Reading: The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom “Conclusion” (pages 116 to 118) & Review the Spiritual Imperatives that spoke to you
I discovered that I was no longer the person who had left the community
in despair. I discovered this not so much in myself but in those who,
instead of being embarrassed by what I had gone through, gave
me their confidence and trust. Most of all, I found
new confidence in myself through the gradual
renewal of the friendship that had
triggered my anguish. (p. 116)
We have arrived at Palm Sunday, the beginning of the most sacred week of the year for Christians, and the final post of our Lenten book discussion. In our reading this week, Henri looks back eight years to when he wrote the sixty-two spiritual imperatives during “the most difficult period of my life. . . a time of extreme anguish” (p. xiii) and reflects on his spiritual and emotional growth that allowed him to publish his “secret journal” (p. xiii) with the encouragement of Wendy Greer and several other friends. Henri acknowledges the “radical changes I have undergone. I have moved through anguish to freedom, through depression to peace, through despair to hope.” (p. 116) The impact of those radical changes in Henri’s life is captured in the quotation in bold at the top of this post. (Note: Henri completed the final preparations for the publication of The Inner Voice of Love during his 1996 sabbatical. The final copy was sent to the publisher in the months prior to his untimely death from a heart attack on September 21, 1996. It was published posthumously.)
Now let’s step back several years (1991-2) to the period closer to when these imperatives were first written. In the Prologue to his spiritual masterpiece The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, Henri alludes to the difficulties that led to his emotional and spiritual breakdown during which he wrote the spiritual imperatives. He writes, “Much of what has happened since my arrival at Daybreak is written down in diaries and notebooks, but, as it stands, little of it is fit to share with others. The words are too raw, too noisy, too “bloody,” and too naked. But now a time has come when it is possible to look back on those years of turmoil and to describe, with more objectivity than was possible before, the place to which all of that struggle has brought me.” (The Return… p. 15) We have been reading the words to which Henri is referring.
As the prologue continues, Henri points to the crucial role that Rembrandt”s painting the Parable of the Prodigal Son played in his healing. Henri came to see it as, “my personal painting, the painting that contained not only the heart of the story that God wants to tell me, but also the heart of the story that i want to tell to God and God’s people. All of the Gospel is there. All of life is there.” (The Return…, p. 15) And just what did Henri find in Rembrandt’s painting? Many, if not all, of the spiritual imperatives: “Trust the Inner Voice” (p. 6), “Come Home” (p. 12), “Open Yourself to the First Love”* (p. 28), “Let Jesus Transform You” (p. 40), “Avoid All Forms of Self-Rejection” (p. 86), “Know That You Are Welcome” (p. 101), and “Keep Choosing God” (p. 113), and many others. And most important, Henri realized in the depth of his being that, like Jesus, he and we are God’s beloved sons and daughters.
This week you are invited to reflect on Henri’s journey and to identify which spiritual imperatives spoke to your heart. Henri has provided us with a bountiful feast of ideas ands insights to enrich us on our journeys. Did you (re)discover something about yourself that will assist you as you continue your spiritual journey? Are there steps you can take in the coming days, weeks, and months that will allow you to better live your life as God’s beloved. (Full Disclosure: I often come to the end of these enriching discussions with the best of intentions and then fail to write them down or, if I do, to follow through and hold myself accountable.)
As was mentioned last week, we are planning to have an optional Zoom virtual meeting this Tuesday, April 4th at 8:00 p.m. EDT (UTC-4). Over 20 participants have already expressed interest and they should have received an email from me with the link to join the Zoom meeting. If you are interested in joining and haven’t received an email with the link, you can simply indicate your interest by posting a comment below or by contacting me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone that wishes to participate must request the link in advance. I will not be publishing the link publicly on this site.
While I haven’t completely thought through how we will conduct the Zoom meeting, here are a few ideas for your consideration.
- A brief (literally 30-45 seconds) introduction: Name, Location, Why Henri? (e.g., what drew you to Henri, how has he been a companion on your journey)—Everyone that wanted to share would have the chance
- A brief (60-90 second) sharing about something that touched you in the book (e.g., a single or group of imperatives, thoughts about Henri’s journey, the impact this book had on you)—Everyone that wanted to share would have the chance; I might provide a very brief facilitator response to a sharing, if appropriate
- Facilitated discussion where participants can engage with insights and comments of each other and ask questions about Henri, the making of this book, etc.
If you have other suggestions, please let me know in the comments. I look forward to meeting many of you in cyber-space on Tuesday evening.
Finally, on behalf of the Henri Nouwen Society, I want to express my deep gratitude for this wonderful and spiritually enriching Lenten discussion. It has been a privilege to share this journey with you. May you and yours be richly blessed during this Holy Week and the Easter season.
Peace and all good.
*Facilitator Note: “Open Yourself to the First Love” evolved to “The words ‘You are my Beloved’ reveal the most intimate truth about all human beings.” (Life of the Beloved, p. 30)
The Lenten journey with The Inner Voice of Love has been a deep, rich experience for me. It has been a north star ⭐️, a grounding, a return to my center, and a lighthouse. It has filled a deep need and longing in my heart and soul. It was so timely, as God always is.
I’ve enjoyed reading the book and stumbled upon a you-tube video of the audiobook that has been a constant companion on long walks and quiet evenings at home. https://youtu.be/k3ui16Gzy3E
Happy Easter to all! RISEN!
I write this with deep gratitude:
To Ray, for your very gentle touch in leading this group, and for putting the time into it. I don’t take that for granted, and I am grateful.
To all those posted, especially your personal stories, as Beverly Weinhold did this week and many others did in previous weeks. Henri shares his pain and struggles, which seems to give many others the self-permission to do the same. That allows me to understand my own struggles more, and so I am grateful.
I do fear, as Henri did, that I will fall back into wondering whether God is real or only something “out there” that I can no longer touch, I feel comforted today, as Henri did, that God wants me to feel the comfort and peace of his presence.
“You are facing a real spiritual battle.” Game on.
Thanks everybody, and blessings on your Easter weekend.
Thanks to you Ray, for your excellent leadership. And to everyone of you for your thoughtful and provocative comments. I am sorry to have missed the Zoom. Especially since I am such a proponent of seeing oneanother in person. Work commitments in Holy Week, made it impossible for me. But, I have so appreciated re-reading the Inner Voice of Love as it was an aha moment, summarizing Henri’s journey as well as my own.
Henri went away for 8 months. I’ve been away 15 years from Boston living in Louisville. Returning to Boston 2 months ago and reading this book has turned a page in my life. Like Henri with Nathan, I also feel bonds have been broken in relationship with my daughters and with Jesus.
First, my twin daughters and I have had a fluctuating relationship that felt like estrangement since their father and I divorced 20 years ago. Simply said, the grave clothes wrapping that experience began falling away recently, reopening generous space inviting me to come closer and love more. Second, though I didn’t despair like some of my colleagues (I am ordained clergy who is a licensed psychotherapist and certificated Spiritual Director), the 15 years in Louisville left me in an exile like Henri: “During my months of anguish, I often wondered if God is real or just a product of my imagination. I now know that while I felt completely abandoned, God did not leave me alone” (118).
Coming back to Boston and re-reading The Inner Voice of Love, invited me to dig deeper into Belovedness as God’s child. Easter offered a scouring forgiveness that exchanged shame for surety and a more sacred dignity. Jesus acension brought the Holy Spirit Companionship moment by moment whispering “this way.” And Jesus resurrection sealed solid assurance of an afterlife with “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am you may be also” (John 13:2-6).
Summarily then, Easter Resurrection pressed power into my wariness, raising me from my grave of “self imposed exile” (116), and beckoning us to break forth into a liberating “Hallelujah.” Hallelujah. Indeed. Christ has risen!
Thank you, Ray for your continued leadership and to all of you in this family for participating in this Lenten reading. And yes, we are a “family”. As I assess this time together, I believe it drew us all into the Paschal Mystery, during which time Jesus found Himself abandoned as Henri must have felt during his time of anguish. We all from time to time fall and have to get up.
The Inner Voice of Love makes me aware of the changes “I” have undergone. “My heart, ever questioning my goodness, value, and worth, has become anchored in a deeper love and thus less dependent on the praise and blame of those around me. It also has grown into a greater ability to give love without always expecting love in return.” And “But I have heard the inner voice of love, deeper and stronger than ever” are the lines which brought this reading and the Paschal Mystery closer to my heart. I sense that the more I delve into the mystery of faith, my personal journey becomes closer to the love Jesus taught us. I know I am better for having participated and will continue these Lenten and Advent readings.
Happy Easter to all. May the peace of Christ bless your hearts.
The presence of Henri Nouwen. In reflecting on the long season of healing and renewal Henri wrote about in this book, I am compelled to comment on an exhortation he shared on p 113, reminding us that God says he wants us to “experience the joy and peace of my presence.”
In this book, and all of his writings, we have the blessed privilege of sensing Henri’s presence through his words, as I have been doing for over thirty years. We move beyond the words and see his heart and soul. Revealed to us in his chronicles is the inner voice of God’s love in his heart.
In our daily lives, we have the experiences of being in the actual presence of persons around us. And then there are scores of people, past and present, that deeply impact us that we are never actually with, or see, in person – writers, speakers, leaders, celebrities, etc. Fortunately, through media and technology, we see and hear people, and can feel as if we are in their presence.
This Monday I was riding with family in the car with our son’s partner – I mentioned earlier he is Vice President of Late Night Programming and Specials at ABC. It was his day off, but he was listening on speaker to (his boss) Bob Iger and the annual Walt Disney Co.’s annual shareholder meeting. Bob Iger was remarkably gracious and courteous. Absolutely every question, some pointed and contentious, was first responded to with calming, amiable words like, “I really appreciate your question.” His entire responses were firm, but gracious and polite. I felt like I was in his presence, but I wasn’t – though actually I was close, Disney headquarter’s is only three miles from our apartment, and we were near the campus at the time.
But there are cherished times in life we have the privilege of being literally in the presence of a person we admire. These moments, often brief, are deeply imprinted in our memories. Yes, there are those large crowd events, like stadiums and arenas, where we see people. But then there are those smaller crowd, even small group encounters.
For followers of Christ, meeting with or being in the presence of a profound spiritual influencer or leader is especially indelible. I will never forget a meeting back in Syracuse, NY with just three other Prison Fellowship USA volunteers in a room with Charles Colson. His love for God, his passionate, genuine commitment to caring prison ministry was so evident. At my good friend’s wedding, Ron Shea (Bev Shea’s son) in Asheville, NC, I was among some forty people at his reception where I was privileged to lead in prayer before the meal. Ron’s parents and family were there, of course, and others, including Ruth Graham. Though a time of celebration, what I really remember is that I was in the presence of some very deeply committed, spiritual people.
Which brings me to Henri Nouwen. Yes, I have a dozen of his books, read a daily meditation based on his writings, and was in a pastor’s Return of the Prodigal Son book reading group up in San Jose back in the early 90’s just after it was published.
But what I will never forget was the day late in 1994 when I drove up to a church in Berkeley to hear Henri speak – in person! It was his “Our Greatest Gift” book tour – his most recent book then. Some 150 were there. I was within a few feet of him at the book table, but he was surrounded by others, and I needed to get back to SJ. But I will always remember being in his presence. In his speaking, actions, and temperament, he was soft spoken, kind, genuine, gracious, authentic, unpretentious, humble, and deeply spiritual. He wanted no glory for himself, he just kept pointing to God’s love, grace and forgiveness. No surprise – just like his writing.
But one other observation. At the time I heard him, I was totally unaware of the difficult period he had experienced the decade before. I observed no sign of it, and I do not recall him mentioning it. His passion was for God, and the subject matter of the book. In a word, as I read this book the past few weeks, I thought to myself, “My goodness, there was no sign of this when I saw him then.” And there wouldn’t have been because I saw a Henri Nouwen, up close and personal, that was healed and had already been on the journey from anguish to freedom. Praise be to God.
I guess maybe I should have written this in the first week – but I am wondering if others in the group may have seen seen him in person, and what impressions and memories they have of being in his presence. Thanks for listening. And thanks again, Ray, for leading the group.
As we enter the Easter Triduum of the Last Supper (Holy Thursday), the Passion of the Lord (Good Friday), and the Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Sunday), I want to express my deep gratitude to each of you for sharing our Lenten journey. We have walked with Henri through his own time of extreme anguish—the crucible that refined him into the spiritual master that gifted us with spiritual masterpieces including The Return of the Prodigal Son, Life of the Beloved, and the book we have just finished reading, The Inner Voice of Love. May this time we have shared together lead each of us to “Keep Choosing God.”
At this most holy time of the year, may Henri’s concluding words of hope and trust resound in our hearts and be reflected in our actions all the days of our life:
“Remember you are held safe. You are loved. You are protected. You are in communion with God and with those God has sent you. What is of God will last. It belongs to the eternal life. Choose it and it will be yours.”
Plan to join us for our Advent book discussion that begins on Wednesday, November 29th with Welcome and Introductions.
As St. Francis (Henri Nouwen’s favorite saint) said to those he met, “May the Lord give you peace.”
Thank you, Ray, for your faithful leadership and facilitation! And, what a powerful, meaningful benediction to be kept close in our hearts and minds:
“Remember you are held safe. You are loved. You are protected. You are in communion with God and with those God has sent you. What is of God will last. It belongs to the eternal life. Choose it and it will be yours.”
Someone has to organize the thoughts and, for me, Henri Nouwen does it. My praying just now came from the conclusion in The Inner Voice of Love. Something happened to me this morning that made me feel disvalued. But I find that I am able to lift my brokenness up to the Father, knowing that Jesus lifts his brokenness up to our Father in atonement for my sins and the sins of the whole world and the lack of praise and affirmation and all that this morning isn’t knocking me off kilter so much and, in this instance I can continue to love without expectations in return. I think all the spiritual writings of Henri Nouwen are able more and more to center me in Eucharistic Spirituality and the language and thought processes he uses are so contemporarily meaningful to me.
Henri’s Imperatives are rich in meaning. Our time here in this book discussion was soul food for me.
Matthew 11.28-30 resonates with me: Henri refers to this on page 104. As we near Good Friday observances of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross, I am hearing that inner voice say, “Come to me with all your burdens…lay them at the foot of the cross.” As one wise priest said, “Oh sure each morning, I do give my troubles to the Lord. But very soon later, I take them back again, trying to do everything my way. ”
Sounds like the monastic way of falling and rising, again and again.
Today I received this prayer in email:
Loving God, calling me beloved amazes me,
makes me wonder,
whether my mind and heart
can stretch enough to grasp
that You are here,
and to keep aware of
Your steady, unremitting love.
My heart is intermittent at best, Lord,
so I beg You to help me
keep loving You longer and longer,
until my whole mind and heart are filled with You.
Thank you,Ray, and to everyone here for being part of our faith journey. Blessed Easter hope to all!
We had a very enlightening and enjoyable discussion on zoom last night. I would highly recommend it again in the future. Thank you Ray for putting it together
Have a blessed Easter
Thank you, Ray and all who participated in the zoom meeting, yesterday. It was very informative and fulfilling to hear and to see Henri’s words resonating with their individual spirits. I am fairly new in discovering Henri’s books and was in awe of how many years an individual can read and study the words and still find them inspirational and current to whatever stage of life they were in. As I mentioned in the group yesterday, when I read “The Inner Voice”, I have a sense that Henri had written down the words of encouragement to him, from God deep down within his heart….
Thank you, Ray, for leading us in the zoom meeting tonight (Tuesday). In my opinion, it was a very informative and thought-provoking time of participants’ sharing about the impact of The Inner Voice of Love on us this Lenten journey. I’ve just been reflecting that Henri Nouwen’s very visual spirituality—the Nicaraguan book from when he was exploring being a missionary illustrated with drawings of the people, Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son that Henri Nouwen wrote so passionately about the energy and time he spent studying it, the Flying Rodleighs that he described so vividly to us in his book, the spirituality, imagination and sensual perspective of this theologian, priest and author almost seems to perfectly lend itself to zoom technology where people can actually see each other while we were sharing about what we had been reading. To make the point, one participant even showing us her original art inspired by the Rodleighs Henri Nouwen wrote about. All-in-all a wonderful meeting I am thankful to have participated in. I wish everyone a very blessed Easter and look forward to which book will be discussed at Advent this year.
The Inner Voice of Love is a keeper. I will re-read Henri’s words over and over throughout the remaining years God gives to me. I originally got the audio copy of the book and really enjoyed “listening” to his words, as if he were reading them to me! Straight from his heart, the depths of such love, compassion, and mercy, mixed in with torment and adversity…just beautiful to hear. But I loved it so much, I had to go buy a hard copy to refer to over the years. I even just shared it with my 25 year old son last night, as we were having a very interesting theological discussion about life, and I made reference to Henri and his works. He had heard of his works, too, and he perused the book, with plans to read it later (after he gets out of grad school). So much wisdom and truth in his messages and he is such an encouragement. During this season of Lent, I am thankful we got to read this together to be drawn closer to the image of God, His character, His Love, His Mercy and Hope for each of us. I thank you all for this journey, and especially to Ray, our fearless moderator. I pray each of you recognize the magnificent power of God in your hearts and lives. Happy Resurrection Day!
Other than the first week I have only read the comments. Last week when I saw the title on p.107 “Let Others Help You Die” I was struck dumb. I realized I was afraid of dying and like Henri writes “dying alone” scares me. With my cancer prognosis death is not to be ignored as something years away. During this Lenten journey I have experienced medical crises that left me totally dependent on medical care. I can not longer hide from my wounds or deal with them in my head. They must enter my heart where I can cry deeply and heal deeply with the help and love of others. Trusting others with my deep deep secrets is a challenge.
May our Heavenly Father send his healing Holy Spirit to you and your medical team. May the Lord give you peace.
What a journey! I have enjoyed these imperatives and will take away a few things. Henri’s conclusion sums up a few of my thoughts well.
“None of this happened suddenly” (pg 116) is a great encouragement to me! I am 57 years old and have followed Jesus for most of those years and I find myself thinking I should be much farther along in my faith journey than I am. I love Liz’s comment above about the monk’s response of falling and getting up and then falling and getting up. God IS doing a work in all of our hearts (Phil 1:6) and He is committed to finishing that work but it is a process which takes time. “All the agony that threatened to destroy my life now seems like the fertile ground for greater trust, stronger hope, and deeper love.” (page 117) God uses our struggles to grow us!
“But as I kept claiming for myself the truth of my freedom as a child of God, endowed with an abundance of love….(pg 117). My identity in Christ is so key to my response to life and struggle! Asking God to continue to remind me how much I am loved as His child!
And finally, from the overflow of the love I know in Christ “I want to keep trusting in that voice and be led by it beyond the boundaries of my short life, to where God is all in all” (pg 118). May I have ears to hear His voice, eyes to see where He is leading me and the courage to follow! Thank you all …..I’ve been blessed in this journey with you.
Reading this book has been interesting for me. While I find that my own struggles differ from those that Henri Nouwen apparently struggled with, I did find valuable nuggets of wisdom in his journal entries.
In particular, the following quote, I believe, could be a helpful and concise mantra for most people’s meditation. From near the bottom of page 114:
“Your future depends on how you decide to remember your past.”
How very true this is!
If I focus on the blessings, the lessons learned, the little things worthy of gratitude, (and if I take the time to actually be grateful for those things), the burdens that come are lightened and each tomorrow can be looked forward to with hope. Remembering past things this way has freed me to appreciate the good that is there in people and circumstances, and to savor that. It has freed me to just live each day, reassured that all is in the hands of the generous Lord who loves each one of us.
I found it very interesting and encouraging that this pearl of wisdom was tucked by Nouwen into a paragraph at the end of the last of so many journal entries he compiled as he worked through his time of intense personal struggle. What a blessing!
Amen! Simple, yet profound and powerful! Victim or Victor? One leads to freedom, the other to bondage. Trust is my journey + truly believing in my heart that I am a beloved child of God! Thanks for sharing!
Matthew 11.28-30 “Come to me all you who are burdened…” resonates with me: Henri refers to this on page 104.
To keep my focus on Trust, like Sharon posted today, is for me a challenging imperative. I so wish to be the “fixer” of all things broken or not, needy or not.
I can easily frustrate myslef by spending energy on my solutions instead of giving my confidence over to God’s power. To align my will with God’s will ought to flow logically because God loves me and desires only good for me!
Henri’s closing sentence on Page 118 in his Conclusion is a gem worth polishing up again and again so the words become a promise and a prayer.
“I want to keep trusting in that (God’s) voice and be led by it(God’s Spirit) beyond the boundaries of my short life to where God is all in all.”
In Henri’s Conclusion on Page 116 he wrote, “None of this happened suddenly.” Gradually his despair diminished and he discovered his true identity.
A monk was once asked: What do you do there in the monastery? He replied: We fall and get up, fall and get up, fall and get up again.
Tito Colliander Way of the Ascetics p.54
“What do you want me to do, Lord?” This question relates to “Trust the Inner Voice” P.6 “Conversion is not something you bring about by yourself.” In today’s email I received this message from Barbara Holmes:
“Trust God, trust Holy Spirit to lead you into all truth. Make your intention clear, that yes, you will follow as called, without exception. Just make your intention known to God and wait for the Holy Spirit to lead you into the fulfillment of your vocation.” 
 Adapted from Barbara Holmes, “Friday Q and R with Kirsten Oates,” CONSPIRE 2021 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2021), conference talk.
At the early age of ten she received what she understood was a call from God.
Later when she considered ministry, she knew of not one woman minister.
She then followed the path of marriage and family which later ended in divorce. Her conversation with God went like:
“Excuse me, sir, or ma’am”—I wanted to cover my bases—“I don’t know if you know about the divorce, but I have two children and I’ve got to feed them and ministers make no money. So, if you don’t mind, I’m going to law school.” 
At her graduation from law school she heard that “Inner Voice” again that said, “This isn’t it!” “There was nothing to do but hear the whispering, continue my practices. And I now allow life to lead me to the precipice of the newness that was already seeded in my life…. ”
How often I have stood at that precipice of newness already seeded in my life!
Each morning I awake God’s mercies are again available to move forward without fear but with freedom to trust the Inner Voice.
As always, I appreciate Henri’s honest sharing with the world his vulnerabilities and flaws, and I am inspired by his persistence in finding ways to address those issues in a lengthy eight-year struggle. My overall take-away about the book amounts to some notes-to-self on these topics: patience, practice, awareness, positivity, and a kind of trust in God that can lead to self-forgiveness, peace, renewal, joy, and an openness to hear God’s voice in every moment. Like Liz, I tend to want to be the “fixer,” and so circling back to focus on trusting God and trying to be patient as I await results should be key for me.
Thank you, this sharing so resonates with me!
This has been a very helpful part of my Lenten journey this year. In Nouwen’s conclusion, “My heart, ever questioning my goodness, value, and worth, has become anchored in a deeper love and thus less dependent on the praise and blame of those around me. It also has grown into a greater ability to give love without always expecting love in return.” and then “But as I kept claiming for myself the truth of my freedom as a child of God, endowed with an abundance of love, my obsessive needs melted away and a true mutuality became possible.” Over my lifetime, of 75 years now, I have had to deal with the fact that what I believe is my love for God and others can be actually distorted and turned on to my own neediness, and also what others believe is their love for me, can almost enslave me to their neediness and end up making me feel resentful and lose trust in the goodness of each of us. Many imperatives have resonated with me but primary is Give Your Agenda to God. “You are very concerned with making the right choices about your work.” “You have to keep going back to the source: God’s love for you.” and “Try to give your agenda to God. Keep saying ‘Your will be done, not mine.'” “God does not want you to destroy yourself.” “It is not easy to give your agenda to God. But the more you do so, the more ‘clock time’ becomes ‘God’s time,’ and God’s time is always the fullness of time.” The thing is I know what it feels like, certain times in my life there has been this mutuality, this healthiness of loving, especially during Holy Eucharistic Communion and Adoration, and my challenge is to more and more put into practice the insights Henri Nouwen gives so that I can say, as Nouwen says “I want to keep trusting in that voice and be led by it beyond the boundaries of my short life, to where God is all in all.” I want to more consistently authentically love God and my neighbor and not from my own neediness distort my love and behaviors and acts toward them, to bring God’s love into the world more faithfully. The Inner Voice of Love has been a great choice to read and discuss during this Lenten season and I feel like the results of all of us having participated will be very fruitful in our lives, in our families, in our communities, in this world. Thank you, Ray, and everyone.