Advent Week 4 – Dec 17th to 23rd – Conclusions

“…tell everyone that I’m grateful, that I’m enormously grateful.
Make sure you tell everybody that!”
(p 346, Love, Henri)

Reading: Epilogue

Welcome to our final week of the Advent 2017 book discussion.  The reading for this week is the Epilogue, but we also encourage you to also flip back through the book and re-read a few of the letters that really spoke to you.

1. Please share with us your main “take away” from this book discussion, and your plans to carry it with you into the New Year.

2. As you flip back you may notice Henri’s growing realization of the power and beauty of gratitude.  Please share with us your own expression of gratitude this Advent.

As we conclude this discussion and prepare for the coming of our Lord at Christmas, we have a special gift from the Henri Nouwen Society for all those on this Advent journey.  At the 2016 Way of the Heart International Conference,  Gabrielle Earnshaw, editor of Love, Henri, and actor Joe Abbey-Colborne gave a stirring and memorable presentation and dramatic reading of a number of Henri’s letters.  You are encouraged to take the 53 minutes to watch this wonderful video by following this link and entering LoveHenriAdvent as the password.

Thank you to each of your for your presence with us.  Your comments and responses have been a source of encouragement to others.  I also want to acknowledge once again all of those who journey along with us silently.  We value your presence too!

We hope to see you all again for the Lent 2018 book discussion.  Watch your email for the start date!

Wishing you all a Spirit-filled Christmas.


Ray and Brynn

20 Replies to “Advent Week 4 – Dec 17th to 23rd – Conclusions”

  1. my take-away was that it is possible to live in and among the institutions of this world and not get bogged down in wanting change to come more rapidly than it will in God’s time and still be real and authentic in relationships with each other, and especially loving, understanding and caring in a supportive way. There are many times throughout Henri’s letters where he is writing to someone with a whole different background and yet the personal relationship transcends differences. Now that I’ve read his book, I’m sure to be reading it again and again to glean more insight and wisdom on how I can have these transcending relationships with others too, especially being personal and not letting institutional identities be so divisive. In his writings, he mentors so many of us.

  2. Dear All,

    As we come to the end of the Advent 2017 book discussion, may I express my gratitude to each and every one who has participated or has journey along with us silently. It was a lovely discussion, full of thoughtful and thought-provoking comments.

    As always, Henri has reminded me to turn my eyes upon Jesus every single day… and I can never hear that enough.

    Wishing you all a blessed Christmas.



    1. Friends,

      Let me add my heartfelt thanks to each of you and to Brynn for making this Advent journey a blessing and a joy.

      May you and yours be richly blessed this Christmas.


  3. Henri’s love lives on in his letters. When Mary left her home and hastened through the hills to her cousin Elizabeth, she brought God’s Word of hope and l0ve. No email, postal service but God’s presence within her!
    Hear the Magnificat:

  4. Thanks, Brynn and Ray, for once again leading us on a beautiful journey toward spiritual discernment and connection with this wonderful community and our God. Thanks to all of you for your eloquent and heartfelt messages.

    1. Elaine,
      Thanks so much for your kind words. And let me echo Elaine, thanks to everyone that participated. It is a joy to belong to this virtual (yet at the same time very real) community.

  5. This Advent I am grateful that “God does not need our success, popularity or power in order to love us.” (p.333) I think that is my takeaway as well: allowing myself to be loved despite my many real or perceived failures and shortcomings. Thanks all for your insight on this journey.

  6. Friends,

    As I looked back at Henri’s letters, it seemed fitting that we read this book during Advent—the season of hope. Through our Advent reading we have accompanied Henri on his journey from the weakness, vulnerability, and apprehension about the future (To Sue, July 25, 1988) to the deep understanding of “knowing that we are called to…a new fatherhood (that) can give us a way to live our life gratefully.” (To Mr. Chisholm, August 4, 1996).

    The words used in the video clip by Love, Henri editor Gabrielle Earnshaw to describe Henri’s letters reinforced this point for me, “Ultimately, they give hope to those suffering with their own difficulties, that struggles can be gateways to new life, inner peace, and freedom.”

    Henri’s life, shared so intimately and so beautifully in his letters, was a journey of hope—and Henri’s hope was based on his personal relationship with Jesus. In many of his letters, Henri lovingly implored his correspondents (and us) to take time in solitude to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. It is by knowing Jesus that we will know we are beloved and we will learn to trust in God for all things. My takeaway from this Advent journey is a greater resolve to strengthen my pray life and deepen my relationship with Jesus.

    Once again, thanks to each of you that have journeyed with us this Advent—those who have posted comments and those following along silently. My you and yours be richly blessed during the Christmas season. We hope that you will join us in the springtime for another book discussion during Lent.

    May the Lord give you peace.

  7. Friends,
    My takeaway is hard to put my head around. So much pouring from Henri’s heart to mine! I feel a deep longing to make this shift from so much distraction to “one thing necessary” (letter to Jim Antal deciding to get a PhD). This one thing becomes three themes: “creating space for God in prayer, being sacramentally present to people’s pain, and cultivating community where I am seen and accepted as beloved.

    That context allows me to live out my call to follow Jesus. Henri’s interpretation of Jesus’ works in John 15:13 (Greater love has no one than this; that he lay down his life for his friends) was particularly powerful for me. I too interpreted this as physical martyrdom. That was distastful as it smacked of victimhood. But Henri’s hearing it as an “invitation to make my own life struggles…my doubts, hopes, fears, joy, pain…my moments of ecstasy as a source to others of consolation and healing,” reframes my understanding.

    Living into this sacramental presence requires not only a shift of perspective, but a risk of exposure to become more honest and vulnerable with others. Taking that step requires solid community where I’m seen and accepted. Even deeper, it requires a secure base emerging from spacious solitude where I ‘see God seeing me’ as the beloved. These places of sacred exchange, so it seems, can combine to become a portable sanctuary from which rivers of living waters flow…not from fear but from gratitude…to love others like I’m loved.

  8. My take away is the deep faith and trust in God’s abiding love that Henri expressed and encouraged in many of his letters. I felt that in his responses to many seeking his counsel, he was drawing from his own struggles to find rest in his own place of belovedness within God’s heart. I find it easy to listen to Henri because he didn’t preach but he shared in the journey.

    I will remember Henri’s advice to Peter (August 27, 1990 – p. 258): “So really trust, trust, trust, and don’t get entangled in the years to come. God wants you to be alive and fully alive … Keep always listening to the words that Jesus heard and are also there for you: ‘You are my Beloved Son [/Daughter] and on you my favour rests.'”

    Wishing the blessings of Christmas to all who have shared something of their own journeys here.

  9. My take away is that I had no idea how generous Henri was with his time, his gifts and his weaknesses. I knew that I recieved a response from him as well as a book but I did not realize that I was one of the many people he corresponded with. Even though he had his own struggles with depression and neediness he was able to support others who were also struggling. The main point that I will remember is that in all situations we need to focus on the fact that we are loved unconditionally by God who does not judge as humans do and that we are called the beloved daughter or son of God. I will also remember that, because we are beloved, we have also been richly blessed and affirmed for the person we are. By owning this we will be able to own our weaknesses and come to see them as gift. Who knows what gift they hold. I also will remember success vs fruitfulness because it really made me look at community in a way I had not looked at it before.

    Thank you wll for sharing. I pray that all of you will have a blessed Christmas season and a Happy New Year.

  10. Two thoughts are take aways for me. The first is the repeated encouragement by Henri to not look at oneself – one’s depression, One’s shortcomings but rather to focus on the heart of Christ and his ability to love us.

    He also says approximately the same thing in a letter on p. 247 regarding the Grand Canyon. “Once I stood looking in the Grand Canyon and when I saw the billions of years carve in stone in front of me, if felt as if the heaviness of heart left me. Somehow I felt very small and very significant at the same time and my introspection in my own pain was turned into adoration. You too need a Grand Canyon, whatever way it comes to you!” We are lucky here to have the grandest part of the Rocky Mountains here in Banff National Park and I have experienced the same thing when being among the mountains. There is something kind of cleansing about being there. So this in my excuse to book a few more weekend get aways there especially when the winter gets long.

    It is easy for me to be filled with gratitude as I am a 2 year Cancer Survivor. Many of you have been through this journey with me – back when I had Chemotherapy during Advent, then radiation during Lent. So I have just finished reconstruction surgery and am on a sick leave for that. I thank God all the medical care was available to me for free and that many health care professionals cared for me with care and love.

    Thank you to all for sharing your thoughts. It’s really interesting to hear about life in different parts of the world and in different situations we all find ourselves in. I wish you all a blessed Christmas and look forward to seeing you at Lent.

  11. Thanks to each of you for your thoughtful and beautiful sharing. It is a blessing to gain some insight into your Spirit-filled hearts. For the past number of months I have been challenged to trust in Jesus and it is a call that I continue to struggle with. Like Melanie, I “get in my own way regularly.” I will talk to myself (usually silently, in my head) rather than opening my heart and my mind to hear the voice that calls me the beloved. Yet the peace that I seek will only result from hearing that voice and trusting in the One who is speaking.

    One takeaway for me is Henri’s advice on how to live the spiritual life as Jesus did: “You know that Jesus spent the night in prayer (my note: in solitude) on the mountaintop, he formed community with his apostles in the morning, and spent the afternoon ministering (my note: with his apostles) to others. (To Norbert, March 29, 1994) In Henri’s little book A Spirituality of Living (edited by John Mogabgab) we learn more about this three-fold approach. Henri writes: “Notice the order–from solitude to community to ministry… So often in ministry, I have wanted to do it by myself. If it didn’t work, I went to others and said, “please!” searching for a community to help me. If that didn’t work, maybe I’d start praying. But the order Jesus teaches us is the reverse. It begins by being with God in solitude; then it creates a fellowship, a community of people with whom we are living the mission; and finally this community goes out together to heal and proclaim the good news.”

    Best wishes for a joyful, blessed, and Merry Christmas season to you and yours. May the Lord give you peace.


  12. This advent reading has helped me along the pathway of connecting my heart and head. I realize at a deeper level how i often do not make the time to sit in the presence of love and really experience the healing power. I get in my own way regularly. I also came to understand that this is not uncommon, but it is my job to choose to not let distractions get in the way of my relationship with Christ. There is so much to take away from Henri’s writings. One big one came yesterday when i watched the video which you sent to us (thank-you!). The letter where Henri speaks of reading less and connecting more with the people around you. This really speaks to me. I have a safe tendency to tuck into my books and hibernate away from community. Building community is so difficult and yet it is the heart of our journey.
    Thank-you to everyone and what you have shared here; I have read your responses with a lot of interest and learned a great deal from you. It is powerful to know we are journeying together. I feel lifted up and encouraged – so much – to live a heart centred life.

  13. Sue,

    What you have written is a great blessing to me. When you said “when we come together and admit we are each poor and in touch with our own poverty, we can bless one another,” I knew in my heart how true this is. I have been meditating on the scripture “the poor you will always have with you,” and why that was said. I think because to your point that it reminds us that we are all poor. That poverty of spirit, regardless of resources, status or education is what makes us human and turns us to God. And that letting go though terrifying to me, is the only hope of transformation. I pray for that. And once again thank you for your insightful and heartfelt sharing. Beverly

    1. Thank you for blessing me with your comment. If you have not read it before you might want to read Henri’s book called Adam. I read it before many years ago but participated in the Lent book study this year and found it helpful.

  14. I enjoyed the video in which archivist Gabrielle Earnshaw provided some background for the selection of the letters in the book. Having access to over 18,000 letters and cards must have been an amazing experience and privilege. Imagine Henri investing himself in so many people in this profoundly spiritual and personal (and admittedly time consuming) mode of communication. Unlike emails and social media posts that fly by us every day, letters are keepsakes, tangible tokens of love and care.

    I also enjoyed hearing a handful of the letters being read by someone who attempted to capture Henri’s inflections, points of emphasis, and perhaps even his hesitations as Henri strove to articulate his affection and concern for his correspondents. Strains of the “wounded healer” Henri came through in this dramatic reading of his words.

    Gabrielle helped to distill several messages that resonated throughout the book:
    *Being genuinely present to people is a way of laying down one’s life for one’s friends.
    *Bringing our yearnings and insecurities to God is a path to a free life.
    *People may reject us, but God always accepts us as beloved.
    *God shares in our suffering as an opportunity to live in His love.
    *Art and beauty expand our view and lifts our hearts.

    What fitting messages in this Advent season.

  15. When Henri says, “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.”
    I’m hoping to realize how my poverty=weakness can bring a blessing to others.
    Admitting my limitations is one thing but accepting them as blessings is a grace. For that favor I invoke the Magnificat:
    My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
    my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
    for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
    From this day all generations will call me blessed:
    the Almighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his Name.
    He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.
    He has shown the strength of his arm,
    he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
    He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
    and has lifted up the lowly.
    He has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
    He has come to the help of his servant Israel
    for he remembered his promise of mercy,
    the promise he made to our fathers,
    to Abraham and his children forever. (Lk 1:46-55)

  16. So many beautiful things in this book.
    My overall takeaway is that although Fr Henri was beautifully ecumenical, he held his convictions in a grace filled way. You sense the tension he feels at time with his own ecclesial tradition, but he never S abandons the Church he sees as his mother. I needed that especially since I consider myself a ‘Catholic with quarrels’. I think Fr Henri’s view AND daily reception of the Eucharist speaks to where his source of Life was.

    These last 3 lines he wrote to his beloved friend Nathan blessed me–

    May 27, 1986 page 132
    I love you with a strong faithful love of Jesus
    I hold you very close to my heart and the heart of God
    I enjoy your friendship every moment and feel very safe in it.
    Love, Henri

    These words made me wonder who is saying that about me and who do I feel that way about.

    I’ve got my ‘list’ to express this level of passion towards.

    Thru Advent I prayed this Fr Henri prayer–and thank you to our wonderful spiritual guides Ray and Brynn. Your grace filled responses nurture all of us.

    Lord Jesus,
    Master of both the light and the darkness,
    send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
    We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
    We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
    We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
    We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
    We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
    To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

    —Henri J.M. Nouwen

  17. From Sue
    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.

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