Advent Week 3 – Dec 10th to 16th

“We have to dare to say: ‘Whether I feel it or not, whether I comprehend it or not, I know with a spiritual knowledge that I am God’s beloved child, and nobody can take that divine childhood away from me.”
(p332, Love, Henri)

Reading: – Letters starting with the letter addressed to Steve on February 25, 1992 [page 291 of book] through to the end of Part III.

Welcome to another week.  It has been a really lovely discussion so far (as always!).  In this week’s readings you will find much to encourage and challenge your heart.  Please share whatever comes up for you in the readings.  Below are a few questions that might help to start our discussion.

1)“First the Kingdom.”  In a letter to Steve dated February 25, 1992, Henri shows us what is practically means to seek first the Kingdom of God in our life decisions.
a) What is your response / reaction to this letter?

2) “Fruitfulness.” In a letter to a gathering of youth dated February 5, 1995 Henri distinguishes fruitfulness from sucessfulness. “Successes come from strength and power.  Fruits are born in weakness.” He picks up the theme again in a letter to Ron dated February 20, 1995.
a) What might a transition from successfulness to fruitfulness look like in your life, or in an area of your life?  This might be in a relationship, a position, a thought pattern.

3) “You are the Beloved.”  Rejection is something we all experience and struggle with to varying degrees in our life.  In a letter to Catherine August 30, 1995, Henri recognizes how deeply painful this can be, but strongly encourages her to choose gratitude instead of bitterness or resentment.  Similarly, in a letter to Mr. Chisholm dated August 4, 1996, Henri encourages him to “not focus on their ‘rejection’ but on your own belovedness so that when they return home they will find you with a forgiving, peaceful and rejoicing heart.”
a) Practically speaking, how can you / will you choose gratitude in moments of painful rejection?
b) How might this choice impact those around you, even those from whom you experience the rejection?

Looking forward to another week of rich discussion.


Ray and Brynn

19 Replies to “Advent Week 3 – Dec 10th to 16th”

  1. As I prepare this day to travel tomorrow to spend Advent and Christmas in a religious community I am touched by Henri’s response to Bonnie about finding a spiritual director. I was trained as a Spiritual Director in 2015. I appreciate the words of Henri written 22 years earlier. The most important spiritual direction comes from living the liturgical life in the church through reading and the mystics and from living a simple but quite regular prayer life. When you expect too much of a spiritual director you might be quickly disappointed. I can’t begin to tell you what his letters have meant to me on my journey . They are definitely inspired by the Holy Spirit. I feel blessed. Merry Christmas to all of you.

  2. As I read about success vs fruitfulness and how fruitfulness is found in community it reminded me of my years living in community as a Sister of Providence. Community is not always easy but it can bear fruit if you stick with it. In community we learn to forgive and be forgiven, love the other sisters in their strength as well as weakness and accept the love they have for you. It is not always easy but it is possible and it can be a source of energy and vision. Since as sisters, we move often or others move into the house in which we are living, it is a constant challenge because every time even one sister is new, it becomes a new community with new blessings, challenges and graces. Part of our charism as SP’s comes from St. Vincent de Paul who talks a great deal about how the poor need us but that we also need the poor and Henri also mentioned this. When we come together and admit we are each poor and are in touch with our own poverty, we can bless one another. In our individual weaknesses we have a gift for others not only those with whom we live but also those with whom we work with and minister.We might not always be best friends with each sister with whom we live but we need to learn to discover the Jesus that lives in each sister and within ourselves so that we can recognize Him in others. We need to continually focus on our own belovedness and know we are loved unconditionally so that we can share that love with others unconditionally through the love with which God loves us. We can learn to love without expecting love in return because we know we are love unconditionally by our Provident God. Then we move from trying to be successful in the ways of the world and become fruitful because the gifts of the Spirit will radiate out of us and we will have the energy to care for God found in the poor. And they will in turn bless us. People think Sisters have it easy but you have you ever lived with a bunch of women, you would know that is not so. People come to see our fruitfulness but that has come from living community, owning our own poverty, letting go of our own desires and wants, letting go of our own ways of living, biting our tongues and trusting that something new will be born out of letting go.

  3. First the Kingdom of God would best be represented, as was said by others and Henri ,by solitude, community, and ministry . you would then be transitioning from successfullness to fruitfullness .as you pray in solitude from a place of humility and as you share and serve without the ego we can bear fruit. we must remain in a state of Love through this process. Another choice we have to make. moving away from God or remaining in his belovedness. This is not easy. how do i handle rejection and how should i handle rejection?i have to be sincere about this. do i drink the poison thinking it will kill my enemy? i know this creates resentment, bitterness, and is quite destructive. When we choose to turn to our belovedness we can now forgive,heal, and restore our relationships. we then reflect with gratitude on the Kingdom we choose. now , through the Holy Spirit we can have a peaceful, forgiving heart of Jesus. That heart of Jesus can now see the heart of Jesus even in those that rejected us as Father Nouwen describes. Jesus already conquered the world , can we?i choose fruitfullness over success, compassion over competition, being over doing, praising over asking.

    1. Thank you Charles for tying these ideas together so clearly and so succinctly. It’s very helpful to me.

  4. Friends,
    This week there were several letters that were particularly meaningful to me.

    As wrote last week, I feel I am being called to make changes to the difficult and uncertain work situation that I have been confronting. In his letter to Ken (p. 295) Henri writes, “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 voce of God’s love for you and come to know the direction he s leading you.” This is a practice I intend to adopt.

    As a Catholic I was deeply touched by Henri’s reflection on the Eucharist in his letter to the parents of children preparing for First Communion (p.293-5). A brief excerpt: “I also want to say to you that the Eucharist is the central sacrament of the Church. It is the place through which God really enters into our lives… Thus the Eucharist is really the center of our spiritual life, and, if we live it that way, gradually all of our life can become Eucharistic, i.e., lived in deep communion with Jesus.”

    Finally, in his letter to Norbert, Henri summarizes his approach to the spiritual life in a powerful and meaningful way writing, “You know that Jesus spent the night in prayer on the mountain top, he formed community with his apostles in the morning, and spent the afternoon ministering to others.” This three-fold image shows how to live the three disciplines of the spiritual life – solitude, community, and ministry. Here’s how I summarize these disciplines for myself: We seek God in solitude, we share God in community, and we serve God in ministry. And we do so in this order.

    Make sure to join us for the final week of our discussion where we will have the opportunity to hear some of Henri’s letters discussed and read in a most compelling manner by Gabrielle Earnshaw, the editor of Love Henri, and actor Joe Abbey-Colborne.

    May the Lord give you peace.

  5. In his letter to the youth gathered for a social justice weekend (p.307) Henri wrote, “The poor are holding a blessing we need to receive.” He wrote “We first of all have to discover Jesus in those who come to us in their poverty.” But perhaps more importantly, Henri wrote, “All of this requires that you are also in touch with your own poverty.” And he advises “to trust that in your weakness you have a gift for others.”

    It occurred to me that when we first discover Jesus at the end of our Advent journey, we find him in materially poor circumstances. We are invited to meet our savior in his position of weakness as an infant entirely dependent on the love an care of others. There we are shown where our spiritual journey truly begins.

  6. When Henri says “live faithfully through the pain” and “unite yourself to the broken heart of Jesus,” choosing “gratitude instead of becoming bitter and resentful…” (p 329). he is speaking to me. Limitations of aging are painful when physical conditions do not allow for doing what I “used to.” Pain from joints can stop me in my steps. To pause for a moment to “reorder my steps” can be a time for resentment or gratitude. As I leave th house my prayer is one that begins “Direct, O Lord, all my actions by your Divine assistance so that every word, thought, and act of mine gives you glory.” My steps do need to be ordered by God! If not, I’ll surely be tripping over my own feet!

  7. Friends,
    Henri makes the point that “fruitfulness starts with community” (p 307). This community Henri continues is marked by “safety and spiritual nurture” (p 292).
    Fleshing out more he says its a fellowship of the “weak” where we forgive and are forgiven, living out the furit of the Spirit “peace, joy, gentleness, perserverance and love” alongside focusing on the physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually poor (p 307).

    I feel the deep need for this kononia community to navigate the transition I currently find myself in with my call. This call is a movement from acquisition and achievement to surrender and service. A moment from “successfulness to fruitfulness” (p 307). To his letter to Ron, its “a new way of being, a new way of handling life, a new way of praying to God…It’s probably one of the hardest transitions in our life since it calls us to let go of many old ways of living…” (p 325).

    Henri alludes to transitions both in his letters to Steve (p 291) and Catherine (p 329). Steve is grappling with a decision to move to a new job. Henri says his choice is less about where he is goes or what he does, and more about “how good it is for your spiritual journey” (ibid). Continuing, he advises that Steve’s “spiritual well-being be the main criterion” for his discision moving forward. Catherine’s transition is in a different. She’s not discerning a new job, but dealing with the rejection of an old one. Her journey says Henri, is to “live faithfully through the pain” and “unite yourself to the broken heart of Jesus,” choosing “gratitude instead of becoming bitter and resentful…” (p 329).

    Both Steve and Catherine, like Ron are being invited to “a new way of being, a new way of handling life” (p 325). Summarizing this transition Henri suggests, “it’s probably one of the hardest transitons in our life since it calls us to let go of many old ways of living and to trust that something radically new is being born” (325). While I don’t know our little Advent community personally, I’m awed that you provide this holding place to process a little of this transition in my own life…a sacred journey in a Sacred Season.

    Thank you,

    1. Beverly,
      Thank you. As we remarked in comments last week, it seems you and I are both facing new callings and possible transitions in this season in our lives. And I wholeheartedly agree that Henri’s letters and this wonderful community provide a safe harbor from which to depart on the journey.

  8. Hello everyone,
    I am looking for new growth enrichment ideas and creative new reading to aid my spiritual growth. 2017 has been a rough year with many wounds surfacing leading to searching and the beginnings of healing. One of my dear mentors, in a spiritual direction session, asked me, “Who is your favorite spiritual author?”…Without hesitation I said, Henri Nouwen and she said the same name. I felt God tugging me in the gentle Henri direction. I have also now retired and need a new path for life. I am going to start my new journey with FINDING MY WAY HOME. I so appreciate that Henri points out that titles and responsibilities and successes with money fail to keep you growing. The Spiritual life, Henri says, is about LOVE and the fruitfulness of this approach to “success” is very different from the success of mere productivity. It feels like a wonderful place to begin the path OUT of “productivity driven” and money rewarded living and INTO a life of connection and relationships. So grateful to have you all here to share my heart and thoughts.

  9. Hello friends!
    This week I have a lot underlined from the feb 5 1993 letter to the Youth at a Youth Gathering. I find it true that fruitfulness begins in community. As parents, one thing we did was introduced our children to Christian Community. When they were growing up, our church community was very active, warm and fruitful. WE also went to camp together where there was even more intense community built over the course of a week. I pray that 2 of our children will one day go looking for Christian Comunity. One lives in community at University.

    I found it interesting that the focus of the community needs to be the poor. I always love Henri’s prompting to not be fearful. “But we have to do this not in a spirit of fear, panic or alarm. We need to work for the justice in the deep knowledge that Jesus has already overcome the world and that all our actions flow forth from this spiritual knowledge.”

    Also important the urging to develop a life of inner communion with Jesus so that we learn to discover Jesus within us, Jesus around us and Jesus in other people.

    The letters are very interesting and I have bits and pieces underlined. Have a good week end to all of you~.

  10. Be faithful in small things rings true for me. Largess does not bring happiness. Henri tells his friend Nathan: “I wonder what to do when all around me there is so much human suffering. Rembrandt seems to say that it is important to do well the few things we can do and remain faithful to our vocation, limited as it may seem.” Doing the small things set before me with large love as Mother Teresa lived.

  11. I just finished this book and absolutely loved my morning time read. Being in the world but not of it is a huge take away for me. Waking every day with a heart of gratitude and acknowledging that i am a beloved child is such a huge gift. Making time to sit with this truth is my task and privilege. I feel like i have been given a new level of permission to seek the kingdom of God first – is it permission or invitation… I definitely feel a deepening of my relationship with Jesus and i am so grateful for this.

  12. It really is a rich experience for me to be reading this book with this virtual group, and Letters to Marc with a group of 20 men here in Guelph Ontario. Similar themes run through both. From Fr Henri’s letter to Mr Chisholm I loved this line, ‘What you write about your son and girlfriend not giving you their address or telephone number makes me feel quite close to you in your pain (talk about vulnerability and empathy), BUT I want to encourage you to not focus on ‘their rejection’ but on your beloved ness so that when they will return home they will find you with a forgiving, peaceful and rejoicing heart’.

    These words really help us ‘clear the path’ for the Lord to come to us this Advent season.

  13. Like many of Henri’s correspondents, I am at a crossroads. In a few months, I will drop some of the many balls I have been juggling in, as a friend said, “trying to be all things to all the people in my life.” Instead, I will follow my heart in investing more focused time on service to the poor and to my family without the stress and distraction of my current job responsibilities.

    Three quotations from this week’s reading have helped to ease my mind as I prepare to change course.

    1. In a letter in which Henri explains why he is including a card of a Rembrandt portrait painted in an era of unrest and suffering, he tells his friend Nathan: “I wonder what to do when all around me there is so much human suffering. Rembrandt seems to say that it is important to do well the few things we can do and remain faithful to our vocation, limited as it may seem.” I commit to doing a FEW things well.

    2. He tells his friends Chris and Mark that “a life of contemplation, creative writing, and great attentiveness to each other’s needs gives you three ways of catching the eternal already now. What comes from the center of your heart stays because it belongs to God.” I commit to try to listen to that small, still voice and to use my time and talent on the path where I feel God is leading me.

    3. In a letter to Dineke, he encourages her to view mercy as “not pity, but a consoling and encouraging embrace.” I commit to a more conscious awareness of this divine embrace, an embrace that will ward off disappointment in myself as an imperfect, limited human being. Only God is perfect, and only divine perfection is capable of this kind of expansive mercy.

      1. I am the state coordinator for youth programs for the St. Vincent dePaul Society. The programs focus on providing students with educational summits to open their hearts to social justice issues and provide a forum for direct action and then to provide opportunities for direct service with the poor. The adults in my parish’s St. Vincent dePaul conference make home visits to provide material aid, emotional support, and friendship to neighbors in need. It is this kind of personal contact that has transformed my heart, energized my mission of service, and impelled me to speak out against the negative and heartless stereotypes of the poor. I am inspired by Henri’s willingness to break from the prestige he could have enjoyed in the ivory tower world of academia to devote so much of his time and his heart to the people at Daybreak. I pray that I could have even a fraction of his devotion.

        1. Elaine,
          Thanks for sharing about your ministry. Like Marianne noted in her comment this week, I was especially drawn to the February 5, 1993 letter to the youth assembled at a social justice gathering. It seems particularly relevant the work that you are doing and the people you serve.

    1. Elaine;
      If I remember correctly, you’re an Internist. Your skills until now must be helping you in this endeavour. I know you will gain more than you will give and I really affirm this direction even though I don’t know you that well. I’m at the end of my career and my husband and I hope to do some volunteer work. God Bless you and your society. Marianne.

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