Feb 21st to 27th: Lent Week 1 – The Sabbatical Begins

Reading: September 2 to October 31, pages 3 to 45

I have always dreamt of a whole year. . . completely open to let something
radically new happen. But can I do it? Can I let go of all the things
that make me feel useful and significant?

September 2, 1995, p. 3

A warm welcome to everyone and thanks to the many people that introduced themselves. Thus far our virtual global community includes participants from across the USA and Canada, the UK, South Africa, and Indonesia. As we enter this second Lent during the COVID pandemic, I want to especially recognize the efforts and sacrifice of the healthcare and other essential workers that are joining us for this discussion. You have our deepest gratitude.

More so than some other books, each reader will be drawn to different entries in Sabbatical Journey based their life’s experiences or where they are in their spiritual journey. In the Foreward, Sr. Sue Mosteller suggests the approach we will take for our discussion. “This book begs to be read slowly, the reader paying attention to, and reflecting with Henri on the meaning of a particular encounter, of the event in Scripture or the news, of the insights from a new book, or of the background shaping the concert or the artifact. There is so much hidden depth and beauty here that the rapid, curious reader risks disappointment.”

Following Sr. Sue’s advice, rather than identifying particular thoughts or ideas that spoke to me and posing reflection questions to prompt your thinking as we done in recent discussions, I’d like to offer the following process that may guide your personal reflections and comments to the group.

  1. Read through Henri’s daily entries in the suggested reading above to get an overall sense of what Henri was involved with at the time and the experiences and ideas that captured his interest. This might be considered the rapid reading that Sue cautions against.
  2. Then select a few journal entries that stand out to you, and read them thoroughly, perhaps several times. In your careful reading and reflection, consider:
    1. The experience, thought, or concept that stands out to you
    2. How does it relates 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 through Henri’s experience and words? How have you been touched, inspired, challenged, and comforted on your spiritual journey.
    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 move toward spiritual freedom in your life? 
    5. Pray!
  3. Finally, please share with the group to the degree you are comfortable.

Please don’t feel bound to this process. As always, you are free to share whatever comes up for you in the readings, something from your personal experience, or feedback prompted by the comments of others. The thoughts and insights shared by the participants provide the heartbeat for every Henri Nouwen book discussion and we look forward to hearing from many you. However, we also know that some participants choose to read and journey with us without commenting. We’re grateful that you’re here whether you comment or not.

May the Lord give you peace during this first week in Lent.

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78 Responses to Feb 21st to 27th: Lent Week 1 – The Sabbatical Begins

  1. Eddie Dunn says:

    Having been raised and having become a minister in the conservative southern Church of Christ I can totally identify with Henri’s growth and change over the years. That church likewise taught us to believe that all those on the “outside” were lost. Also like him I find myself, ceasing to be a minister more than 50 years ago and now in the Catholic Church, to increasingly believe that “all human beings can walk through that door (to God’s house) whether they know Jesus or not”. That this alienates me spiritually from many friends and family members is still a challenge for me. Also, music being so central to the experience of joy in my life, like him I too can find myself brought to tears by listening to both classical and contemporary Christian music, and so I love his descriptions of his own such experiences. Again like him, I once had the experience of having a friend reveal to me a prayer list with my name on it! It was a singular blessing I have never forgotten and it has encouraged me to let others know when I am praying for them or when they are on my mind. I was taught by my mother the importance of even the briefest of messages to let others know we both love them and think of them and I, like Henri, use postcards and now text messages to do this. I applaud his assertion that “God is where we are weak, vulnerable, small, and dependent… where the poor are, the hungry, the handicapped, the mentally ill, the elderly, the powerless”, and this defines the church for me, so thankful to be a member of such a body of people! Seeing a cathedral as a “place where power and piety meet”, one can’t help but wonder what Jesus would say about such a union! Oh, how wonderful that Henri was able to spend loving time with his aged father, time that was “beautiful, simple, and deeply intimate”. As it had not always been so for him, I too had a similar inadequate relationship with my own father but, sadly, was unable to have such conversations before he left us. Thankfully, I was able to express my love for him before that, even if he was medically unable to respond. I admire Henri’s response to Ursula’s “tirade” against the church, feeling that I still lack the desired courage to always similarly respond to such attacks on my own faith. Finally, my experience of the Eucharist has clearly been deepened by Henri’s observation that therein God “reveals Himself to us in weakness” and that “we only live our weakness as a place of God’s appearance (It was the day of Epiphany) when we truly believe that we have been loved since before we were born and will be loved after we have died”!

  2. Deborah A Mackall says:

    So far, he has been visiting with a lot of friends and not spending much time alone. It is not what I expected. I keep thinking his schedule will calm down after the upcoming Holidays. Fall is a pretty busy season, so we shall see. His need for affection and fear of rejection relate to me quite a bit. I am grateful I have recently recognized my temperament and am working on wholeness- which has led me to times of solitude and silence. . I no longer fear them as I once did, though I am still lousy at silencing in my head- it’s progress!

  3. Connie McMahon says:

    I was surprised by the vote made in Quebec to separate from Canada that Henri mentions in his October 31st entry and his comments on the fragility of the victory. I have felt very fragile after this election for the same reason. He suggests that the great division will need to be addressed in the coming years in a creative and healing way. I hope and pray that we are able to do just that.

  4. Ray Glennon says:

    Two more interesting items from our readings this week:

    In addition to being a widely acclaimed author, Henri was in great demand as a speaker. Through his many activities he became friends with and a spiritual director to a number of prominent people, two of whom are mentioned this week.

    On October 27th Henri mentions a “five-page meditation on unconditional love for my friend Joan, in San Diego.” His friend is Joan Kroc, the widowed wife of Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s. This meditation is included in the recent book Love, Henri – Letter’s on the Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen, edited by Gabrielle Earnshaw. The meditation concludes with eight guidelines for a spiritual life.

    In his entry for Sunday, October 29th, Henri mentions that he called his friend Fred in Pittsburgh to console him and tell him about the prayers that were offered after learning that Jim had lost his dearest childhood friend the previous day. Henri’s friend Fred in Pittsburgh is the children’s television icon Fred Rogers. In fact, it was Fred Rogers that introduced Henri to Joan Kroc–and both were on Henri’s mind, in his heart, and in his diary in late-October 1995.

    Ray, Moderator

    • Michelle says:

      Ray, thank you for sharing these amazing tidbits with us! I am moved by how important friendship was to Henri, and the fact that his friends included people from a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences, and notoriety speaks to his own humility, authenticity, and genuine care for others. He spiritually companioned so many without seeming to get caught up in feelings of grandiosity or self-importance. Just lovely.

    • Carl Riedy says:


      These details are quite kind of you to share.
      I was hoping I would be able to find that meditation.
      It is so easy to see Henri and Fred Rogers together … true should friends.

  5. Michelle says:

    I am heartened and challenged to see Henri grappling with his fatigue: “The real question for me is how to live my fatigue as an experience that can deepen my soul. How can I live it patiently and fully experience its pains and aches?” (September 11). I often want to avoid or quickly get rid of anything that makes me feel uncomfortable or on edge, especially difficult feelings or bodily pains. Henri sees his particular struggles as opportunities to deepen his soul. Wow! It gives me a whole new appreciation for attending gently and with curiosity to whatever discomfort is arising in me.

    I am also touched by Henri’s admission that he needs community: “…I know how crucial it is for me to belong to this community. My restless mind, anxious heart, and tired body easily lead me to experiences of loneliness and uselessness and tempt me to faithfulness” (September 15). His recognition of his need for others reminds me of how important it is to welcome and receive others’ care in my life and to return it accordingly.

  6. Carl Riedy says:

    I read pages 3-45, developing a rhythm based on the content. I will offer these ‘themes’ or words that resonated most with me. I am curious the way they will continue if at all in the future.
    Death seemed to invade multiple pages. I am beginning to think more about that inevitability and so its recurrence stuck with me. As someone who has thought about preparing his funeral service and all the events surrounding it, I was struck by Henri’s admission that while he had preferences he did not want to control his burial. (P.17) Maybe it is a combination of ego, control and trust for me. Will people articulate the legacy I want and create the message I hope to offer in gratitude to my children and in love and hope to my grandchildren? Even today at 72, will one more message really matter. I will spend more time during Lent on life’s impermanence and death.
    Two other words — friendship and community — struck me. Henri certainly developed a great number of friends, didn’t he? It made me think of our family and friends, be grateful for them and wonder if you can ever have enough. As for community, I am very aware of the power as we/I are very active in several, one of which involves a vulnerable community from a genetic, life threatening disease. Vulnerability creates love, resiliency and hope.
    Nouwen’s comments on pp 5&6 regarding prayer were insightful and thought-provoking. How would I describe my prayer journey and my spiritual journey? I hope he will comment further as the journal continues.
    Nouwen’s faith is so integrated, so pervasive throughout his life, it is sometimes difficult for me to comprehend it or compare it to my own. He seems to be at a level, which is hard for me to imagine.
    On October 26, page 43, Nouwen mentions writing a 5-page meditation on unconditional love. Is that available in any of his writings or in an archive available to the public? I have been focusing on love and unconditional love in some personal writing I am doing. I would appreciate reading his perspective.
    In closing, I am glad I have made this practice part of my Lenten journey.
    Blessings and loving kindness …

  7. John T Smith says:

    Online Journal Entry.
    The journaling habit I am trying to establish has taken two forms, both still inconsistent. This digital form, which is cleaner, and several pages of scrawled notes in a small journal that was a Christmas gift from my mother. I am glad I have been finally able to put the little journal to use, since it has been gathering dust on a shelf in my office/library. I am reviewing this journal which has entries from my reading of Sabbatical Journey, mixed with notes from my daily morning reading of A Year with Thomas Merton, and notes from The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich, which I finally finished today. I have four things that have made it into the notes.
    From Sunday, September 3: When Henri described his difficulty praying, I felt so much better to know that it is not only me. Even when I am praying a rote prayer, frequently I have a hard time keeping my mind from wandering before I get to the end of the prayer.
    From Sunday, October 1: “Community is so much more than living and working together. It is a bond of the heart that has no physical limitations. Indeed, it is candles burning in different places of the world , all praying the same silent prayer of friendship and love” (p 29) I was already in the habit of lighting a candle for morning prayer, meditation, yoga sessions. I think that will also become a new habit for prayer and writing. Later Henri cites the passage from Sirach and provides the instruction “pray with humility and confidence”.
    From Tuesday October 17 “Be sure that , your studies, your prayers, your friendships, you love the life you are living now….Then you can trust that God will reveal to you the direction to go when the time comes.” (p 38) This resonates with me as I approach a “season of life” transition.
    There were other things that made it to my journal, but I had better stop here with the question I keeps coming back. Can you drink the Cup?

    • Barry Sullivan says:

      Your comments are applicable to my life as well.

      My mind wanders during prayer, with rote prayers (which I grew up with in eight years of Catholic school) being nearly impossible for me. However, I am sure that for some they offer entry ways to God and Godly experiences.

      Regarding lighting a candle, this seems like a great idea. Not something I have done in many years; however, a burning candle may well aid in prayer, Bible reading, devotional reading or listening, and other spiritual practices.

      To your last point, I have grown to place considerable emphasis on that word “trust,” whether it relates to deciding upon directions in life, dealing with illness or distress, mourning the loss of a loved one, and many other matters. A Bible scholar (citation needed, I know!) has noted that when we read the words “faith” or “belief” in scripture, a better translation might be “trust.”

      Thanks for your fine insights!

    • Patricia A Kaiser says:

      All very salient and personal comments, I can relate. Your journal seems to be a good helper.

  8. Eddie Dunn says:

    I was struck by this insight of Henri’s: “When I think about the pains and joys of my life, they have little to do with success, money, career, country, or church, but everything to do with friendships.” His reference to the interdependent relationships of the astronauts in the movie Apollo 13 speaks to this as well, as does the detailing of his visits with dear friends. This is my story as well! I see those who have populated my life journey as part of the fabric of my life, of who I am today! This is likely why I make such efforts to stay in touch, even if only infrequently and minimally, with all of these dear gifts from God! I was also struck by this: “I am aware that this wound of mine is a gift in disguise. These many short but intense experiences of abandonment lead me to the place where I’m learning to let go of fear and surrender my spirit into the hands of the One whose acceptance has no limits.” This near the end of his life has been a struggle for me as well, though considerably less so now at the age of 83. I so appreciate his honesty!

  9. Jim Willis says:

    Two portions that stood out in this week’s reading were:
    6-Sep – looking out over lake Ontario, how this point of view and thoughts came about due to the events of a few days earlier on 2-Sep. Life can change so quickly.
    4-Oct – Pope John Paul’s one sentence “Nobody is so poor that he has nothing to give, and nobody is so rich that he has nothing to receive”

    • Barry Sullivan says:

      I too like that quote from Pope John Paul. I have probably heard it before, but it really stuck with me as I see it again. Perhaps it is the way Henri connected it to peacemaking and the need to transcend the tendency (reflected in today’s culture as well as when he wrote this) to stop dividing people. The U.S., a powerful and rich country, has much to give, but “only if it is also willing to receive can its giving be a true contribution to peace” (p. 29).
      Thanks for you insights!

  10. Sue Lucas says:

    Hello everyone. My name is Sue Lucas from west Texas. I am so thankful to be apart of this book study (my first time!) and am really enjoying the book as well as your comments.
    One of the most striking aspects for me so far has been Nouwen’s joyful abandon when engaged in viewing musical, theatrical or artistic events. His awareness of God’s presence in these types of communities and his desire to be in connection with all gathered there challenges me to look for and connect with God in all of my own activities as he does in his!

  11. Jamie says:

    Throughout Henri’s first two months of journaling, I am struck by how he looks for/notices spirituality in everything he comes across. This both encourages me to do the same and leaves me feeling like there would be absolutely too much to process if I tried to do so. Which begs the question, am I just doing too much if I don’t have time to even reflect on God’s hand in it all?

    I am constantly feeling the tension between what is God’s work in my growth and what is mine. This continues to highlight that for me.

    Regardless, I am blessed by the reminder that in the end, there is spirituality in all things.

  12. Barry Sullivan says:

    In terms of Henri’s thoughts that especially grabbed my attention, in addition to what I noted previously (his comments on page 8 about the “mysterious line where water and sky touch”), I must quickly note these: his devotion to celebration of the Eucharist in dining rooms and various other settings, the positive relationship with his father, and his frequent comments about fatigue. Regarding the latter, including his need for long naps, we now are aware that his life was nearing its end. This is made more poignant by his discussion with Nathan (September 18) about his own death, such as “Keep me away from a funeral home.”

    The diary entries relating to those topics provide deep insights regarding this exceptional spiritual thinker and communicator as he lived his final months.


  13. Nicola Santamaria says:

    On September 27th Henri wrote:
    “Why are you so restless, why are you so anxious, why are you so ill at ease, why do you feel so lonely and abandoned?”
    When I think of Henri I think of him as an expert in the Spiritual life. He was an experienced priest with a wealth of pastoral experience. He had lectured at Yale. He had written many books. So it is a surprise to see how vulnerable he was, how anxious, how wounded. Of course he also wrote the book The Wounded Healer, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

    Later in the same day’s entry he writes:
    “What to do with this inner wound that is so easily touched and starts bleeding again? ….. Perhaps it is the gateway to my salvation, a door to glory, and a passage to freedom.”
    I found it useful to chew over this idea, that a supposed weakness could be a doorway to something better. It chimes with something else Henri wrote a month later, on October 27th, when he was writing about the tragedy of the death of Rebecca, the baby girl who only lived for a few hours. Here he talks about “the value of life is life itself”, so even if a life is filled with pain and sorrow or with great genius and accomplishments, that life still has equal value. Although she only lived a short while, Rebecca’s life had meaning and purpose and led her to a path of glory.

    Can growth come through suffering? I believe it can, although I would not dare to say this to a bereaved parent, or even to someone who is suffering from depression and anxiety. I can only say it to myself, by way of encouragement when the road is hard.

  14. Ray Glennon says:


    On October 18th, Henri mentions his Winnipeg journal “that I wrote during my depression in the winter and spring of 1988 while receiving spiritual therapy in Winnipeg.” Henri experienced an emotional and spiritual breakdown about a year after arriving at L’Arche due to the disruption of a friendship. He first wrote (somewhat indirectly) about that period in his life this in his classic The Return of the Prodigal Son published in 1992. The next few years were perhaps the most fruitful in Henri’s life. By 1996 he was ready to share his spiritual anguish and growth from his time in Winnipeg with his readers. During his sabbatical he preparing his journal for publication as The Inner Voice of Love–a deeply personal reflection from this dark, yet ultimately healing and fruitful, time in Henri’s life. https://www.amazon.com/Inner-Voice-Love-Journey-Through-ebook/dp/B0046A9JA2 We discussed the Inner Voice during Advent 2015. http://wp.henrinouwen.org/?cat=15&paged=6 In my view, this outstanding book is best read after completing The Return.

    Ray, Moderator

    • Patrick Watters says:

      Powerful and liberating once we have come through it. It is the path of the “wounded healer”. My own 12 year long clinical depression full of many dark nights of my soul was a crushing time that has born much healing juice. #abide
      Patrick Perching Eagle aka anonemoose monk }:- a.m.

    • Barry Sullivan says:

      Ray: Thanks for this informative background as well as others you have posted. I will check out his Inner Voice of Love.

    • Patricia A Kaiser says:

      Nouwen delights in Jonas playing shakuhachi – Sept. 19, 1995. My dear friend, Royce, has a son who an excellent artist on the shakuhachi. Once I heard him accompany a regional koto ensemble. Apart from my fondness for the shakuhachi, I am moved by seeing Henri had a very close relationship with our Lord, in the beauty of friendship and prayer. Although zen practice is foreign to many Catholics, I feel a bond with Henri for his acceptance of eastern practices, since Catholic zen meditation made a difference in my life. The call to me is to revisit and draw from those experiences that have given me a personal sense of beauty and truth. His awareness of his own anxieties is a gift not all have. It is a trade-off, loving others and shutting out the world. Both were important to him, and each prevailed at one time or another. How can it be otherwise?

  15. Sandra Dickau says:

    Oh September 9th- I keep going back to that entry. I have now read it 3-4 times and cracked open my bible and looked up a few of the verses related to the cup. Henri speaks about drinking the cup- Jesus question to James and John- “Can you drink the cup?
    Two things resonate with me I want to comment on:
    1. Henri speaks about doing a 365 page daily journal for publication- he laments not being personal enough, narrative in nature etc. I laughed out loud- Henri’s writings leaves it all on the page. His vulnerabilities, his personal narrative drip off the page- this is what I think we resonate with. Someone, something real… Henri speaks of his own cup to drink- sorrow and joy. The dichotomy is so common in Henri’s writings- movements so to speak from this to that… We live both joy and sorrow daily
    2. As I read the stories of James and John- Hey Jesus they say – can we sit on your left and right in heaven? Jesus says ‘Can you drink the cup I drink? Can you be baptized with the baptism I have been baptized with?” “We can” they say. Ok Jesus says you will do this- but it it is not up to me to decide who will be on my ‘right’ and on my ‘left’ in heaven. James and John and us – me- often miss the point of ‘Can you drink the cup”
    I look to Henri who takes this to mean how do we live our sorrows , our joys, our cup of life given to us? Its a big fat question that takes a life to pragmatically work out.
    Am I here to serve God- live a Christ life or a me life- the juxtaposition of the two is stunning. Henri said condemnation and salvation are in that ‘cup’ – there is so much to ponder here…
    Personally- every year in January I do not make resolutions- I make an intention statement to live by, lean into, yell at, lament, embrace… This year after much prayer and petition and silence I still did not have an intention till I read the September 9th entry. “Can you drink the cup” VOILA- my intention statement- thanks God- it sure took awhile to come- but it is right.
    Working as a Director in a Hospital during Covid, experiencing our fist grandchild, turning 60 (2 days ago) , living with someone with cancer… -“Can you drink the cup?” just works this year.
    How will I live out my relationship with God in 2021? “Can I drink the cup?”
    As we lead into the last supper leading into Easter weekend I would like to understand the ‘cup’ better. Well if Henri was going to write about this question for a 365 day journal it seems worthy of pondering.

    • Sandra,

      I am taken by Jesus’ and your question too: “Can you drink this cup?”

      First, let me first say I have a 90 year old friend who on her 85th birthday water skied around San Diego Bay. She has 3 children and has suffered a lot in life but has a joyous, virbrant spirit. She is a beautiful woman. In a recent phone conversation she said “I hope my children have tinsile faith to keep them strong in suffereing.”

      I think that goes to Jesus’ question. The question isn’t “if” you drink the cup. It’s “can.” The assumption is that you will drink the cup. The only question is “how,” I will choose to do it. My 90 year old friend kept turning to Jesus. Kept trusting. Even in the face of suffering made mystery. A faith like can’t be man-made but remains stable through a rythmic surrender in the face of senselessness struggle.

      I was pondering the question “Can you drink this cup?” this morning while reading my devotional, “A Guide for Prayer for All Who Seek God.”
      I was surprised to see today’s reading (138), in light of your question:

      “A cup is a container for holding something. Whatever it holds has to eventually be emptied out, so that something more can be put into it. I have learned that I cannot always expect my life to be full. There has to be some emptying, some pouring out…to make room for the new. The spiritual journey is like that–a constant process of emptying and filling of giveing and receiving, of accepting and letting go.” ~Joyce Rupp, “the Cup of Our Life.”

      Some how, my San Diego friend found that secret. I hope that for me. And I pray that for you too.

      • Sandra Dickau says:

        Thank you for your thoughts on the cup. I was sharing on a ‘social distance’ walk with a friend this ‘ah ha’ moment about drinking the cup. She too asked how- how do we drink the cup? The quote by Joyce Rupp and your story of your 85 year old friend describes a ‘how’. I love the idea of having to let the cup empty to be refilled. There is a lot to ponder in Christ’s question to James and John. (I did get a kick out of the ‘boys’ wanting to sit on Jesus’ left and right- it reminded me of grade school where humans pass an age of innocence to one of power. James and John perceived (I suspect) that sitting on either side of Christ was more about perceived worldly power rather than wanting to be close to their dear friend.
        Lots to keep pondering on with the question Jesus posed.

      • Rita says:

        Beverly, what a powerful image; filling, emptying, and refilling a cup. I feel like that is one of the reasons I decided to join this discussion. I am wondering how my cup will be refilled. Henri’s writings offer encouragement that all will be well. Thanks for the reminder about Joyce Rupp’s work. I am headed to the basement to find my copy of the book! Blessings.

  16. Marybeth says:

    I have to start by saying I had quite a few entries that felt very meaningful and insightful, as others have mentioned. Trusting to be caught, the line between the sea and sky on the horizon, living my hidden and secret life, Paul being able to use the tactics of this world in the service of the Kingdom, the human heart uniting with the heart of the Universe and the metaphor of drinking the cup… so many profound comments to light our way!
    But the one that really hit home for me was on September 27th when he talked about a familiar wound, that it will never go away, but maybe for a good reason, a gift in disguise, a gateway, door or passageway to salvation, freedom… letting go of fear and surrender my spirit into the hands of the One who has no limits!
    The most fearful and suffering times in my life… difficulties in relationships, jobs, unexpected death of my husband, the global losses during this Pandemic; have all undoubtedly opened my wounds, but as Fr. Henri’s insight confirms, each time God is there for me, bringing me closer to Him, and my freedom, in Him, becomes more Real. I feel so comforted that Fr.Henri shared similar feelings. And I pray that I can stay close with God’s Spirit by participating in faith practice, including a spiritual, sharing community as this one. Thank you all for inspiring me too

  17. Ray Glennon says:

    From Mary J
    Hi, sorry I’m joining the group late – I recently returned from our son’s wedding in Turkey and ordered the book which just arrived. Happy to start reading. I live in the Hudson Valley area of New York. I can’t recall exactly when I started reading Nouwen’s books but have many of them and frequently give them to others when they are experiencing times of difficulty. Appreciate the introduction to Sabbatical Journey as one I do not have. I have been reading the daily devotionals for many years, and look forward to seeing them every morning. Look forward to the virtual discussions during this Lent.

  18. Gina says:

    At the end of Henri’s entry of October 18th I just had to put the book down and ponder this with God for awhile. Wow! I felt like what he was talking about regarding the integrated life and his questioning about the “wild person” in us being tamed without the cost of losing our vitality and creativity has been a continual theme in my life – in my personal journey and in my work as a theatre artist.

    • Diane says:

      Gina, I also spent some time thinking about this. He follows this by saying it takes “ concentrated effort to find our own unique ways to become whole.” I think he means recognizing our passions in life and honoring those with time and effort. But we can do that while maintaining some order and discipline. This must be the balance people find when they can dedicate their lives to something and remain motivated after many years.

  19. Sharon K. Hall says:

    I have enjoyed all the sharing on this blog. I think it evidences that Henri Nouwen was such a multi-faceted person. A couple of entries that really impacted upon my understanding of him was the revelation of the book that his father had written. In fact, I tried to find a copy on amazon but none was available. “The Last Confession” of his father must have been important in the reconciliation of their relationship, I’m guessing anyway. But also the entry on Saturday, September 30, really struck me as spiritually meaningful to me. “It seems that Catholics, independent of any particular subject, are mostly concerned about authority and doctrine. Somehow there is an “in or out” kind of thinking, even when the boundaries might be quite movable. “What is the truth and who has it?” is a question not explicitly stated but seeming always to be there unconsciously.” I was not raised Catholic but for quite a few years have been spending a lot of time worshipping in a Catholic parish. I kind of think many Catholics can think there is an “in or out” because of Eucharistic practices but actually in my spiritual experience there may actually be a higher authority in Jesus due to the theology of the Eucharist. Typically Protestants consecrate and distribute communion but then consume the remaining elements or some pour the wine out onto the ground or even back into the bottle and so forth and so on but it seems like the Eucharist ends with the human being carrying the Body and Blood of Christ. The Catholicism I have been experiencing has the elements being consecrated by the Priest but they don’t end in the human, even human re-presenting Jesus, but are carefully placed in the Tabernacle for Eucharistic Adoration. When a worshipper is in the liturgical worship, has been able to find herself/himself in a supportive relationship with the Priest, and then moves into Eucharistic Adoration for some time, ending with Benediction, even if some members may be thinking “in or out”, it feels like the higher authority of Jesus says “stay by me and I love you.” I believe the authority is higher and more transcendental than possibly people may imagine it to be, simply people may think in a “more confined way” about Jesus and His Power in His Church. Henri Nouwen’s observation towards the end of this entry that “Buddhists don’t divide their world between those who are “in” and those who are “out”. Their spiritual goal is to find the place of limitless compassion, where all is nothing and nothing is all.” To me that is the kind of non-dual thinking of Jesus too. A very provoking journal entry, in my opinion.

    • Elaine M says:

      Sharon, your point about the higher authority of Jesus in the message of “stay by me and I love you” really resonates with me. While my heart does break open during certain parts of the Catholic Mass, it happens for me just as often when I consider what Father Richard Rohr calls the Universal Christ–the Christ of the natural world, the intrinsic goodness in any act of selfless kindness by people of any religion or no organized religion at all. My heart breaks open when I read Rumi, take a mountain hike, read of the tireless efforts of first responders in the pandemic, or see a child on the playground comfort a tearful classmate. Sharon, your commentary on Henri’s September 30 journal has given me food for thought today.

  20. Lois Kooistra says:

    I’ve read the entries on prayer and friendship. My prayer life seems dry and dark, my prayers sporadic throughout the day. It’s an effort for me to meet God at an intimate level. The insight Henri gives regarding allowing God’s Holy Spirit “to blow freely within me” leads me to desire just that as I approach God in prayer. I don’t know how to do that, so I trust God to lead me. Less of me, more of Him in my prayer life. That is my prayerful desire.

    • Sandra Dickau says:

      Hell Lois- sometimes my deepest prayers are one word- HELP, or Have Mercy. I have found it hard to pray in a formal kind of way during Covid- I am an avid reader- 1 book a week kind of person. Since Covid I have read 4 books. The impact of the pandemic on us cannot be underestimated.
      So back to one word prayers- they have been some of my deepest moments. Even a pandemic can’t squelch the Holy Spirit in our lives.
      I am sitting now writing but also looking out the window at a sunny cold day- for me the act of being present as I simply sit aware of the trees against the sky- is indeed a communion- a prayer to/with God.
      I hope you are encouraged by the Holy Spirit .

  21. I am loving the deep sense of the necessity of complete and total surrender to Divine LOVE. The reading is difficult as I’m still dealing with an annoying (but sight preserving) gas bubble in my left eye. Wishing there was an audio version. }:- a.m. ♥️

    • Jim Willis says:

      I have had detached retina and the bubble in the eye.
      Could try Amazon Kindle text to speech? I am Deaf and have seen that option listed on Kindle books, but never tried it.
      ASIN : B00YLQU8PG
      Publisher : Crossroad (April 27, 2015)
      Language : English
      Text-to-Speech : Enabled

  22. The two cameos of Dennis Ross, US Mideast negotiator (Sept 26) and Pope John Paul (Oct 4) caught my attention. Henri describes both as “peacemakers.” Ross is characterized as competent but humble, “always allowing “other peope to be in the limelight and…content to keep a very low profile.” Pope John Paul is named a “holy peacemaker” (Oct 5) who has a vision for humankind captured in the phrase: “No one is so poor that he has nothing to give, and nobody is so rich that he has nothing to receive.” This, Henri says “is the powerful idea to undergird all peacemaking.

    This stood out for me because I’ve been struggling with peacemaking to see people who are polar opposites from me. Some are in my family and others in politics and even my church where we have the same faith, but hold different beliefs.

    That diversity came into bold relief Sunday night when I saw a dialogue at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. There was an angry outcry by LBGTQ folks because the Dean of the Cathedral invited an Evangelical who does not espouse gay/lesbian marriage, to give a sermon. The Bishop of the Episcopal Dioces could have intervened stopped it but did not. This was seen as a betrayal to the LBGTQ+ population.

    Hearing people’s voices all poured out pain. There was also volcanic anger, blame, shame and defensiveness. Many expressed sorrow, humility, pleas for forgiveness and promised to “never do that again.” But little could be done to soothe the open wound.

    God’s voice was insistent and invitational to me through this event. God called me to ponder what peace looks like in everyday living in small things with those whom I judge and can easily cut off without any consideration. God also seemed to be subtly issuing a paradox of peace whereby, even when another is dead wrong, “where does hatred and violence held in the heart really get you?” What does peace, reparation and reconciliation look like in the small places of your everyday living. How can we who live sharp diversity live into deep solidarity following Jesus Christ?

    I was left pondering these questions that brought me to tears. Without words or knowing how to act into peacemaking, I pray that the tears are an appeal that catches God’s attention. Because more and more I’m brought to my knees knowing that, “no one is so poor that he has nothing to give, and nobody is so rich that he has nothing to receive.”

  23. Ray Glennon says:

    Here’s another interesting item:

    In his entry for September 23rd, Henri mentions his game, “Do you have a thought for your Angel?” The short meditations / reflections he composed in his Museum Notes books during this sabbatical were published in 1997 as Bread for the Journey. This book was the source of the Henri Nouwen Society Daily Meditation emails through the end of 2018. Beginning in 2019, the recently released You Are the Beloved–Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living edited by Gabrielle Earnshaw has been used for the Daily Meditation emails.

    Ray, Moderator

    Book links:
    Bread for the Journey https://www.amazon.com/Bread-Journey-Daybook-Wisdom-Faith/dp/0060663596
    You Are the Beloved: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1101906375/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

  24. Diane says:

    I’ve only gotten through September so far. One of the simple ideas Henri shared that really made me stop and think was “ I don’t want to control my own funeral or burial”. When Covid was ramping up last spring, I took a look at my will, my power of attorney, and made sure my family knew about my end of life preferences. I thought about writing down things for my memorial service since I’ve heard many people say we should pick hymns, readings, scripture, etc so our family doesn’t need to be burdened with those decisions. I didn’t do it. It was refreshing to read these words from Henri. I think he’s right — it’s too controlling.

    I was also touched by “ what is experienced as most intimate is lived out as most universal”. To me, that expresses God’s presence in me as I live and move and have my being in a God who also dwells in every human and all of creation.

  25. Barry Sullivan says:

    There are so many profound, meaningful thoughts from Henri for each of the many days covered in this portion of the book. Just to note one now that stands out as I reviewed what I had read in the first 45 pages. Henri’s portrait (on page 8) of the “mysterious line where water and sky touch each other…a line that connects heaven and earth, soul and body, life and death.” I will remember this whenever I look at the horizon, though I don’t live near a body of water as large as Lake Ontario. Meditating on that line does, indeed, prompt me to think about “the depth of being.”



  26. Gina says:

    I just read the September 20th through 22nd entries. I was so delighted to read about the wonderful spiritual experience Henri had at the Empty Bell. Then, while reading the next day’s entry he had me laughing out loud as he described his experience at the health club. I could relate to both experiences! I am thankful for being able to see such different aspects of his character and am eager to keep reading.

  27. Carl Riedy says:

    Lenten blessings to everyone. I am Carl from Vienna VA, a Christian who practices in the Episcopal faith. Now retired, I am trying to spend more time on my faith. I recently returned to receiving Nouwen’s daily emails, including them with several others I have found helpful. Integral to this effort are several Lenten practices.
    I look forward to joining all of you on this journey.
    May the divine Three embrace each of you in their love.

    • Neil Fraser says:

      My first deep intimate experience with God happened in the Trinity On The Hill Episcopal church during a Cursillo weekend in the mid seventies.

  28. Ray Glennon says:

    From Melanie L. Bomar
    I am Melanie living in Los Angeles and am excited to join this reading and discussion group! I am a Worship Leader at our church, have been a Youth Leader of youth groups, and am a Psychotherapist as well. I first heard of Nouwen in my Spiritual Formation class in college.

    • Melanie, we have a couple of things in common. I am both a pastor and psychotherapist. I also have a daughter and son-in-law in Pasadena. So it was good to hear that we intersect in these spaces as well as having connected with Henri Nouwen in college. He truly has been/is a mentor for me in all forms of ministry. Welcome!

  29. Ray Glennon says:

    From Elizabeth
    Greetings from Sydney Australia. This is my 3rd HN Lent book group. Frequently Henri speaks into my experience. It is as if I am hearing myself articulate my previously unspoken thoughts and feelings. And that is every liberating.

  30. Ray Glennon says:

    From John T. Smith
    Hello All,
    I am joining the discussion from East Tennessee, near Knoxville. Much of my energy is devoted to my vocation as a community college professor of mathematics and statistics, I am a happily married husband, father, and grandfather. This is my first time participating in an online book discussion based on the work of Henri Nouwen. I am not sure where I first became aware of his work. During my dissertation research I had come across the work of Parker Palmer. I also found my way to Richard Rohr’s website. Henri Nouwen’s writing was referenced in both places. From there I found my way to this website and began receiving the daily devotional email. Time and time again these daily devotionals have provided just what I needed, when I needed it. As to what I hope to experience, my walk of faith has been diverse and inconsistent. I was raised in an Irish American Catholic family. My first few years of school were in a Catholic School. However, eventually I moved away from the Catholic Church and tried to hide from God for several years. Trying to hide did not work, that still small voice never left. When I returned to church as a young husband and expectant father, I was nearly 30 and began attending a Protestant Church. In the years since I was in and out of church, enduring a painful divorce and family tragedies. During those years I attended churches of different Protestant denominations. Currently, I am a member of the small Southern Baptist Church where my wife was raised. We live in her hometown. Full disclosure, I am extremely uncomfortable with the politics of much of my current church family, but that does not prevent me from loving them very much. In the last few years, I have become aware of my Quaker roots, which has aroused great curiosity. I hope this was not over-sharing, but I felt like I needed to provide enough background information to answer the question, what do I hope to experience? My spiritual and academic pursuits are rooted in a sense of wonder. I have studied Eastern and Western philosophy which I found fascinating. I think I can best be described as a seeker. As I approach a new season of life, I am confronting the “what’s next” question. I hope my participation in this book discussion helps me with that question.
    The sentence I have returned to again and again from the forward. “There is so much quiet, hidden depth and beauty here that the rapid curious reader risks disappointment.” As my spiritual journey deepens, I cannot think of better advice as we undertake this journey together. The second message I found from the Foreword is that I really must be much more disciplined in my journaling. I am looking forward to this time with fellow seekers.

  31. Shelfie Tjong says:

    I was stuck with Henry’s openness to his Spirituality life, especially in prayer. He admitted that his prayer life was dry and dark, maybe as the result of over-activity. His reflection question that helps me to see my own prayer life is: “Are the darkness and dryness of my prayer sign of God’s absence or are they signs of a presence deeper and wider than my senses can contain? Is the death of my prayer is the end of my intimacy with God or the beginning of a new communion, beyond words, emotions, and bodily sensations?” I felt the same in my Sabbatical season-the dryness. But I’ve never thought that it may be a new level of my intimacy with God as beyond senses and feeling. Before I got this insight, I felt guilty and try to go back to my spiritual discipline. But the more I did the discipline, the more empty and dry I am. But when I open to the new possibality, It has given me hope. I will give a space for Holly Spirit to move and open my heart wider for His work to bring me closer to God. Lord, please bring me closer to your heart; this is my longing prayer!

  32. Neil Fraser says:

    My overall impress in the first two months of the journal were that Henri was so balanced. He loved solitude and writing, as I do, but he deeply treasured and sacrificed sabbatical time alone to celebrate, help, and have deep fellowship with. My successes in horizontal relationships are small and few and far between. My desire to grow in this area has been growing over the last 5 or 10 years.

    Henri’s visit to the circus and the deep desire to se the heart of the performer and not just the skill was a new thought for me.

    It was interesting seeing his comparison and contrast to the goals and effectiveness of the Pope and the United Nations.

    Henri seemed to be able to learn about key news events and process what it means personally and to the world without being addicted to watching the news is inspiring.

  33. Ray Glennon says:

    Like many of you, I am a long-time avid reader of Henri Nouwen’s books, but I am not a Nouwen scholar. As a participant in these discussions since 2010 and a moderator since 2014, I’ve had the chance carefully read over 20 of Henri’s books and to benefit from the insights of many other readers–some of whom are with us this Lent. As we journey with Henri through his final year, I will try to take certain diary entries and provide some additional perspective or background information you might find interesting.

    In the entry for September 9th, Henri mentions his first (of five) book project for the sabbatical–Can You Drink the Cup? (https://www.amazon.com/Can-You-Drink-Henri-Nouwen/dp/1594710996). This small book was the last book published before Henri’s death. Henri writes, “During the last month ‘drinking the cup’ has become for me the best expression for living my life.” This complements Henri’s great insight that, like Jesus, we are all the Beloved children of God. Henri teaches us who we are–the Beloved. Henri shows us how to live–by drinking the cup. We lift the cup in solitude to claim our belovedness; we hold the cup to affirm and to celebrate life in community; and we drink the cup to live out our spiritual lives in service to others. We read Can You Drink the Cup for our Summer 2014 discussion. http://wp.henrinouwen.org/?p=410

    Ray, Moderator

  34. Ray Glennon says:

    From Marilyn Moonan
    I am looking forward to participating in this book discussion. I live in Boston with my husband and 2 dogs. Last month, I retired as a nurse from Boston Children’s Hospital after 30 years of service. I feel fortunate to now have the time to read and reflect. Marilyn

  35. Marta Edwards says:

    I am enjoying reading this book. Every time I read one of his books, I am reminded of his venerability and honesty and for me that is what makes Henri such a good teacher, he models the way for us.

  36. Elaine M says:

    Three quick take-aways from the first week’s reading:
    1. Henri offers this quotation from Pope John Paul II: “Nobody is so poor that he has nothing to give, and nobody is so rich that he has nothing to receive.” In my work as a volunteer for the St. Vincent DePaul Society, I have been inspired by the courage of a mother trying to raise three children on her minimum-wage salary or an unemployed dad trying to put on a happy face for his kids as they face eviction.I am moved when such neighbors return, perhaps years later, to offer us a $5 donation or a handwritten note in gratitude for the help we provided when they were down on their luck. And oh, what I have received in the way of lessons about the meaning of family, loyalty, and integrity.
    2. Having read before about Henri’s early relationship with his father, it was affirming to read of his late-life appreciation of his father: his “enormous vitality and great integrity,” his desire to not die “playing bridge.” How ironic that Henri’s untimely death preceded that of his father! How wonderful that Henri could speak so appreciatively of his father while both of them were alive!
    3. I have always been inspired by Henri’s desire to read the heart and understand the experience of everyone he encountered. While at the circus, he was dismayed that he was forced to forget “that these people in front of me were human beings….They had become part of a large machine called the circus,” unlike his experience of being able closely view the Flying Rodleighs and subsequently become friends. At Carnegie Hall he wondered about the private lives of the musicians. Viewing the paintings of Edward Hopper, he could not help but rue the artist’s troubled life. Many of us know, of course, how much time Henri spent delving into the lessons about humanity in the faces and gestures of the figures in Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” Henri was an empathetic observer, a compassionate listener, a faithful friend, a co-sufferer, a companion on the journey.

  37. Sharon says:

    I am currently reading a Richard Foster book, “Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home,” That book along with “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” and “Sabatical Journey” are all leading me into journaling during this Lenten time. The prayer of Examen has been particularly meaningful. I am thankful for the way God leads us through others of his children and look forward to learning from you. BTW I live in western Idaho, USA but am originally from Kentucky.

  38. Ray Glennon says:

    From Ray Klapwyk
    Hello! My name is Ray Klapwyk, and since 2012 I have enjoyed living in Minnesota while teaching an online course named “Foundations of Educational Leadership” for Trinity Western University which is located in Langley, BC Canada. Actually, I began teaching this course in 2002, after retiring from a 35-year career as an educational administrator, mostly at Christian private schools in Canada and the U.S. I’m excited about joining this book discussion because, like Henri Nouwen when he wrote his book “Sabbatical Journey,” I am currently entering a new chapter in my own life. A couple of weeks ago, I informed my university of my decision to retire from teaching. As I enter this new chapter, I anticipate a time of freedom to read books I didn’t have time to read until now, but I also feel a sense of anxious withdrawal. Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus” was my favorite course textbook–it was a wonderful discussion starter! Now, after reading the first entries in his Sabbatical Journal, I look forward to sharing with others in this book discussion!

  39. MC Howard says:

    I have just read Sue’s introduction and have to stop and reflect on these thoughts for starters. Journaling while journeying invites me to move forward, to reflect, respond, react, retreat, remember. I am a great fan of Henri’s writings, but an even keener
    admirer of how God uses individuals like Henri to lead the way. My path is not his path, but I feel warmly invited to explore and to follow. I pray that each of you who journeys will find insight, nourishment, doors opening, convictions deepening, realizing it is Jesus who walks along side of you. Let us journey together.
    Mary Christine, February 21, 2021.

  40. Nancy Hartsock says:

    I appreciated Henri’s draw to the special relationship between the flyer and the catcher who were part of the Flying Rodleighs….how the flyer must let go, and “wait in absolute trust for the catcher to pluck him out of the air”. My goal for Lent is to dig down deep, and bring my whole self more MINDFULLY under the LORDSHIP of Christ…this metaphor of flyer and catcher almost perfectly describes the place where I am…Susan quotes Henri as saying “I know I am not yet completely free because the fear is still there”…for me too. Maybe I’m a potential flyer but, through many chapters of my own story, I have been swinging back and forth, back and forth, afraid to let go and trust the Eternal Catcher…letting go of my desire to control, I have come to see, is underneath fear….of what? That the Eternal Catcher will drop me? My faith says no. But then there’s letting go of my fear of suffering…I have become even more aware of it through the pandemic…afraid of getting Covid, afraid of my at risk husband getting Covid…afraid of Alzheimers, afraid of strokes, of cancer…I have been bringing each of these fears individually to prayer, asking Jesus to show me how he accompanies those who are experiencing these sufferings….it’s hard work…but I have time while in “isolation” and in Lent to go deep, and more mindfully move towards surrender to the eternal LOVE of the Eternal Catcher, learning how to rest in that love, to be confident in God’s goodness, learning how to “stretch out my arms, let go of the trapeze, and wait, I guess in mid-air, to feel those strong hands of the Catcher “plucking me out of the air”. I’d appreciate your prayers with me for grace and courage.

  41. Ray Glennon says:

    From Linda Lytvinenko
    Hello, I’m Linda, from Holly Springs NC- just outside Raleigh. Have been getting the daily emails for a year or so on the recommendation of a Cursillo friend from our church — St Paul’s Episcopal in Cary NC. I find Henri’s writings so authentic, comforting, and thought-provoking, and have found the beginnings of this book all of the above. I’m looking forward to the special meaning his writings snd this discussion group can bring to my Lenten journey.

  42. Ray Glennon says:

    From Bill
    Hello all. I’m a first timer of Nouwen’s book club and am excited about taking this spiritual journey with all of you. I live in the Charlotte NC area. I’ve tried to get into Henri’s works as a younger man with little impact. At a ripe old age of 62, Henri’s words and experiences are landing powerfully for me.

  43. Ray Glennon says:

    From Pamela
    I’m Pamela, from southeastern Massachusetts, an Orthodox Christian (convert from the Baptist faith). I’ve been reading Henri’s books for a number of years after being introduced to him by my Orthodox godparents in 2004. I particularly enjoyed The Road to Daybreak when I was trying to make an important job decision. I receive Henry’s daily devotionals by email and decided to participate in this Lenten (though it is not yet Orthodox Lent) discussion largely because of Covid and the isolation it has wrought in my life. I’m looking forward to Henry’s words on his final journey as well as the insights and comments you all share.

    P.S. I am a semi-retired teacher and newspaper reporter, mom, grandmom, seeker, reclusive putterer. I admire so much Henri’s willingness to be transparent and TO BE — to exist, to share, to show himself — with other people. I think that was evident in the preface to this book. At 69, I am reflecting on the experiences of my life and trying to connect what seems disjointed and “chapter-like” into some sort of unified meaning. I also need a spiritual battery charge and look forward to reading the comments shared here.

  44. I am impressed with the book of his last year. I am really enjoying reading it. A retired Anglican ( conservative) pastor and now preaching at another Church. In Alabama.
    I love the way Henri is open to God’s leading even if it takes doing things differently. David McMillan

  45. Ann says:

    Henri helps us to realise that however hard we find it to be in the desert, we are at all times being led by God and are never alone.
    I found this beautiful prayer in a book entitled “Like Mary” by Fritz Arnold SM and, in my view, it links strongly to Henri’s writings
    “Grow in me Grow in me, Lord Jesus, Grow in my spirit, in my heart, in my imagination in my mind. Grow in me in your gentleness, in your purity, in your humility, your eagerness, your love. Grow in me to the praise of the Father, to the greater glory of God
    Think in me, Jesus Think in me, Jesus, then will my thoughts be clear and radiant. Speak from me, Jesus, then will my speech be gentle and true. Work through me, Jesus, then will my deeds be upright, my work and rest be sanctified”

  46. Mary Roth says:

    Just read his first entry. I agree it should be taken slowly. It moved me to write my own reflections. It always touches me how he can write and share his most personal thoughts. I always feel that he is looking into my soul and reflecting my own experiences in words

    • Lainie Snider says:

      I too, have felt led to journal through this Lent experience because of Henri’s journaling. It seems to have given me an example and permission to just write my thoughts down on paper instead of squirrel caging them in my head. I feel less cluttered and more clearer. Thank you Henri for your example.

      • John T Smith says:

        I love the “squirrel cage” description. I laughed out loud the first time I read it. I have frequently described the need “to tame my monkey mind” which I came across when trying to learn to meditate. I think the “squirrel cage” comparison may work better for me. When Henri described his difficulty praying, I felt so much better to know that it is not only me. I have told my students that my mind works like cable TV, except I am watching all of the channels at the same time:)

  47. Maureen Llewellyn says:

    God bless us all as we journey through Lent together and with Henri.

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