirty tonight, He does not need to listen to all of them in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten-thirty–and every other moment from the beginning of the world (Ray’s note: or creation)–is always the Present for Him.”

      So following this line of thinking, I can understand Henri writing as he did to Albin, “…we have been chosen by God from all eternity, and belonged in His home before we were touched by human hands, and will again belong to Him fully after our earthly journey.” The all-knowing God, existing outside of time, knows, loves, and calls each of us to his side. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, entered into time at his Incarnation. We, as God’s creatures, live on earth in the time given to us. And as the Beloved sons and daughters of the Father we are called to eternal life. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote, “We were made by God to be like God, and we are made for God.” It seems to me that Henri is writing from that context.

      Comments from others encouraged.

      1. One small addition to the comment above: At Mass today (the Feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception), the priest said, “Mary was chosen by God before time began to be the Mother of God.” This is very similar to what Henri wrote to Albin.

      2. Hello, Andrew and Ray,
        My name is Sharon and I have participated in the book readings before and just this week have had the opportunity to start reading “Love, Henri”. Your post is interesting to me, Andrew, because I come from a Protestant background too but have been attending the Tuesday St. Anthony masses at the Catholic church which is right next door to my home for eight years or so. One thing which I have sort of become more aware of is that my Lutheran church theologically puts much on the New Testament–for example the two sacraments, baptism and Lord’s Supper–are literally from the New Testament; whereas in the Franciscan Catholic Eucharistic liturgy, that is in a long line coming clear back from the Old Testament. Tradition, as well as scripture, seems to inform the spirituality and I am wondering if something in “tradition” as it has been understood by theologians sort of being seamless between the Old and New Testaments allows ourselves to see ourselves as “chosen” by God in a state before we became physically born, if so, that must indicate there is a time for the soul before worldly existence as well as after worldly existence, and maybe the Old Testament and “tradition” informs this understanding more than just starting with the Gospel readings as Protestants lean on most for understanding the faith. The language that Nouwen used which I found thought-provoking is on page 259, “So you really are left with your naked faith, and it is precisely in this darkness of faith that God is purifying your heart and calling you to be faithful, that is, to cling to nothing but Jesus himself, who died for you on the cross while living the experience that God had completely abandoned him.” I find it extraordinary but also deeply spiritual to see it written “living the experience that God had completely abandoned him” instead of writing “living the experience where he believed that God had completely abandoned him” and I wonder more searchingly about Jesus’s experience–had there actually been a time of complete estrangement and not just a human “sense” of being estranged from a God who is completely “constant” and once Jesus God incarnate had experienced this “complete separation from God” and maybe that God “completely separated Himself from Jesus” was that the “sacrifice” that we–following Jesus/God never ever have to experience it unless we don’t accept the “sacrifice” Jesus made. There is so much to Catholicism and also to Protestantism that is taught by each and, once we all start to get a glimmer of each other’s spirituality we are drawn into recognizing how all of it together actually impacts on our lives, spiritually and physically. That’s why I love Henri Nouwen and reading his books. His love and simplicity shows through all of them and seems to be an authentic expression of Christian faith.

        1. Great to hear from you again Sharon.

          Regarding the relationship of the Old and New Testaments, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says this: Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself. Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. (emphasis added) Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament. As an old saying (Ray’s note: By St. Augustine of Hippo) put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.. (Paragraph 129) I believe that most Christian Bible scholars–Catholic and Protestant alike–would generally agree with this approach.

          1. Thanks Ray and Sharon for your responses. It’s so good to delve into the mystery of God again!…and also the mystery of how different expressions of faith and belief are valid in others, even if for some it takes some time. The letter to Ari mentions Henri’s inspiration from dialogue with Jewish friends. Only a few hundred years ago this kind of dialogue between Catholics and Protestants and then Anabaptists, etc. would not have gone so well…

            Coming back to Albin’s letter again, is the key to knowing the trust and love we need…and it takes a little bit of work (time) on our part: “Prayer, indeed, is the way to that unlimited love and will open for us the place of gratitude…” (p.265)

          2. Thanks, Ray. Appreciate your comment, especially writing that “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New”. My experience has been that somehow the communion is different in my ELCA Lutheran congregation from the Franciscan Catholic church I have been spending so much time in. The Words of Institution are used in both but somehow the sacrifice is theologically seen differently and I believe it maybe comes from the part you write of wherein “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old” and the ways in which the Israelites understood that God asked of them sacrifices for reconciliation. I don’t commune at Transfiguration and ask for the Priest’s blessing but stick with them in relationship because I see their communion is being somehow more potent and also long-lasting over all of history than than Protestant communion (this all happens to me just from hearing and absorbing the Words so often, I actually don’t understand how come I feel this way when I am not physically eating and drinking, but the level of trust is high)–I am very hopeful that there will ultimately be full reconciliation between Catholic and Lutheran. Henri’s letter on page 290 to Judy regarding also this issue seems to me very Pastoral and delicate, humble and trying to be faithful and not fueling the possible fires of resentment and anger of feeling excluded. Also, glad to be on your blog again and thankful to have finally started reading this book, especially this Advent of hope and waiting on God.

  5. The letter that I keep going back to was written to Anna on February 22, 1990. She was a Theology student who had asked Henri multiple questions about themes in his writing. But rather than giving academic answers, Henri responded with a message about the importance of our communion with God.

    Henri wrote, “… we cannot see God in others or in the world, but the God in us sees God in others and the world. The deeper our communion with God is, the more we will discover Him in all that we see.” Again, this reminds me of the priority of the first great commandment to love God with all my heart, mind, and soul. The best way to navigate this world is to anchor myself first in the love of God.

    Perhaps that is the message of Advent. We yearn for the arrival of the child, the greatest manifestation of God’s love, to reside with us and lead us.

  6. To choose life in this stage of my years requires patience. Deciding when I am able to choose events to participate in depends much on how mobile and pain-free i am that day. Going with Plan B instead of Plan A without complaint demands patient acceptance.
    If I remember Who is leading me, trusting the Good Shepherd, I have confidence. Luke relates the nativity of Jesus with authenticity about how things didn’t always go as planned. Mary’s unexpected news from Gabriel, going to Elizabeth, trekking to Bethlehem, then to Egypt, etc. To go with God as companion insures the destination will be reached, even though difficult. My Christmas wish is for firmer hope and patience to propel me on the Way.
    A message from Ron Rolheiser encourages me: Author Nikos Kazantzakis, both fondly and bitterly, makes this assertion: “God, it seems, is never in a hurry, while we are always in a hurry.” He’s right: Life unfolds according to its own innate rhythms which try our patience and it will not let themselves be rushed, except at a cost. Life and love demand both the time and the space within which to unfold according to their own internal dictates.
    Whenever, because of impatience, selfishness, or our unwillingness to stay inside a tension, we short-circuit that process we, in slight or deep ways, violate their reality.
    Nobody gives birth to a baby without a long period of gestation, nobody writes a doctoral thesis in two hours, nobody creates an artistic masterpiece without long hours of sweat and labor, and nobody becomes a heroic individual without carrying unbearable tension. Jesus only got to the glory and freedom of Easter Sunday by first sweating blood in the garden.
    May we live in patience, to wait, to respect what’s other, and to carry tension long enough so that the other can truly be other and gift can unfold precisely as gift.

  7. Henri always seems to validate the feelings of his friend he is writing to and yet at the same time challenges to see things in a fresh light offering hope in the finest way. He seems to encourage leaning into the dark night of the soul – recognizing where I am and not exactly resisting it. And yet not resting there. Instead he challenges/offers a resting place in the heart of Jesus and trusting that this is where the life is.

    Living in the heart of Jesus demands making time – more time – in my day to cultivate my love for Jesus. I am really struck by the “greatest temptation is to lose touch with this blessing”. This is my work and my joy to keep the fire within me burning and to honour Jesus day and night.

    1. Yes I too saw that Henri validated and supported those who wrote and then challenged and offered prayer for them. As I read the letters I was struck how similar he was to St. Paul in his letters. Paul thanks, validates and offers prayers before he gets to the point of challenge then offers to pray for them as they do the work. They are both good role models for ways to work with others who are struggling.

  8. Last night sitting with a group of nuns we read a reflection my Macrina Wiederkehr. She asked her readers “what part of you is crippled?” She said “Christmas is for healing…Christ wants to give you Christmas this year.” When I read Henri’s letter to Dan his heartfelt words offered “Christmas this year.” I needed to hear Henri’s advice to avoid anxious questions of “why is this painful thing happening?” Instead, seeing it as a “dark night of the soul” stripping us down to naked faith is hard but honest. Calling me to cling to Jesus who too felt totally abandoned. Not a pretty picture. Not what I want to hear. But bringing us to a “second lonliness” in our painful crisis makes sense. Because in that silent place I begin to see God seeing me… and Him to be the source of true life. So turning to the heart of Jesus: “Lord help me out. I don’t know what I’m doing here. Give me hope. Show me a way to let go while at the same time setting limits. Amen.

  9. From Liz Forest
    Commenting on Henri’s Letter to Sue Mosteller from last week
    Henri 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.

  10. From Todd
    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!

    1. For sure, Henri was so generous with his time. He made time for those who were hurting and needed his advice and prayers even though he was going through his own struggles. One time I even wrote to him and he answered me and sent me a book. I did not realize at the time that he did this for hundreds of people.

  11. As I read Henri’s advice to Jutta, I was reminded that I came from a dysfunctional family. I was always out down because I was not good enough. It was only later in life after reading some of Henri’s books in the 80’s that I awakened to the gift that I was a beloved daughter of God and that I did not have to prove myself because I was already beloved by God. At times I still have the tendency to compare myself but then I remember that I am a beloved daughter of God and am in the heart of God. I have been richly blessed knowing this. I try to remember that when difficult things happen that I am not alone, that God walks with me.

    The advice Henri gives it Colin was right on; rather than considering our life as over when we get in our senior years we can look at it as reaching the place of total commitment and total surrender by choosing life rather than death by sharing with others as an elder, mentor or role model doing it all for the Glory of God rather than for ourselves. As a senior I can do volunteer work without worrying about building up my resume. I volunteer in a drop-in center for women, read to a blind woman and rock the babies in the NICU (I don’t know if the babies or I get more from the rocking)

    1. While I did grow up in a very supportive family who always affirmed my worth, the Catholicism of my early years too often stressed our human sinfulness. I vividly remember, for example, a picture of a little child going in for his First Communion, presumably at age 7 or so, with a heart filled with big black marks and emerging from the confessional with a clean white heart. How, I wondered, could a young child be so bad? Was I that bad? Was my soul that ugly? How hideous was purgatory going to be if I was caught in this state between trips to the confessional? It took years and the help of a truly saintly priest to come to an understanding that God is a God of boundless love and mercy who is not looking at my heart in quite the same way that I viewed that picture so many years ago. That is what I love so much about Henri. People voluntarily turned to him in their suffering and vulnerability (a looming divorce, a crisis of faith, disappointment about not getting a job, a crisis of identity) and received the same message: regardless of your struggle, failings, religion or lack thereof, you are a beloved child of God.

      I love Pope Francis’s recent words: “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.” I guess the extent of God’s mercy is beyond our human comprehension. It simply takes my breath away.

      Sue, your observation about the worth of our senior years comes at precisely the right moment for me. Having retired and “un-retired” three times in the past 4-1/2 years, I have now resolved to surrender a career where I have found much professional and public validation in order to follow my heart into more of a full-time focus on volunteer work with the poor. This focus needs to be front and center while I still have the health, energy, and wherewithal to do some good in the world. Thanks for your words of inspiration.

      1. Thank you for your comment about confession when you were a child. I could so relate. I am so glad that Vatican II happened since it changed our whole focus to a loving and forgiving and merciful God rather than the the Judge. Like Henri said we need to always remember we are the beloved of God just the same way as Jeaus was the beloved Son.

        1. I relate to the “soul with black mark” picture and was told original sin caused it. Not my sin so how did I get it? Fear was a strong influence as far as being good or God will be displeased. Such sorry concepts then. A friend who had been away from church for too long went for reconciliation with some hesitation. When she saw how the confessors were placed openly at the four corners of the church, she realized she’d not be in a box. Her experience was so positive, followed by communal liturgy. She told me, “It was just like talking to Jesus in conversation. No lecture. ” I was so happy for her realization that Jesus met her where she was and loved her. Will we ever fully realize that we are God’s beloved? Perhaps bit by bit, day by day.

          1. I am so glad your friend had such a good experience. I can remember when I was a child some of the priests were so critical that I was afraid to go when a certain priest was the confessor. Even today I can feel the fear that i had as a child but once I sit down and start talking to the priest, I feel more relaxed because i know i am not going to be judged. Yes reconciliation can now be a more positive experience because it is like sitting with Jesus and having a conversation without judgement. Again I say thank you for Vatican II.

  12. From Luciano del Monte
    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.

  13. Friends,
    On Saturday there were a number of comments added to the Advent Week 1 post discussion that you don’t want to miss.

    To return to the post from last week, you can navigate back using the links in the Recent Posts section at the top of the right hand column or you can click on this link:

    When you are ready to return to the current post, you can either use the Advent Week 2 link under Recent Posts or click Home in the black band immediately under the picture at top of any post.

    We look forward to hearing from you throughout the week.

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