Mar 5th to Mar 11th: Second Week of Lent – The Next Thirteen Imperatives

Reading: The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom
“Enter the New Country” to “Follow Your Deepest Calling” (pages 21 to 44)

Enter the new country, where your beloved dwells. . . . This requires
the death of what has become so precious to you: influence,
success, yes, even affection and praise. (p. 21)

The spiritual task is not to escape your loneliness. . . You might find that your loneliness is linked to your call to live completely for God. (p. 36)

In everything, keep trusting that God is with you, that God
has given you companions on the journey. Keep
returning to the road to freedom. (p. 39)

What an incredible First Week of Lent! You have freely offered such deeply personal, vulnerable, and insightful reflections and responses to Henri’s spiritual imperatives. We are strengthening our Lenten community through your supportive comments and feedback to each other. It is my great privilege and a genuine blessing to join you on this journey. Based on just this first week of discussion, I’m confident that Henri would agree “I did the right thing” (p. xix) when he made his spiritual imperatives available to all.

In the quotations above, I have selected three of Henri’s ideas from this week’s readings. Henri knows he is called to enter the “new country” but to do so has a cost. If he is willing to pay the price, he will meet his beloved and experience the reality that, like Jesus, he too is the beloved—and so are we. Yet even in the new country, Henri (and each of us) will still experience loneliness at times. Our challenge is to live that loneliness well. And how do we do that? By living completely for God and continuing our journey on the road to freedom. We walk with the companions (or community) that God has given us and we trust that God is with us every step of the way. These ideas spoke to me. What are Henri’s words saying to you this week?

Given the rich and fruitful discussion last week we will use the same approach again. You are encouraged to read and to reflect on the this weeks’ spiritual imperatives and share whatever touches your heart, issues arise, or insights you gain in the readings. This group is here to listen, encourage and support each other. Once again, here is a possible process.

  1. Briefly look over the thirteen imperatives assigned to this week (pages 22 through 41), either by simply reading the title or by lightly skimming the text.  Don’t feel you need to closely read them all.  Remember Henri’s advice on p xxi…too much salt can spoil a meal!
  2. Select a few (perhaps 3 or 4) imperatives that stand out to you, and read them thoroughly, perhaps several times.
  3. Consider:
    1. The 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 in this imperative? Has God touched your heart in other ways about this thought or concept (e.g., Scripture, spiritual reading, through another person)?
    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? Perhaps you would like to write your own Spiritual Imperative.
    5. Pray!
  4. Please share with the group to the extent you are comfortable. You might consider sharing on a single imperative per comment. If you have a second or third imperative that was meaningful to you, submit separate comments for each. As always you are invited to continue building our community by responding to what others have shared.

Of course, the above is only a suggestion. We are interested in learning whatever touched your heart during your reading and reflection. Your comments are the lifeblood of the Henri Nouwen Society book discussions and a gift to all who participate, both people actively posting comments and people reflecting in the silence of their hearts.

May we have a blessed and fruitful discussion during this Second Week of Lent.

Peace and all good.

67 Replies to “Mar 5th to Mar 11th: Second Week of Lent – The Next Thirteen Imperatives”

  1. Keep Moving Toward Full Incarnation
    The first sentence says, “Do not discount what you have already accomplished.” I too often do this and at times this leads me into despair. I am reminded that this movement to full incarnation, is leading me to become what I already am, a child of God. Remembering this, restores my hope.

  2. Keep Returning to the Road of Freedom Pg 38 was an encouraging reminder.

    “What you have gained, you have gained.’ and ‘When you return to the road, you return to the place where you left it, not where you started.’
    So often I become discouraged when I have come off the road and find getting back on is difficult. An encouraging reminder is that when I do get back on, I havent lost ground but I am still at the place at which I came off.
    So I will continue to ‘Keep returning to the road of freedom.’

  3. P. 30: Henri says, “you have to acknowledge your powerlessness in order to let God heal you.” P. 31: “The more you relinquish your stubborn need to maintain power, the more you will get in touch with the One who has the power to heal and guide you.” Trying to make difficult situations work by changing tactics or avoidance only leads to burnout. Reading this, I thought about today’s Gospel- Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman. She was thirsty, burned out, exhausted. All she wanted was unconditional love. Jesus saw her as His creation. He didn’t hold her past or present against her. That grace, the living water, filled her heart and gave her courage to say, “I don’t want or need control anymore.” It’s a reminder for me, to keep leaving the “water jars” day after day.

  4. I live alone, but I don’t feel lonely. Actually, I prefer to be alone, quiet, and think of my small apartment as a monk’s cell. One of the chapters talks about the need for spiritual guides, and I think these may be the same as spiritual directors. I’ve never had a spiritual director, and have heard from others that they’re pretty hard to find. So I resort to reading books on spiritual direction. They are not personal, nor timely, and don’t address the valleys I find myself at any given moment. Are there still spiritual directors, or guides out there?

    1. Hi Suzanne,
      I have had spiritual directors and it has been a blessing. They helped me look at where and how I interact with God on a daily basis. There is a group if directors near Philadelphia PA, DE that I worked with in the past. While not as many as there used to be, they can be found. I noticed some do virtual sessions as well.
      It’s worth the search!
      Good luck and many blessings! Pat

  5. Greetings from North Hollywood. I’m new to the group, but I’ve been reading Henri Nouwen for thirty years. My reflections today, along with a walk down memory lane, focus on “Enter the New Country” (p 21). Henri’s comments spoke to me in multiple ways.

    First, I could relate in a literal geographic sense. I was born in the late 1940s in southeastern Illinois. My parents lived on a farm, out in the country over ten miles from a decent sized town. We did not have indoor plumbing. The only source of heat was a wood stove in the center room. Our party line phone number on the old wall crank phone was something like “three longs, and two shorts.” As a young boy I played chase with brothers and sisters, made mud pies, slopped the hogs, and gathered the eggs. We obviously did not have a TV. There were corn and soybean fields, and small groves of trees, as far as I could see.

    Now to a new country. Currently I live in an apartment, with my lovely wife (for 52 years now), in the largest county in the nation. Just over Hollywood Hills, I am now surrounded by apartments, businesses, and movie studios. We can walk to the Television Academy (Emmys) and Universal Studios. Disney Headquarters, Warner Brothers, and a CBS Studio Center just three miles away. Our son, a Video Content Planning manager at AppleTV+ lives in West Hollywood and helps take care of us. His partner for 16 years is an executive in Late Night Programming and Specials at ABC. Talking to these guys daily about the interactions, challenges, contacts, and future strategies at their media centers – well its definitely new country, culturally, compared to my childhood days back on the farm.

    I am a retired minister, so I have lived in a lot of “new countries” between then and now.
    I have served as Associate or Senior Pastor at churches in Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Rochester NY, and San Jose CA. Each had their own new “crossings” to adjust to. It was while in the Bay Area I had the memorable privilege to hear Henri Nouwen speak and see him at the book table. It was at a church in Berkeley, and he was on a book tour, having just finished Our Greatest Gift. While in the Bay Area I was in a The Return of the Prodigal Son book reading group with other ministers – for me, one of Henri’s most profound works.

    One thing hasn’t changed. And it has to do with the next writing in our book, “Keep Living Where God Is” (p 23). Wherever I have lived, coast to coast, God is always in my daily devotions. Bible reading, especially the Psalms, the singing of a hymn, listening to classical choral music, reading books of instruction and inspiration, and prayer.
    AND … reading a meditation each day from Henri’s book, You Are The Beloved. These are private ways I keep living where God is, each and every day.

    May God’s richest blessings be upon you.

  6. I reflected on Let Jesus Transform You and Seek a new Spirituality.Pg 41 “Think about Jesus .He was totally free before the authorities of his time .He wants you to live the freedom of the children of God .”Pg 32 to possess or cling represents that you have not yet fully come home.” These reflections moved me to the big question that Jesus asks us “ Who do you say I am?My answer, not others answers, but my unique answer is critical to fully coming home and being free.If part of my answer is you are my Lord and Master a new Spirituality is being born.I will be more self confident and free to claim my unique place in life as God’s gift to me.I move away from the distant country ( Chora Makra) possessing ,clinging,and comparing to the Fathers house with a new heart,new spirit,new mind,and a new body participating in his divine love freely and uniquely

  7. “Follow Your Deepest Calling” This really resonated deep inside in a profound manner. It has taken decades for me to grasp and understand. Often in our Christian walk, we equate humility with weakness. What I’ve come to understand, and Henri wonderfully confirms, is that when we claim our gifts and calling we honor the work of God/Spirit in our lives. It is clear that Jesus spoke with personal/spiritual authority.

    “When you discover in yourself something that is a gift from God, you have to claim it and not let it be taken from you.”

    “It is then that you have to speak your heart and follow your own deepest calling.”

    “Coming Home – being given back to yourself are expressions that indicate that you have a solid inner base from which you can speak and act–without apologies–humbly but convincingly.”

    This is the Heart of Personal/Spiritual Empowerment.♥️

  8. This week was really rich with wisdom, but another one that resonated for me (and many others!) was “Keep Returning to the Road to Freedom.” I love the way Henri gives specific examples of the things that make us feel that all is lost, that we must start all over on our spiritual journey:

    “Fatigue, a seemingly cold remark, someone’s inability to hear you, someone’s innocent forgetfulness, which feels like rejection–when all these come together, they can make you feel as if you are right back where you started.”

    Petty-sounding distractions, but if we’re honest that’s what we so often experience. One thing I admire about “Return of the Prodigal Son” is how candid Nouwen was about admitting his pettiness, especially ways in which he resembles the Eldest Son.

    “It is important not to dwell on the small moments when you feel pulled away from your progress. Try to return home, to the solid place within you, immediately. Otherwise, these moments start connecting with similar moments, and together they become powerful enough to pull you far away from the road.” So simple and straightforward, but difficult to practice in the everyday.

    1. I agree that the practice sounds easy but hard to implement in daily life

      I need to remove my myopic lens and see the big picture.

  9. The image of being a small seed being nurtured by rich soil in “Acknolwedge Your Powerlessness” is wonderful—I have a feeling this will stay with me for a long time. As someone who likes to move from one place place to another, continuously searching for new sesnsations, people pleasing and receiving affection, this image allows me to stay still in His hands. I have a long to go in admitting my powerlessness and need for control but I am off to a start!

    In “Tell Your Story in Freedom” I am reminded of a good friend whose father recently passed. My friend, possibly in regret, often recounts stories about his broken relationship with his dad. He tells it “compulsively” as Henri puts it. I feel a deeply painful spot in his heart as I listen. From it I also learn to move from imprisonment to freedom as I tell my own stories. I thank Henri for his words and this beautiful community of pilgrims, searchers of truth, bringers of light and love.

    1. I am grateful and with you Clifton… small seed, growing in soil just fine, having the patience to dwell there and let the soil do its work… one day ripe… smiling, in the sun of course when I pop 🙂

  10. “Keep returning to the Road to Freedom”
    I’m so assured that when I fall by the wayside, when I’m pulled from progress, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m starting from the beginning again or further back. I return to the place where I left behind. And there’s the assurance that God is with me; and He has given me companions on the journey. Companions of Light.

  11. “Tell Your Story in Freedom,” Henry writes, “When you keep reliving painful events of the past, you can feel victimized by them. But there is a way of telling your story that does not create pain….You can tell your story from the place where it no longer dominates you. You can speak about it with a certain distance and see it as the way to your present freedom. The compulsion to tell your story is gone….It has lost its weight and can be remembered as God’s way of making you more compassionate and understanding toward others.”

    These words affirm that God’s grace guides my along my life journey. In the ups and downs God’s presence is with me, whether I am aware or not. There have been many thresholds to cross through. It’s easy to have regrets, harbor resentment and ask “Why me?”
    But to be free of my past let’s me be fully aware of God’s care in the present.
    I find that taking time to give thanks to God for each daily event helps me to be.
    grateful rather than complaining.
    “Bless the Lord my soul and forget not God’s benefits.”

        1. I find this to be true as well. There is a lot of paradox in life and Henri’s journal writings and many of his other writings have helped me to journey through them with more insight and awareness that God is with me both in the darkness and in the light.

    1. I really responded to this one too, Liz, those exact same passages. It’s important to remember the past but not live in it, such that it drowns out the present and future.

  12. Like a B’Way play Enter the New Country Page 21 My new or renewed place and not ousted is NYC..I do all my best to get back to it’s few offering I can soulfully be proud of like my Ash Wednesday after New Rochelle NY mass unplanned train trip TO NYC for a jog/run through Central Park, its landmarks,tunes of classical music in my mind ,pastchurches and WFM Columbus Circle for grocerys.The city does bring Peace to my heart,conversations I can bring home as long as I stay on my path. I had a list of no’s but then I read Open Yourself to the First Love I rethought the briefly glanced section and came up with a new plan in writing as to use my Spiritual Direction and talents back to…With out the no”s …as long as I continue on path and stay on the outside and observe and absorb. I’m already setting a new trip around my Sept 4th birthday! An Easter Prayer card of Jesus with my invented city map ready for Sept 3 Sunday St. Thomas 5th Ave. looking for new places afterwards then Sept 4 Monday labor Day candle and prayer at St Bartholomew’s, a central park jog/walk with lots of long weekend people and a new range of artistic things to do. I’m trusting the Jesus card and the Inner Voice of Love then page 38 Keep Returning to the Road to Freedom.

    1. Andrea, I hope your trips to NY city turn out to be fruitful events. As one who lives in the Big Apple, we need more visitors to take part in city offerings. Sadly the pandemic and high crime rate have discouraged many from visiting. I ride the subways. With the recent increase of police officers patrolling underground, there are not as many crimes. Perhaps you’d like to add a walk on the Highline to your next trip? You can start at the Whitney Museum and end in Chelsea (former meat packing district-gentrified in 2015). Avoid the expensive outdoor cafes and bring your lunch.
      My New Country trip was a visit on Ash Wednesday to nearby Passionist Monastery. The former Retreat building has been rennovated and repurposed. Now headquarters of RECONNECT founded by Jim Price, C.P. Workshops are held to impart job/life skills to young men from Brooklyn. Now called Thomas Berry Place to honor of the Passionist priest who promoted sustainability. Veggie gardens on the property are planted in Spring, harvested, then prepared to serve at meals. No paper, plastic, or styrofoam is used at meals in serving dishes, cups, glasses or utensils. Solar energy panels were installed.
      My return to receive hear inspiring presentation and take part in Eucharist on this Day of Prayer was a blessing. As Henri said, I “risked steppping into this new place, trusting I’d be comfortable.” (P.22)

  13. I experience Henri’s imperatives as interior movements on a journey. Each imperative is an invitation to dive deeper propelling me forward. Paradoxically, I go up by going down. To stop being a people pleaser (5), set boundaries to my love and claim myself for myself (9); I must name my loneliness (36), befriend my emotions (42) and follow my deepest calling (44). This healing journey is no straight line. More like a spiral staircase circling up and downward, it brings me home to Jesus and restores true self.

    Speaking to these Second week readings, they seem a little like stations to the cross: Staying with my loneliness (36), rather than running away from it isn’t easy. But it’s transforming to realize my loneliness is the other side of a unique vocational calling. Befriending my emotions (42) is tough too, because it invites me to sit with ambiguity when I want closure. I’d much rather fix, manage and control my circumstances than sit in silence with powerlessness. Practicing these spiritual disciplines turns my gaze to God. Seeing God seeing me in the silent place creates grace that begins to bring my body, mind, and spirit home to God who is True Center “a solid inner base from which I can speak and act without apologies…(42) freeing me to follow my deepest calling.

    It’s breathtaking to see Nouwen’s unique gift here in this thin book that he resisted writing. It shows in spades his true calling. No one I know has captured the movements toward God’s love that have frees me from my compulsions more than Henri Nouwen. This Way isn’t simple. And as Henri exemplified, it requires interior discipline and spiritual practice. God grant me grace in Lent to see some light in dim shadows. Amen.

    1. Hi again, Beverly.
      I totally resonate with your thoughts: “because it invites me to sit with ambiguity when I want closure. I’d much rather fix, manage and control my circumstances than sit in silence with powerlessness. ”

      Sitting with ambiguity and not forcing a solution or settling for any closure – even when they don’t bring closure…..That is something I struggle with, too. Henri’s words (and yours) encourage me to keep trying to sit in silence with powerlessness, and trust!

      1. To “live patiently with the not yet” as Nouwen puts it.
        Thank you, Beverly, Joanne, your words and reflections so beautifully resonate in me.

    2. Thank you Beverly for another thoughtful and deep meditation.

      A small, but important point. You wrote, “in this thin book he resisted writing.” I think you meant to say, “…he resisted publishing.” Henri wrote these spiritual imperatives during this spiritual and emotional healing while he was in Winnipeg away from his L’Arche Daybreak community. Henri often journaled as a way to process his thoughts and feelings—and he did so willingly after his sessions with his spiritual guides. He considered it an important part of his therapy. In these imperatives we see the emergence or development of many important themes (e.g., we are God’s beloved, the importance of community) that permeate the books Henri wrote in the final ten years of his life. As Henri himself describes in the introduction, it was the linkage between these imperatives and his other writing that led him to agree to the publication of this book. (Note: Henri published a number of his other journals including Genesee Diary, Gracias, Road to Daybreak, and Sabbatical Journey. Unlike The Inner Voice of Love, Henri showed no reluctance about publishing these books where he shared his life and spiritual journey with his devoted readers.)

      1. Yes. Publishing is what I was referring to. Thank you for pointing out that a number of his publications were journals. I never quite put that together parsing out the names of journals he published. Thank you, Ray.

  14. Probably because we know a bit about the background that inspired Henri to write these imperatives, I have particularly picked up on ones that speak to rejection and how to move through and beyond it through God’s presence.

    In “Tell Your Story in Freedom,” he writes, “When you keep reliving painful events of the past, you can feel victimized by them. But there is a way of telling your story that does not create pain….You can tell your story from the place where it no longer dominates you. You can speak about it with a certain distance and see it as the way to your present freedom. The compulsion to tell your story is gone….It has lost its weight and can be remembered as God’s way of making you more compassionate and understanding toward others.”

    I realize that for too many years I have let painful stories of two failed relationships continue to cause me pain and warp me. That I have often relived the past in ways that has brought continuing pain and self-rejection. Knowing that Henri experienced something similar and responded to his pain with such wisdom and eloquence is an inspiration to me.

  15. “Shame and guilt.”
    “Doubts and fears.”
    Phrases from pp. 40-41.
    Henri writes that Jesus came to free us from these bonds, which are chains that grip me. “Ask him to give you a fearless heart.”

    This Lenten discussion inspired me to Google and find Henri’s sermons on the beloved, because I wanted to hear him talk about it with the passion and articulation that made him so popular. So I listened to all three sermons (none is very long), and I’m getting closer to claiming the truth — again — that I am God’s beloved.

  16. I will now have to read along and may not comment from time to time, my mom has just passed on after several years of dementia. I am in God’s hands and care as I prepare her funeral and then her burial.
    As I take “lessons from my mom” she would want me to continue to learn and grow from Henri…so I will do what I can with this.
    Thank you for hearing me.

    1. Regina,
      Our deepest condolences. May our heavenly Father welcome your mom home. May the Lord give you and your entire family peace.

    2. Regina,
      May God’s mercy be upon your mother. May she rest peacefully in Divine grace.
      Be sure of my prayerful support.

  17. The imperative Keep Returning to the Road to Freedom resonated with me. “Your healing is not a straight line.” This is so comforting to me because with so many aspects of my life – trust, listening, grief, codependency – I seem to make progress and then have off moments or days when I fear that it is all lost and I will never get anywhere.

    It was especially comforting to me that Henri listed fatigue as one of the things that can make us lose ground for a moment. Often, I will realize that I am just tired and when rested, feel more at peace and back on the road. I have a new grandson who is a week old. His three year old brother has been sick so I have been taking care of him in my house for the past week so as not to expose the newborn. I just love him to pieces, but it is exhausting! A consequence is there is very little alone time for prayer and reflection, and I was finding myself upset at this loss and worried what would happen because of it.

    I love the analogy of just being pulled off the road for awhile and returning to “where you left it, not to where you started.” And who knows what work God is doing in me through my grandson. In the end, Henri is of course right, “In everything, keep trusting that God is with you, that God has given you companions on the journey.”

    1. Yes,Joanne, I too like Henri’s description off pulling off the road. It is simple, forgiving, and practical. I can be distracted ( in my case), but that’s OK. Jesus is happy to see me return and continue on my spiritual journey with him.

  18. Henri tells us to keep living where God is. I’ve found that the only way to do this is to keep asking Him for help in staying aware of everyday situations and what goes on inside my mind and heart. Again, I have to ask myself what am I going to choose? Who am I going to choose?

  19. I highlighted so many passages from this week’s readings it was hard to narrow down that list and focus on one or two. These words from p. 38 were especially helpful to me:

    “When suddenly you seem to lose all you thought you had gained, do not despair. Your healing is not a straight line. You must expect setbacks and regressions. … (T)hey can make you feel as if you are right back where you started. But try to think about it instead as being pulled off the road for a while. When you return to the road, you return to the place you left it, not to where you started.”

    I journaled about how those words apply to me. I often get discouraged and upset when an unhealthy thought pattern or negative belief about myself I thought I had overcome rears its ugly head again. I like to think I’m continuously moving forward. Here’s part of what I wrote:

    “I want to be significantly better sooner than is realistic, and ultimately perfect, which is an unattainable goal. There will always be times and events that trigger painful emotions, tears, or angry outbursts. That’s just how life is for everyone. My healing journey will not be a simple walk on a straight road with no changes in elevation.

    I will sometimes think I can’t climb a particular mountain or not want to. I will seek an easier path that turns out not to lead to the place I want to go. I will have to turn around and go back to the path I was on before.

    That’s okay. It doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It doesn’t mean I’m stupid because I chose the wrong path or lazy because I wanted an easier route. Anyone would choose the easiest route to a particular destination, then turn around if the road was closed or ended up being a dead end. …

    Help me recognize the progress I’ve already made and be satisfied. Appreciating how far I’ve come and allowing myself to celebrate that won’t keep me from wanting to make more progress. … If anything, acknowledging how far I’ve come will help motivate me to continue the journey and see how far I can go.”

    Those thoughts helped me. I hope they are helpful to some of you, too. I know others here have posted that they feel like they should be further along in their healing or spiritual growth journeys by now. Maybe we are all further along than we think. Just being present here and honestly sharing our struggles is one indication that we are.

  20. As I begin to read this week’s imperatives, I pause at Keep Living Where God Is (p23). I can so relate to Henri’s desire for human affection, acceptance, and affirmation. Henri warns about the feeling of loneliness and a deep longing for human contact and at that moment, we must be discerning. How often I’ve put myself in situations and with people out of the “fear of missing out”, or even being the one left out, and then missing out on the attention or affirmation that I crave. Henri wisely points out that we can slip into living for our own glory instead of the glory of God. When I feed my deepest longings with other things and other people instead of with God, then I am living out of step with God and will not experience His presence and peace. Now that I have more time with being an empty-nester, I need to discern carefully the opportunites that present themselves to me, even requests for my time and what may be great opportunities to serve and volunteer. I need to discern my motives.

    1. Susan, this passage really resonated with me too.
      In general, I find mindfulness a challenge. My mind rarely slows to live in the NOW. In regards to my spirituality, I find myself asking many questions but not stopping to listen for the response. I want to solve the problem, be productive. Instead, I need to “be faithful in every moment.” By finding God in each and every part of my day, I will experience more of His peacev and hopefully find answers to my questions and doubts.

  21. Friends,
    We apologize that the book discussion blog was not available for part of Monday and Tuesday. We were experiencing technical difficulties on our website that are being resolved. The book discussion is now online again. We look forward to your comments.

  22. I love the discussions above on the section to “claim ourselves” and see that as a marker for being God’s Beloved. Ray, you mentioned the following, “For Henri to “claim yourself for yourself” is to acknowledge that he has worth or value just because he is created by God and that he doesn’t need to give without limit to prove that his worth to others. When we recognize that truth, we are “people who possess themselves” and can enter into relationships without losing their identity, individuality, and self worth.” I totally relate to this section. I am a giver by nature, but I have found myself over the years being “irritated or wiped out” because I wasn’t being “appreciated” by others on my giving. I realize through Henri’s writings and the Bible that it does not matter how someone else responds to my giving. My giving is a gift. It is minor compared to the free GIFT of salvation that God gives to us. His GIFTS are immeasurable. Recently, I heard a song by Sarah Kroger called “Belovedness” and it is simply beautiful. (Here is the first section)
    You’ve owned your fear and all your self-loathing
    You’ve owned the voices inside of your head
    You’ve owned the shame and reproach of your failure
    It’s time to own your belovedness
    You’ve owned your past and how it’s defined you
    You’ve owned everything everybody else says
    It’s time to hear what your father has spoken
    It’s time to own your belovedness
    He says, “You’re mine, I smiled when I made you
    I find you beautiful in every way
    My love for you is fierce and unending
    I’ll come to find you, whatever it takes
    My beloved”
    Link to listen! Have a beautiful week everyone, knowing you are BELOVED! Claim it!!

    1. Beautiful song, thanks so much for sharing Kim.
      Indeed I can definitely relate to the song, it is so much easier to own what others are saying about us, so much easier to own our failures, fears, and negative thoughts, yet it is at times overwhelmingly difficult to listen and own what our Father is saying.

    2. I LOVE this song Kim! Thank you so much for sharing!
      It reminded me of a sermon from long ago about how we all see the many faults/flaws we have rather than the beauty that God always sees in us. While it is challenging to do, it is what we are called to recognize . . . every day, even when we don’t believe it. I think listening to this song every day will help. Thank you!

  23. The imperatives which struck me are Enter the New Country “The new country is where you are called to go, and the only way to go there is naked and vulnerable.” And Follow Your Deepest Calling “ There is a part of you that too easily gives in to others’ influence. As soon as someone questions your motives, you start doubting yourself. You end up agreeing with the other before you have consulted your own heart. Thus you grow passive and simply assume that the other knows better.” I am trying to discern a possible calling to design, adapt and sew for elderly and disabled women, have been doing various caregiving for years and know there is a need but struggle with this kind of idea for me because, at the same time, I am also passive in the face of other people’s thinking and not one who enjoys any kind dissension so I wonder if I actually started this kind of little home business, it would be a satisfying endeavor. Much easier to do the more mundane well-defined and repetitive sewing jobs, hems and so forth and not try to do the kind of stuff that actually requires myself to “be in touch with myself” and be one of the sort of guides who “assists elderly and disabled women to be in touch with themselves”, especially through the expression of their dress and physical appearance in their surroundings. Bluntly, I am concerned about customer relationships. Henri Nouwen’s insights can affect everyone in society and help us with higher ideals in our economy.

  24. Tell your own story in freedom (p.34) let me recount the deaths of my parents to my newly wed daughter in law who had just spent time with her mother after the loss of her grandfather. She saw it her duty, as her mother was showing her to help their parents pass on. I could recount my story with intimacy and “ speak about it with a certain distance and see it as a way to a present freedom”. Nouwen states this so beautifully – to tell my story as a response to her fresh and raw story of a loved one’s death. My story to help her heal.
    Acknowledge your powerlessness (p.30) gives a great image – “A seed only flourishes by staying in the ground in which it is sown”. I am bearing fruit from rich soil, and all I have to do is stay there. Having faith, not easy, but asking for faith to acknowledge my powerlessness, being in touch to a divine power which can help me know what to say. Peace

    1. June,
      I love the quote about the seed flourishing – especially the part where Henri writes, “When you keep digging the seed up to check if it is growing, it will never bear fruit.”

      I have to trust that the soil is rich, that the Gardener planted me with love and great care and is watching over me. It is even a powerlessness to know what kind of fruit I will bear. I want to check and see if it matches what I think the growth should look like, but I have to abandon that and be open as my true self unfolds.

  25. Friends,
    This weekend I was visiting my brother-in-law Fr. Tom Kreiser while my wife was on a girls weekend with her sisters. Fr. Tom is the chaplain for the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, in Peekskill, NY. It was a joy and blessing to meet Sr. Laura and Sr. Lisa Grace—two members of this congregation who are participating in our Lenten discussion.

    The Sunday gospel for the Second Week of Lent in the Lectionary used by Catholics and many Protestant denominations was the story of Jesus’s Transfiguration (Mt 17: 1-9). In his homily, Fr. Tom spoke about how at the Transfiguration God “claimed” Jesus when a voice came from the cloud that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Fr. Tom noted that we are “claimed” for Jesus at our baptism, that when people wed they exchange rings signifying that they are “claimed” by their spouse’s love, that when members of religious orders like Sr. Laura and Sr. Lisa Grace make their profession, they also receive rings signifying they are “claimed” and loved by Jesus as they commit themselves in service to the church and the people of God. What does this have to do with our Lenten journey?

    On page 11 Henri writes, “. . . when you have claimed (emphasis added) yourself as God’s beloved child. . .” This is one of the early instances of Henri realizing in the depths of his being what became his central spirit insight—that like Jesus, we are God’s beloved son or daughter. It is a reality that we have to “claim”—over and over again. We see this reflected in our Lenten reading this week too. “. . . you must enter the new country, where your Beloved dwells” (p. 21) where you are the Beloved (unstated but implied). In Keep Returning to the Road to Freedom we read, “In everything, keep trusting that God is with you. . . ” and that God loves you and you are God’s beloved (again unstated). Or as Henri wrote last week, “God loves me, and God’s love is enough.” (p. 8)

    Henri’s understanding that we are God’s beloved was forged and sharpened during his recovery from his spiritual and emotional breakdown when he was writing The Inner Voice of Love. We can see the fruit of that difficult period in Henri’s writing and ministry during the next eight years until untimely death of a heart attack in 1996.

    My challenge is to allow my “head knowledge” that I am God’s beloved to penetrate my heart and change my life. My prayer is that Henri’s spiritual imperatives and the discussions within our Lenten discussions will help me to do just that.

  26. From Jannie Henkelman
    Several of you have quoted or commented on the importance they found in Henri’s words on pp 9 – 10. I confess that I do not grasp the meaning of the last paragraph on p. 9. He says: ‘The great task is to claim yourself for yourself, so that you can contain your needs within the boundaries of your self…’ Would somebody please put these thoughts into other words for me. Also, continuing on p. 10 ‘..only people who posses themselves’.
    What does this phrase ‘possess themselves’ mean? What could be equivalent word(s) for ‘possess’? I would appreciate your thoughts on these questions – Many Thanks, Jannie

    1. Jannie,
      Thanks for joining us and your thoughtful question. I think the key to understanding this imperative is in the second paragraph where Henri writes, “Part of your struggle is to set boundaries to your own love. . . You give whatever people ask of you. . . until you find yourself exhausted, used, and manipulated.” What is unstated here, is that Henri’s motivation to give and give is so that the people to whom Henri is giving will respond with the affection and affirmation that he craves. And since his need for affection is unlimited and cannot be satisfied, he feels driven to give to the point of exhaustion.

      For Henri to “claim yourself for yourself” is to acknowledge that he has worth or value just because he is created by God and that he doesn’t need to give without limit to prove that his worth to others. When we recognize that truth, we are “people who possess themselves” and can enter into relationships without losing their identity, individuality, and self worth.

      There are a number of other participants in our discussion that may have better insights and I hope they will respond as well.

      1. Thank you very much Ray. Your comments are very helpful.
        You are saying: ‘I am a person of worth / value for one basic reason: God created me.’ Once we really grasp that truth into the core of our being, we can ‘claim’ who we are, and gradually lay aside the need to prove we’re worthy of love. As you say: ‘we are then people who possess themselves.’ Is this correct? It is making sense now. Again, many thanks. J

  27. Last week I shared some of my life’s struggle with a broken marriage and resulting broken community relationships. This week – thoughts from “Tell Your Story in Freedom” spoke to me: There are two ways of telling our story. One way is when we see our present suffering as a result of our past experiences. The other way is being able to speak about our past with a certain distance and see it as the way to our present freedom. In the second way the past has lost its “weight” and can be remembered as God’s way of making us more compassionate and understanding toward others. As I reflected on these thoughts I found myself being more grateful, even for the struggles, sufferings, and losses and I also was able to remember love that I have received in my past. The reflection “Open Yourself to the First Love” also spoke to me about that. Grateful and hopeful today.

  28. As someone who has moved many times over the course of my marriage and career, I do understand Henri’s idea of moving on and embracing the opportunities and challenges of the “new country,”though his definition, of course, might be more intellectual and spiritual than actually physical. Every time we physically moved I weeded out things we no longer needed and donated to those who might have such a current need. However, I have always found it important to carry along the valuables of the old life: life-long friendships made, lessons learned the hard way, gratitude for every experience shared with family, affirmation that I could be, though change can be painful, on the rebound again just as I had to be so many times before. So too with spiritual “new country”: a broader, more compassionate perspective by reading a new article by Henri, Richard Rohr, Joan Chittister, or Ron Rolheiser or by joining a social action committee or by teaching a new course with a social justice theme. All of these function for me as “the spiritual guides” that Henri mentions (p. 25). Indeed, “God gives [me] people who…call me [back]” to “keep living where God is” (p. 25).My favorite sentence in this set of pages is this: “A love that comes to you through human beings is true, God-given love and needs to be celebrated as such” (p. 28). Praise be to God.

  29. I’ve been reading Henri for several years. The Holy Spirit has been spoon-feeding me with the help of Henri’s books. I’ve read this one before but not as deeply as now. I am “living through an unusual time” and I “know that something totally new, truly unique is happening within you.” It has — and over the last several years I’ve written a study on “how to give your death away.” Thanks Henri. I’ve done a lot without a lot of confidence, but I, too, have a spiritual director. Now as I step into week two, I realize I am on the right path and use Eph 2:10 for confirmation along with Henri’s words. I am truly entering the New Country. I give this book as a gift so when they’re ready, the teacher will appear (via The Inner Vice of Love)!

  30. The imperatives Let Jesus Transform You, Acknowledge Your Powerlessness and Find the Source of Your Loneliness … All are powerful and helpful. The one word that comes to me for each is surrender. In order to experience Jesus’ love, I must surrender my fears and doubts, in order to experience healing and trust God, I must surrender the imaginary thought that I have any control and power and lastly surrendering the need to run from lonliness by way of distraction, whether it be people, work, church, etc but rather identify its source.

    Lord help me to surrender all of my heart and all of my fears and doubts so that I may trust and experience you completely daily.

    1. Thank you for these words, Conita. I am definitely at a place where I need (and am sometimes able) to “surrender my fears and doubts, in order to experience healing and trust God … “. I am also aware of my need to forgive those who have hurt me, and that is very difficult for me right now because the wounds are deep and relatively recent.

    2. I resonated with those passages as well. It is so hard to give up control to the Lord and to trust Him fully. A missionary shared with me the Litany of Trust Also, very challenging to let Jesus transform me, to learn to be merciful like Him and to provide mercy and forgiveness to those who have hurt me…May we grow in trust, faith and mercy in our Lenten journey and beyond.

  31. Acknowledge your Powerlessness. Your inexhaustible need for affection is an addiction. It rules your life and makes you a victim. Simply start admitting that you cannot cure yourself. You have to say Yes fully to your power-lessness in order for God to heal you.

    Ever since the pandemic, I have struggled with finding meaningful connections. I live in the city and near neighborhood where George Floyd was killed. Out of fear and some out of fighting for justice we became a city divided. My need to be welcomed as a woman and advocate for my black and brown brothers and sisters has affected my faith walk and community. It begins with not being addicted to a sense of needing affection from others who cannot satisfy my soul. I have had to walk away from some acquaintances and friends because of the relationships were no longer healthy. I was aware of my whiteness and how my life was different. They were afraid that something bad may happen to them and not seeing that our black and brown brothers and sisters have had a continual struggle to feel safe and welcomed. These devotions are teaching me that God is with me in this pain and it is not going to be an easy journey. It begins with me inviting God into worship, prayer and meditation. It continues with listening to my black and brown sisters and brothers of what their experience is and how to stand with them.

    1. Carol, your reflection really resonates with me. My husband and I live in a majority minority suburb of Detroit and are members of a Lutheran church a mile from our home, struggling to keep open and even grow as an integrated congregation. We are challenged by the need of members to grieve and be able to freely face and acknowledge the deep pain of the racism both outside and within the Church while at the same time as White members accepting the sin that envelopes us of White privilege. It seems sometimes that “someone has to be to blame” and some of us don’t know how to deal with the angers and resentments in ways that don’t victimize people. All this said, we know that our healing of these wounds of racism require us to stay the course and not cower and run away as I think might be a message here in Henri Nouwen’s book. Maybe having the pain is actually the blessing. God bless you on your journey. Thank you for sharing.

    2. Carol, thank you for your courage and understanding. So few are even open to seeing and understanding. I am a 74 year old strong African American man of color. A product of total segregation, yet not a victim of it. No easy answers, no simple solutions. Faith and seeking the mind of Christ is the only way! Thanks for sharing!

      1. Thank you Rodney for sharing your experience. With greater awareness, fear motivating white people’s reactions is nothing new. It just keeps recycling. It is my journey to not only be at peace with God but stand up.for justice and equity . Affordable housing, strong public schools, voting rights, and protecting black lives with alternative policing

        1. All these comments get to the heart of what I think is an important new challenge in doing racial justice work over the past few years. It’s been a long story but it continues to evolve with history. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, which should speak to many of us.

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