Dec 2 to Dec 8: The Present, Joy, Suffering, and Conversion

Reading: Here and Now, Chapter I to Chapter IV (pages 15-83)

God became a little child in the midst of a violent world. Are we surprised
by joy 
or do we keep saying, “How nice and sweet, but the reality
is different.” 
What if the child reveals to us what is really real?
Here and Now, Surprised by Joy (p. 37)

It was so wonderful to see all your introductions last week. A spirit-filled, diverse, and committed global community is forming to read and discuss Henri Nouwen’s meditations on living a spiritual life.  Henri has much to show us and we have much to share with each other as we journey through Advent together.

Today is the first day of Advent and Henri, like many other Christians, would have recognized it as the first day of the new church year. It is fitting that our Advent book discussion begins with Henri writing, “A new beginning! We must learn to live each day, each hour, yes each minute, as a new beginning to make everything new.” Henri is inviting us to use this Advent season to make a new beginning in our own spiritual lives. For Henri, and indeed for all Christians, our spiritual life begins with the truth of the Incarnation (see quote above).  Henri writes, “My name is God-with-you.” (p. 17).  The baby Jesus reveals to us what is really real.

With Henri as our faithful guide, in the coming weeks we will explore nine elements or themes of the spiritual life. We start this week by learning to live in the present, seeking joy, embracing suffering, and choosing conversion.  These four chapters include 33 individual meditations that are rather easy to read (at least at first glance) yet are rich in meaning and worthy of thoughtful reflection. We look forward to learning how these chapters and meditations are meaningful in your life.

Here is a process that you might find helpful as you explore the readings.

  1. Concentrate on one chapter per day or between seven and nine brief meditations
  2. Read all of the meditations in the selected chapter in the order presented to gain insight into Henri’s approach to this element of the spiritual life.
  3. Select a few (perhaps 2 or 3) of the meditations that stand out to you, and read them thoroughly, perhaps several times and reflect on what they are saying. Consider:
    1. The thought or concept that stands out to you
    2. How does it relate to your personal experience? Look at your experience with the benefit of Henri’s insight.  Does that help you to see things differently or to know yourself better?
    3. What is God speaking to your heart?  Henri turned to scripture daily and that is reflected in many of these meditations.  You might find it fruitful  to seek out  the Scriptural truths that Henri mentions or that God is speaking to your heart.
    4. How you will respond? Carefully (prayerfully) consider how your heart responds to the insights gained during your reflection. Are there small steps you can take to incorporate these insights and to apply this element to strengthen your spiritual life?
    5. Pray!
    6. You might also consider the questions in the Guide for Reflection (p. 203)
  4. Move on to another chapter.

Please share with the group the insights you have gained to the degree you are comfortable.  This is an opportunity to share and discuss what came up for you in the readings.  You may choose to share your reflections based on the questions above, but please don’t feel bound to them.  Perhaps you’ll want to share from your own journey of discernment.

You are welcome and encouraged to comment as frequently as you like.  If you would like to post your thoughts after each chapter, that would be wonderful.  If you would prefer to post a comment weekly, that is also fine.  You can also respond to the comments of others.   And if you choose to follow along silently, you are welcome here too.

Once again, thank you for joining us for this Advent journey. We’re glad you’re here and we look forward to hearing from you.

Peace and all good.

P.S.  Veterans of earlier discussions may wonder why Ray is flying solo this time, without  long-time co-moderator Brynn Lawrence. Brynn gave birth to her second child, a beautiful baby girl, in October. Brynn, baby, and family are doing wonderfully. Brynn sends you all warm wishes for a blessed Advent.

82 Replies to “Dec 2 to Dec 8: The Present, Joy, Suffering, and Conversion”

  1. Verses for consideration:

    “For The Message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (I Corinthians 1:18)

    “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” (II Corinthians 2:15)

    “Like newborns babes, crave pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (I Peter 2:2-3)

    “…being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:10)

    The turning of our hearts towards God may be like Paul on the Damascus Road – a point in time where once we were lost but now we are found as we sing from the song Amazing Grace. However, our life with God is not completed with this initial turning of our heart. The above verses all point to a process of salvation using words like being saved, growing up in our salvation, being renewed.

    I think this continuing maturation process of our hearts leading us to closer communion with God is what Henri Nouwen is talking about in chapter four titled “Conversion”. On page 71 he says:

    “The spiritual life is the life of those who are reborn from above-who have received the Spirit of God who comes to us from God. That life allows us to break out of our prison of human entanglements and sets us free for a life in God. Jesus says it clearly:’What is born of human nature is human, what is born of the Spirit is spirit, (John 3:6).”

    Henri Nouwen wants us to see a difference, to see a fire wall, we may say between being reborn and a life which breaks free from our human entanglements. We need to consider that we can be reborn and remain in prison if we do not allow God to deal with us in the continuing maturing process of becoming dependent upon him. Think about our human entanglements which may rob our hearts from freedom found in God’s presence. And remember that these entanglements are not telling us that we are not reborn. Let’s move beyond our hardships, our challenges, our dismay from expectations not being met.

  2. after living through 18 months of numerous family sad events of major proportions and being the main care person and supporter I have begun to find JOY again through living in the moment, focusing on the JOY only Jesus can give and being reminded that through suffering comes healing. Thank you Henri for your wisdom

    1. Caroline: I understand and concur with your comments about suffering and living in the present. The knowledge that God is always with us and is our refuge in the midst of our grief and illness is comforting.

  3. In truth, upon first reading Chapter IV, Conversion, it seemed to meander a bit. But perhaps this is due to my being distracted by grandchildren and their new puppy (all of whom need constant attention). After a couple of re-readings, however, I found Henri’s reflections coherent and applicable to our lives today.

    The notion of “conversion” being considered as a “turning around” (pp. 67-69) seems to comport with the meaning of “repentance” in the Bible, as I recall. We are away from home, so I can’t double check my annotated Bible for the Greek, but I think I recall some scholars who aligned with Henri’s “turn around” ideas. Also, I have been reading much about St Francis in recent months, and many authors have interpreted Francis’ “conversion” as a “turning around” (a 180’) that occurred over his lifetime.

    God says: “Turn around, set your heart on my kingdom” (p. 69).

    Other highlights for me from this chapter included:
    • Jesus answers questions from above that were raised from below. We come with pleas or questions based on complications caused by the powers of this world, while “His answers come from his most intimate communion with God” (p. 71). Maybe that is why I sometimes don’t get the answers I want!
    • We need to interpret the times (reading daily news events, etc.) spiritually. What is happening in our day (dangers from climate change, corruption, hate and fear focused on the powerless, and much more) might be seen as “a constant invitation calling us to turn our hearts to God and so discover the meaning of our lives” (p. 73). “Are you reading the signs of your time as signs asking you to repent and be converted?” (p. 78). I hope I am interpreting these pages as Henri would want; I welcome other applications-interpretations from anyone.
    • Freeing ourselves from judging others and being judged. We free ourselves from judging others “by claiming for ourselves the truth that we are the beloved daughters and sons of God” (p. 81). That last quote is, of course, a familiar refrain in Henri’s writings and speeches. But what I grasped even more deeply from reading it here is the connection between claiming that love from God (“the love that transcends all judgements”) and overcoming our own fears of being judged (see pp. 81-82). “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned” (Luke 6:37). As Henri notes at the end, this is a connection similar to that which exists between the love of God and the love of neighbor.


    1. Thanks, Barry for your thoughts. what struck me about “answers that come from communion with God” I’d the need for prayer. To read the news with a spiritual spin means to see as God sees
      The negative items seem to get the most coverage. These events invite me to pray for the persons who are victims of crime or natural disasters. I try to bring into my conversations a news item that calls for prayer and makes me feel gratitude for the blessings I have.
      The part about being free by not judging is a hard lesson. How easy it is for me to label others which can cause divisions. To see the Divine spark in an annoying neighbor takes grace. For me I try to say “Lord, have mercy.” when my “third eye” does not see clearly. I’m a work in progress! I’m clay in the Potter’s Hand.

  4. At George H.W. Bush’s funeral in Washington D.C. earlier this week one of his granddaughters Ashley Walker Bush did a reading from Isaiah 60:18-20 as follows:

    Isaiah 60:18-20 New International Version (NIV)

    18 No longer will violence be heard in your land,
    nor ruin or destruction within your borders,
    but you will call your walls Salvation
    and your gates Praise.
    19 The sun will no more be your light by day,
    nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
    for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your God will be your glory.
    20 Your sun will never set again,
    and your moon will wane no more;
    the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your days of sorrow will end.

    Passages like this and Revelation 22 have a tendency to be read as purely future events awaiting for us in Heaven. I think in what I have read from Henri Nouwen in “Here and Now” which my own heart mirrors is that these words are for us now as we live out lives out on this earth. When I read land in the above passage I consider it the place my heart is to reside not only a geographical spot on the earth. When I read about a cessation of violence and destruction in our land it is not a geo-political statement but one of our hearts at rest in the love of God even if we live in a violent and destructive place on our planet. And violent and destructive can represent opinions of others we don’t agree with from the realms of politics, cultural wars, etc. God calls us to a place where we don’t depend on the trappings of life to sustain us. In this text this is mentioned as we no longer need our sun and moon to provide light since God will provide everlasting light. So, this passage that Ashley Walker Bush shared at her grandfather’s funeral is a word of life for us today. A word for us to live by just like Henri Nouwen in our readings from “Here and Now” is asking us to see with a fresh set of eyes.

    In the attached video you can watch Ashley Walker Bush reading this passage. In the video there are two readings and she does the second reading.

    1. I love the “present” focus you bring to this passage. Several years ago a Pastor I deeply respect, shared this possibility with me. I’ve never forgotten it (paraphrased): “We live in the present. We are in time. Eternity is something we are unable to conceive. How can we possibly understand no beginning, no end? Can it be that God’s children, including you and I, are there already –rejoicing and living in the light of God’s glory?”

      1. In Ecclesiastes 3:11 we read:

        “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

        In I Corinthians 13:12 we read:

        “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

        When we link these two verses together they echo the words you have shared above that God is beyond our full comprehension and that we are in the midst of eternity, of eternal life now.

        In Isaiah 33:17 we read:

        “Your eyes will see the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar”

        God wants to stretch us into places we cannot comprehend deepening our communion with him. We have the tendency to keep a “little” God fashioned after our definitions of him. However, he really is a “big” God beyond our wildest imaginations drawing us into unchartered lands beyond our current horizons. This stretching results as we are drawn into the way of a pilgrim with a searching heart which changes us to live in more of eternity than what we currently experience. Jesus did ask us to pray “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” and he encouraged us to seek it which all of our hearts.

        Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem titled “The Explorer”. In its opening stanzas we can see a good picture of God drawing us into the land that stretches afar:

        “THERE’S no sense in going further – it’s the edge of cultivation,”
        So they said, and I believed it – broke my land and sowed my crop –
        Built my barns and strung my fences in the little border station
        Tucked away below the foothills where the trails run out and stop:

        Till a voice, as bad as Conscience, rang interminable changes
        On one everlasting Whisper day and night repeated – so:
        “Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges –
        “Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!”

      2. I believe that God surprises us by being where we least expect. As the Irish wisdom holds, God slips in to thin spaces to be with us.

    2. Chris,
      Thanks very much for sharing this passage from Isaiah and the YouTube excerpt from President Bush’s funeral. I also think your applications to our present day are quite appropriate.

  5. In Chapter IV, “Turn Around,” the image of the mime, supposing he was trapped in the room with no back wall was powerful for me. Despite what I know to be true, I still fall into the trap of “helping” God clean up my act. I ,too, bang on doors, taking pride in my repetitive banging. I concentrate on eliminating self pride and then, find myself prideful of not acting prideful –the banging continues. Like the mime, I strive toward what I cannot and will never accomplish. Finally, I surrender. I am spent. It is only then that I see there is no wall, nothing separating me from what I’ve longed for. It was not enough for me to turn “from” my shortcomings –what was needed was for me to turn to God’s grace. Oh, I continue to willfully re-enter that three walled room. I continue to kick and bang on doors, until in desperation I turn around yet again and turn to my ever patient Savior.

      1. I never noticed that… I am certain the artist was deliberate, understanding the symbolism. Thank you for pointing that out to me.

  6. So much of what we have read is fascinating, inspiring and encouraging: to limit to one stand out is really hard.
    The massive changes I have gone through since April – going from high profile leadership to lower level service; a life of high pressure and demand to one of time and space for family and friends – has been a humbling, and sometimes brutal, experience.
    The section on The Fellowship of the Weak really spoke to me. The clarity about the role those we can share our “sorrows” with play in our healing; the gift from God these people are (” God will send us the friends we need”); the hope that we can have that “true joy can erupt, right in the middle of my sorrow” … in my recent journey all these are now apparent to me.
    Now that I know this I am trying to respond by being that person for others … making myself available for the new work that God is asking me to do. I’m not quite sure where it will take me, but I know I’m more ready to follow this path. I am grateful for the meditation that Henri Nouwen shares here as it gives me a way of understanding, and sharing, what this work might be.

  7. Friends,
    Thanks to each of you for your heartfelt and insightful sharing. It is a joy to see the warm and supportive exchange within our virtual community.

    As someone who spends too much time online, much of it in the Twitter-verse, I am so grateful to be able to return here regularly to the friendly confines of the Nouwen Society Advent book discussion. (Those of you from in or around Chicago know all about the “friendly confines.” For others, learn more here:

    Just how friendly is it here? So friendly that not a single one of you pointed that I had written “mediations” instead of meditations in three or four different places in the blog post. I discovered it when I began drafting the post for next week. (By the way, if other errors slip through, you can always submit a comment pointing out the correction. I can make the correction and without posting your comment. With Brynn taking this Advent off, I’d welcome the assistance.)

    It is a privilege to be with you on this Advent journey. Your presence is a great gift.
    And gifts are worth celebrating today, December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas.

    Thanks for being here.

    1. That link brought me to CBS story about Wrigley Field and its friendly confines. How interesting that they use the ancient manual scoreboard. Do you think they will ever go digital? William Wrigley, Jr owned the cubs and the chewing gum company, proving that one can play ball and chew gum at the same time!Guessing you live in the windy city?

  8. Patricia, I love your citation of Mr. Rogers’ wisdom about looking for the helpers and being the helper. I think of the inspiration of the divers who returned to that cave over and over to bring those young athletes to safety—and at the expense of one diver’s life. I think of first responders, good Samaritans, tireless volunteers of a multitude of nonprofits, and everyday people who inevitably step up to daunting challenges. I am grateful for the hospice nurses and chaplain who bolstered me as I tiptoed with great trepidation into the role of my mother’s caregiver in the last months of her life. Yes, let us look for the helpers in the darkest times.

    Catalina, I also love your reference to “stepping over the wounds” in an effort to avoid resentment, which can easily become the default response in a close relationship that we may just end up taking for granted. One of my loved one uses the analogy of “death by a thousand cuts” to describe the damage that can be done when we don’t curb our tongues or when we let each small cut fester. Cuts heal if we don’t keep irritating or infecting them. Easier said than done sometimes, but so important for our own spirits as well as those of others.

    Eva, there is great wisdom in your observation about the blessing of being vulnerable, the privilege of being let into a friend’s suffering. What a blessing if you have been chosen as one capable of keeping a confidence, sharing the burden, and perhaps helping. Once when I tried to play the independence card and fend off offers of help, one friend pointed out the opportunity (blessing) I was denying to the other friend who had made the offer of help. In saying “no, thank you,” I had been thinking of the possible imposition on the helper’s time, but I should have recognized that I was also trying to protect my own pride and sense of independence. A great lesson in humility and vulnerability.

    1. The Conversion chapter has opened my eyes (again) to how much I am loved by God. I am his beloved daughter! And so, I am not judged, nor do I need to judge others. Sigh…. it is a journey I am on.
      Suddenly I am remembering that a few years ago after a medical issue I was forced to let my community minister to me. As someone who could always “do it myself”, that was not easy. But as it happened, I found myself loved and saw goodness everywhere. Oh how I loved. I realize I was being transformed. It was God’s way of tapping me on the shoulder and showing me the deepest truth of my existence – I am loved! I gradually stepped out of my need to judge others and my need to evaluate everybody and everything. I am growing toward real inner freedom and real sanctity.

  9. Wagon wheel image is one that, surprisingly, holds meaning for me…I belong to a Sunday School class whose name has been “COG” for a # of years. “Circle of Growth” has continually turned in relation to others…reminds me of a song we sing at church, original title was “Canticle of Turning”….titled in our songbook “My soul cries out”… a phrase in the 1st verse of this song is “and my spirit sings of the wondrous things that You bring to the ones who wait.” Kind of a “Behold” moment for me as I read Nouwen, your responses…so many Behold moments, followed by God’s provision! So glad for time to savor what God has done and continues to accomplish…centered in Jesus.

  10. …on chapter 3, “Suffering”

    Several years ago I read a book by Ken Wilbur with a powerful passage on suffering which I reread periodically: “A person who is beginning to sense the suffering of life, is, at the same time, beginning to awaken to deeper realities, truer realities. For suffering smashes to pieces the complacency of our normal fictions about reality, and forces us to become alive in a special sense –to see carefully, to feel deeply, to touch ourselves and our world in ways we have heretofore avoided. It has been said, and truly I think, that suffering is the first grace.”

    My suffering opens my eyes to see what was there all along. It enables me to touch the miracle of small things and realize the wonder of each person I meet. It makes it possible for me to catch a glimpse of the Lord’s compassion, teaching me to be tender with others and with myself. Dear Father, help me to find strength in my fragility and fragility in my strength. Amen.

    1. Patricia,
      I relate to the belief that suffering teaches us to be tender with others and with ourselves, We just never know what deep wounds another person has from past or present hurts. I think Henri affirms this concept in his book, ‘Wounded Healers.” The wounded ones are better able to tend to the wounds of others. May my compassion deepen as my eyes open to the suffering of others.

  11. From Emily
    Hi all! Like many of you, this is my first online book discussion and I am very excited to embark on this adventure. I’m currently located near San Francisco, California. I came to know Henri Nouwen through Fr. Jim Martin.

    I was raised Catholic and went away from the church during my college years. I came back to the Church after I graduated form university and have been attending church and studying for the past 5-6 years. It wasn’t until the last nine or so months when I started meditating and increasing my spiritual reading that I found a personal connection with God. I look forward to talking with others who are on their spiritual journey as well!

  12. The chapter on joy and sorrow was very insightful, helping me to understand the need to constantly remember to choose joy. This choice, moreover, must be made even when events are most troubling—even when death is near. Also, Henri’s comments about discovering “joy in the midst of sorrow” is something that, if we have gone through the death of loved ones, may be quite evident. Other highlights, for me, included his penetrating reflections about the relationship between joy and hope. As he says, “hope frees us from the need to predict the future and allows us to live in the present, with the deep trust that God will never leave us alone…” (p. 41).

    Regarding joy, a few comments by Pope Francis from EVANGELII GAUDIUM (The Joy of the Gospel):

    “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.”

    “The books of the Old Testament predicted that the joy of salvation would abound in messianic times…The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, constantly invites us to rejoice. A few examples will suffice. “Rejoice!” is the angel’s greeting to Mary (Lk 1:28). Mary’s visit to Elizabeth makes John leap for joy in his mother’s womb (cf. Lk 1:41). In her song of praise, Mary proclaims: “My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Lk 1:47). When Jesus begins his ministry, John cries out: “For this reason, my joy has been fulfilled” (Jn 3:29). Jesus himself “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” (Lk 10:21)…”

  13. In Chapter three titled “Suffering”, page 59 we read:

    “I must resist the temptation to let the forces of darkness pull me into despair and make me one more of their many victims.”

    This encouragement for us is elaborated on in a picture for us to view found in the previous chapter titled “Joy” found on page 36:

    “Indeed it seems that the powers of darkness want to continue to surprise us with human sorrow. But these surprises paralyze us and seduce us to an existence in which our main concern becomes survival in the midst of a sea of sorrows. By making us think about ourselves as survivors of a shipwreck, anxiously clinging to a piece of driftwood, we gradually accept the role of victims doomed by the cruel circumstances of our lives. The great challenge of Faith is to be surprised by joy.”

    When we look out onto our world and see confusion, lack of compassion, an unwillingness for constructive dialogue, and the tremendous needs, it touches our own lives and we want to help if we ourselves are not overwhelmed by it all. This cauldron of turmoil is the darkness Henri Nouwen speaks to us about. It is part of the outworking of our human fraility. We want to help. We cry for change and a better life. We work for better policy. All good desires. We focus on why we do not see overwhelming change. We want to get to the bottom of all harmful actions. But it appears not to change the size of the darkness.

    It is this despair of not being able to change human sorrow that we are encouraged not to embrace. I don’t think it is meant for us as much as we want to expect the world and its sorrow to be completely healed by our efforts. I see God wanting to take me on a journey into this darkness, not understanding why it exist and offering my life to it with his light shining in me allowing other lights to burn. Where we see a world in despair God sees it differently and we do not have the capacity in our humanity to see it as he does. We must reach beyond the despair to get a glimpse of what God sees. As it says from Ecclesiastes 8:16-17 from The Message translation:

    “When I determined to load up on wisdom and examine everything taking place on earth, I realized that if you keep your eyes open day and night without even blinking, you’ll still never figure out the meaning of what God is doing in this earth. Search as hard as you like, you’re not going to make sense of it. No matter how smart you are, you won’t get to the bottom of it.”

    I am encouraged that in Henri Nouwen’s writings that he is calling us not to a place to understand why human sorrow exist but to a Cross where we yield and die to our understandings of human sorrow into closer communion with God. And in so doing we become less overwhelmed with life around us able to be bearers of life from beyond the confines of this world offering it to those bound to despair.

    1. When Henri says we can be like ones shipwrecked clinging to a piece of driftwood, I see a relation to the time when Jesus was in the boat with his disciples in the midst of a storm. Did they lack knowledge of how to guide their boat through the raging wind and water? They were experienced fishermen so they turned to their own resources. Only when they saw how useless they were, did they wake up Jesus and beg for help. That’s how I can be when hanging on for dear life to a piece of driftwood rather than seeking hep from the One hanging on the wooden cross. Not such an easy lesson but one that gets easier with practice. May I go to the cross in my troubles and stand with Mary, waiting for grace.

      1. Here is a song by Chris Tomlinson titled “At the Cross” which speaks to what you have said Liz.

        There’s a place where mercy reigns
        And never dies
        There’s a place where streams of grace
        Flow deep and wide
        Where all the love I’ve ever found
        Comes like a flood
        Comes flowing down

        At the cross, at the cross
        I surrender my life
        I’m in awe of You
        I’m in awe of You

        Where Your love ran red
        And my sin washed white
        I owe all to You
        I owe all to You, Jesus
        There’s a place where sin and shame
        Are powerless
        Where my heart has peace with God
        And forgiveness
        Where all the love I’ve ever found
        Comes like a flood
        Comes flowing down

        At the cross, at the cross
        I surrender my life
        I’m in awe of You
        I’m in awe of You

        Where Your love ran red
        And my sin washed white
        I owe all to You
        I owe all to You
        Here my hope is found
        Here on holy ground
        Here I bow down
        Here I bow down
        Here arms open wide
        Here You save my life
        Here I bow down
        Here I bow

        At the cross, at the cross
        I surrender my life
        I’m in awe of You
        I’m in awe of You

        Where Your love ran red
        And my sin washed white
        I owe all to You
        I owe all to You
        I owe all to You
        I owe all to You, Jesus, Jesus
        Your love ran red
        Your love ran red

        Songwriters: Matt Armstrong / Ed Cash / Chris Tomlin / Matt Redman / Jonas Myrin
        At the Cross (Love Ran Red) lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Capitol Christian Music Group

  14. In Chapter 2, “Joy,” Nouwen explains that we have the “choice” to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. Knowing people who do just that in the midst of their sorrows and trials, magnifies this truth for me. If I stop and look back at times in my life that, then, seemed unbearable, I always find nuggets of joy and wonderful gifts that were a result of the sorrow. They were there all along, however at the time I could only see the sorrow and not its gift. Dear Father, help me to remember the lessons I learned in the midst of my trials and the outcomes that were more wonderful than I could ever have imagined or deserved.

    In the section, “Speaking about the Sun,” I especially love the passage that states: …”hope is more real than despair, faith more real than distrust, and love more real than fear.” Each time there is a troubling national disaster that alarms the children I teach, I share Mr. Rogers words that aired on a special program after the World Trade Center crisis in 2001. He looked into the television camera and said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” Changing focus to the helpers immediately gives children a redirection toward thankfulness, calming their fears.

    I pray that I will not only look for the helpers in my suffering and trials, but I will be a helper to others within their dark place, seeing God’s loving presence as he parts the clouds, revealing his merciful grace, and helping me to see joy and sorrow as friends.

    1. Just a side note, I believe that Mr. Rogers (assuming the same one I’m thinking of) was a friend and correspondent of Henri’s, from the book study the last couple of years “Love, Henri.”

      Hi by the way from Andrew from Abbotsford!

  15. As Eva said, it is indeed challenging to live in each present moment. Critical, I think, are Henri’s thoughts about how we can become trapped in the “oughts” and “ifs” of life, rather than recognizing that “real life takes place in the here and now. God is a God of the present. God is always in the moment” (p. 19).
    Oh, that we all could remember that vital message of the spiritual life!

  16. In section six of suffering: “stepping over our wounds” Henri speaks to us about how the ones closest to us are the ones more likely to hurt us. He stresses the importance of forgiveness and not staying caught in resentment. Theyknow how to step on our wounds but we are being invited by a higher kind of love to step over those wounds and move on.
    Lord give me the strenght to overcome hurts that are small when I compare them with the unconditional healing love that you provide me with in able to keep on loving.

  17. The SUFFERING chapter today has much to unpack for me. Three dear dear friends have shared their terrible suffering in the last week with me and I am deeply honoured to carry their despair/pain/grief with them. I know my praying and soul friendship makes a difference because Jesus carries it all with us.
    But it brings me to my own struggles with sharing my own suffering with others. Nouwen has expressed it so well when he says it gives a sense of power, of being one’s own boss, of being in control, to keep the issues inside. Being vulnerable, open is risky. I am on the journey and so thankful for my spiritual community for holding my hand through this, loving me and letting me know I am safe. It is so good to be able to let go!

    1. Eva, You bring up a good point about sharing in the suffering of others while being reluctant to share your own trials with others. Oftn I hear from others their awful troubles and then think “Gee my pains are small compared to that.” So I do not talk about what I need healing from. Some would say, “People don’t want to hear about my problems.” That could be true because some do not want the spotlight taken off them. How to solve this? One thing that would help me is to remember to end the conversation with, “I’ll pray for you and please do pray for me.” Even if they aren’t open ears to my plight, get them to promise prayer.
      What do you think?

      1. Asking them to pray for you is such a good idea. It does not commit them to it but it does, hopefully, bring the point that brokenness is in everyone, even you the listener.

  18. Once again, we have an incredible group gathered here and I am deeply touched by your thoughtful reflections.

    Bishop Frank Caggiano posted this on Twitter this morning: “If we are not intentional in making time to prepare, we will find ourselves, before we know it, on the threshold of Christmas, having lost a great opportunity to prepare ourselves to receive the only gift of Christmas that matters- the Lord Himself.”

    Thanks to each of you for your intentionality during this Advent season and for sharing your preparation with us all. It’s a blessing for me to journey with you.


  19. Several years ago the Lord spoke this phrase into my heart “Here now”. Many times throughout my day I remember this short but very meaningful statement. It reconnects me with my present life but more importantly it connects me with the true and ever presence in my life, God.

  20. Hello. I have joined the Advent and Lenten book discussions before and have been anticipating reading and joining the discussion. Part of advent for me is putting aside time to center myself in prayer receiving from God and meditating. I especially found the words and sentiment on page 20 strengthening. “To pray is to listen attentively to the One who addresses us here and now. When we dare to trust that we are never alone but that God is always with us, always cares for us, and always speaks to us, then we can gradually detach ourselves from the voices that make us guilty or anxious and thus allow ourselves to dwell in the present moment.” The page finishes with “If we could just be, for a few minutes each day, fully where we are, we would indeed discover that we are not alone and that the One who is with us wants only one thing to give us love.” I have found this to be true over and over the recognition that only God understands me fully and I am never alone and to rest and receive from that astounding source of love and the person of Christ. And yet I can get swept up in the voices and events of life and forget to spend time quietly receiving the love of God that is the reality of Christmas. I am grateful for these discussions and hope to remain committed to listening to the voice of love a few minutes each day….maybe …hopefully more than that! Blessings and peace to all in this season of Advent.

    1. Hello Sharon,
      Yes, I also found Henri’s reflections on prayer very insightful: “Prayer is a discipline of the moment” (p. 22). I too hope to listen to that voice of love as much as possible in this Advent season and beyond.
      Thanks for your thoughts!

  21. In Chapter Two titled “Joy” Henri Nouwen does an excellent job separating joy and hope from wishes and happiness. Joy and hope are spiritual gifts while wishes and happiness are based on circumstances pleasing to us. Joy and hope are not chained to our favorable expectations. Our world can collapse and joy and hope can remain as we maintain our gaze on the Lord. This reminds me of the passage found in Habakkuk 3:17-18 as follows:

    “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

    If we are depending on our surroundings, our communities, our nation, our world for sustenance leading to a good life we will be disappointed. Our life does not come from these sources. Instead, as Henri Nouwen says on page 44:

    “When I could no longer cling to my normal supports I discovered that true support and real safety lie far beyond the structures of our world.”

    Joy and hope reside beyond what supports us in our surroundings. It comes from the throne of God and our residing in His presence.

    1. Beyond the structures of the world lies our hope and joy. Chris, how true! When the stock market plunges due to uncertainty about trade deals, the drop signals that our leaders need to step up, dialogue, compromise, and make the stock prices rise. Have we a much better source for reviving a drooping spirit, weak knees and clouded vision? Going to the throne of Mercy will surely be a source of grace for any need. When I feel that droopiness coming on, I like to pray Psalm 51 verses 10-12 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
      and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
      Do not cast me from your presence
      or take your Holy Spirit from me.
      Restore to me the joy of your salvation
      and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

      1. Liz,

        “A willing spirit to sustain me.” Reminds me of Peter leaving the comfort of the boat to walk on the water to Jesus. In the process his gaze became consumed with the storm instead of Jesus. The storm- politics, culture, society, financial, religious, etc. ideas other than our own worry us and require our attention without sustaining us. We succumb to them and grow impoverished and unfulfilled. Just like with Peter, Jesus calls us to him so the storm does not swallow us. The issue is not being allowed to serve in the mentioned participants of the storm but whether we allow them to consume our heart so we have less place for our Lord. As you have stated we need to cry out to the Lord for a willing spirit.

  22. Children are masters of living in the present. At the small, rural elementary school where I teach, we begin each day with morning assembly. During that time we recognize children who have a birthday, as well as the “Student of the Day,” which is a random draw from all students. The children’s photos are shared on social media, and they have the honor of sitting at a decorated place at lunch, as well as other perks throughout the day. Both recognitions are a big deal to our kids.
    We often have visitors from other schools attend morning assembly to learn ways we create a child friendly environment. The surprising question we have learned to expect from those visiting is, “What do students have to do to be recognized as Student of the Day?” It always surprises them when we respond, “Nothing. We want them to know they are each special just as they are, and we are glad they’re here.”
    Children live in the present. Sadly, we gradually and unwittingly manage to destroy that by reminding children about past failures they must remedy in order to be successful tomorrow. We are conditioned as children to look backward to the “oughts” and forward to the “what ifs.”
    Although I admit to being a worrier, the perfect example of living in the present is in each child’s face I see throughout my day, shouting for me to honor this day. When I am still, I know that I, too, receive undeserved gifts from the Father, showing me how special I am, and that he’s glad I’m here. Yet, I fall back into the “oughts” and “what ifs,” despite what I know. Lord have mercy.
    There is a reason the Bible says of children, “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” They live in the present, forgetting the hurts of yesterday and unconcerned for the future. Help me be a little child.

    1. Hello Patricia,
      Thanks very much for your comments about children (“masters of the present”), birthdays, and the “Student of the Day” at your school. Your practices at the school helps provide useful applications as we read about Henri’s insights regarding birthdays and other ways of simply thanking a person “for being born and being among us” (p. 20).
      I too am distracted by the many “oughts” and “ifs” in life. Let us pray we can move beyond those to the “here and now.”

    2. I have so often thought similarly about children, especially during the 7 years I have been a Grandmother. I think that this must be one of the most important joys and gifts they give us. We stop and enter the ‘now’ with them, and find that it is a wonderful place to be.

  23. As one who gets caught up in the “oughts” and “what ifs” that Henri advises distract us from the here and now, I needed the reminder and reassurance in chapter 1, section 2: “God is not someone who was or will be, but the One who is, and who is for me in the present moment.”. This also brought to mind the words of Jesus recorded at the end of the gospel of Matthew: “I am with you always even to the end of the age.”. Jesus did not say I will be with you; He said I am with you, always. This is a promise on which I can depend, here and now and moment by moment.

  24. My name is Susan Vergeront and I am a retired Presbyterian pastor. The very first chapter hit me right in the heart. I had just written an essay about being “the great pretender“. Nouwen wrote “ is it possible that imagination can lead to the truth of our lives.” The great pretender is always doing well, everything is fine, I’m feeling great. This is A habit from earlier. I always try to be OK for my mom. I am working on finding the real me and living each moment. I am trying to be honest with myself, and when appropriate share a few of my problems with others. I am also and always have been honest with God. I want to be just one person. I’m praising God for Henri’s writing.

  25. “Open the eyes of my ❤, Lord. I want to see You.” is my prayer and chorus today. I’m doing “Here & Now ” and “The Faithful – Heroes of the Old Testament” right now. As so often happens, God has brought 2 elements into my life to affirm one truth He wants me to grasp – His desire to have a loving, intimate relationship with me, with us. He revealed Himself to Gideon and to Mary in angelic form long ago but He is ready to reveal Himself to us TODAY in “the ordinary” if we will come prayerfully to Him singing “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. I want to see You.”

    1. That’s true Helen. “The heavens declare the Glory of our Lord,” but we have to have our eyes open. We need to see, really see. All day long our Lord is saying to us in so many ways, “Hey, Hi, here I am!”

  26. On many of our meditative walks in the mountains of our community, our group leader often asks us to sync the rhythm of our steps with this prayer:
    May you be safe and protected.
    May you be healthy and strong.
    May you be truly joyful.”

    We walk first for about five minutes praying this prayer for people we love, then five minutes for people we feel challenged to love, and then five minutes for ourselves. Then we will walk and pair-share our reflections with a series of partners. Not surprisingly someone may observe that it seemed impossible to pray for a person who appears to be totally evil (other than to pray for the person’s miraculous transformation). It is certainly hard to imagine such a person as a brother or sister, as a person who might feel unsafe or be in pain. More surprisingly a walking partner may confess that it is painful to pray the prayer for oneself, an imperfect or suffering human being for whom true joy seems like a huge reach. But our leader will inevitably remind the group that we are able to walk, to climb, to breathe the mountain air, to take in the beauty of the natural world, and to realize that God made each of us a part of this glorious creation. And so we walk on in sync with this message of hope and consolation, back to our cars, back to our lives.

    1. Thank you Elaine for sharing this “walking prayer” – What a great model of prayer!!! I plan on using this – I struggle with praying for those challenging people in my life and continue to work on praying for them through God’s eyes.

    2. Your mountain walking/ praying is truly a gift. The triple 5 minutes pf prayer for those loved, those we are challenged to love and for ourselves is a good way to remember with mercy these persons as well as ourselves. Not sure you do these with snow covering the peaks? You could ride the chairlift up and down?

  27. From Sharon
    This is my first experience with the Henri Nouwen online studies. I am excited to be a part of this longing for a deepening awareness of God’s Love during Advent. I began reading the daily meditations and want to explore some of Henri’s works. I am a retired public librarian and have read and been aware of some of Henri’s works yet have not ventured to join a study group.

  28. I’m Janet. I live in Blue Eye, Missouri on the shore of beautiful Table Rock Lake. I’m so glad to be invited to join this community and reflect on the Truth as Christmas approaches.

  29. From Anne Shinney
    Hello, My name is Anne and this is my first attempt at an online blog! I am retired, live just south of Boston and not too computer savvy but hope I can work it out. I receive a number of emails from various Catholic sources and Henri Nouwen has been quoted often. Each time my thoughts are heightened by his statements and when I saw this program I wanted to join. Thank you for the opportunity to learn and share.

  30. From Margaret O’Donnell
    “One day I simply sat down and began to write down thoughts and feelings that emerged from my mind and heart.” From the Preface. I’m struck by the coherence of Henri’s core. I’m intruiged by his ability to go to his core and to name what is there. Reviewers say this is his ‘manifest’ – his proclamation of faith. I’m keen to get started, to discover this ‘core’ to his thinking. Happy Advent.

  31. I am so excited in joining you all this Advent, reading all your comments. My wish is to live in the moment and feel and keep myself with Christ close beside me through this Advent.

  32. The beginning of Advent celebration speaks about that longing that can only be filled by God being born and living in us.
    Henri’s recent readings are concepts that I’ve heard before, but are always seen anew for me when read again.

  33. On page 17 Revelations 21:2-5 is quoted :

    “I will wipe away all the tears from your eyes , there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. The world of the past has gone.”

    These are staggering words. I think words for the present and not only for our future in heaven. As Henri Nouwen encourages us on page 23: “Listening to the voice of love requires that we direct our minds and hearts toward that voice with all of our attention.” One aspect of Advent for me is that I can allow the concerns of this life fade away as my attention is directed toward God. It doesn’t mean I escape the travail of life but that I can see and dwell with God in its midst. As David tell says in Psalms 23: 5 –

    “You prepare a table in the presence of my enemies.”

    As we dwell in a world which can be unkind lacking mercy can we feast at the banquet table with God become full and break our lives out and offer it to our hurting world? With God’s Grace we can.

    1. Thanks Chris for sharing how much we need to be nourished at God’s banquet so that we have fullness of grace to offer our gifts to others. Thinking about that saying, Charity begins at home. Often it’s the ones closest to me who need my self-sacrificing love.

      1. Thank you Ellen. It is so easy to be distracted by our concerns and fears. I am so thankful that God calls us to come near. We really need his closeness with a world around us that needs it also.

    2. Chris, thank you for the staggering words. They come to me at a vulnerable time, as I slow down the pace of the world through this study. I can see that after picking a few scabs, I’m peeling back the hardened outer layer as God is reaching my most important part… my heart.

      1. Roger,

        I am appreciating Henri Nouwen’s thread throughout what I have read to date where he asks us to see with new eyes. Not to look at things with face value. Not to become content or distracted with how our world around us unfolds. But to find God in its midst. And to allow ourselves to be found by God when our eyes don’t cherish what we do see.

  34. From Jeanette
    I am looking forward to this Advent study. This will be the third or fourth online study I have participated in and I have enjoyed them and have had a deepening of my faith. My husband and I live in western Colorado. He is almost into the third year of a cancer journey so living in the here and now has been a theme I have been exploring for some months now. Nouwen’s insights are always provoking for me so I am hoping to learn more and be able to apply living in the here and now in my life.

  35. I like Henri’s comparison of distractions with cunning foxes. Dwelling on the past with regrets is useless as is anxiety about the future. As the Child Jesus trusted his life to his parents, my life is in God’s caring hands. I find the image of the Good Shepherd helpful when being a bit lost and needing guidance. Henri reminds me that God is neither a powerless. weakling nor a controlling boss but a Lover.

    1. I, too, am reminded of Song of Solomon 2:15 when I read of foxes….not only cunning foxes in my own personal life, but this verse reminds me to pray….Lord Jesus, “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in bloom.” Those foxes within community are often mistrust, lack of vulnerability and honesty…..Henri’s honesty, vulnerability gives me hope..watching and waiting for self, others as we find courage in our life together. “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” comes to mind….Jesus, Rose of Sharon, may He bloom “anew” in the here and now…trustingly

  36. From Pam
    Happy Advent to all! I’m delighted to be participating in a study with Nouwen’s work and to have an avenue for keeping my heart on the Lord during this season. I was first impacted by Henri Nouwen’s work in grad school and when reading The Wounded Healer. I’m a Christian counselor in Austin, TX. I look forward through this process to also connecting with all of you across the world!!

  37. I am a bit late with my introduction. I am Chris Hoffman and have lived in Middle Tennessee for two years after thirty years in Iowa. My wife and I retired to a warmer climate. I spend time with my neighbors and friends in the area along with service club involvement. I first heard of Henri Nouwen when I saw quotes of his pop up on Facebook and later as I have watched videos and read articles from Ron Rolheiser. The first page of the preface spoke to the surprising newness found in meditations. A sense of developing wonder. I look forward to cultivating this wonder and awe throughout this study.

  38. I am so challenged to live in each present moment. I have always tried to do that but as I read Henri’s words, I realized my head is forever on the next thing, the agenda for the day, the task before me. My God is HERE, let me be present to Him. He will be there in the next thing when I get there.
    As I sit in my chair this moment, the snowfall is heavy, a squirrel is looking for peanuts on the patio, chickadees are at the feeder, a crow is in the tree. It is all good.

    1. Eva, the beauty and wonder of the natural world never fails to astound me, and bring me closer to God. I feel that I can live in the moment when communing with nature. I too feel the constant pressure of worrying and planning for the next day, week, month … And I’m hoping the meditations in this book will help me find ways to refocus on the present, and on God.

  39. The image of the child evokes for me that stage of our life and consciousness that is not distracted by the cares, disappointments and concerns of the World.

    The child still lives mainly in the awareness of God. God’s coming in human form shows us how we can keep that connection for the rest of our life in time and beyond.

    It brings me peace to contemplate this and gives me strength to act in the World.

    It is a cause of celebration.

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