Dec 3rd to Dec 9th: First Week of Advent

Reading: Introduction by Archbishop Borys Gudziak, p. xiii to xxxv
Part I: July 24, 1993 to July 31, 1993, p. 1 to 21

This modest, seemingly simple book about a visit to a distant land
is in fact a subtle tale about how encounter genuinely
and radically changes the lives of people.
—Archbishop Gudziak, p. xxxiv

I really want it to be an occasion for some form of conversion. . . .
“You have to make a choice. This can be just one more
educational experience or it can be a chance
to be touched in a vital, new way.
But it is your choice.”
p. 1

A warm welcome to everyone and special thanks to the many people who introduced yourselves. We’re glad that you are here and we look forward to your contributions as we journey together through what promises to be a blessed and fruitful time of preparation for Christmas. Since the Fourth Sunday of Advent is also Christmas Eve, we will compress our schedule so that we will complete the book by Saturday, December 23rd, leaving Christmas week for your final thoughts and reflections.

Ukraine Diary is quite different from Henri’s other books in several ways, and not just because it is being published thirty years after it was originally written. First, it contains a substantial Introduction by Henri’s former student and close friend Archbishop Borys Gudziak that we read this week. Archbishop Gudziak helps us to better understand the Henri Nouwen that he knew (even if he didn’t initially realize his name was pronounced Henry Now-wen) and, equally important, the Archbishop links Henri’s experience in newly independent Ukraine to the events of today in the wake of the ongoing Russian invasion (see quote at top of post). Second, this diary appears to me (a Nouwen reader but not a scholar) to be more akin to a refined draft when compared to his other published diaries such as The Genesee Diary, The Road to Daybreak, and Sabbatical Journey. By that I mean Henri seems at times to be capturing thoughts “for the record” and writing asides to himself, e.g., “. . . I have to tell these (i.e., Borys’ and Zenia’s) stories first so as to be able to write my own” and “Now I am ready to write about the complex history of Ukraine.” These asides provide a window into Henri’s manner of thinking and writing that I have not encountered previously.

As always in these book discussions, we are most interested in learning what touched your heart in the reading. What points did you find interesting and why? What insights did you gain and how may they affect your life? What did you find comforting, or enlightening, or challenging, and why? What questions arose in the reading? Or simply share what you read and how and why it was noteworthy. Here are several quotations or thoughts that that may prompt your reflections.

a) Archbishop Gudziak writes, “But Ukrainians resist. Bravely selflessly. . . People are certain that truth will prevail and that evil will be defeated.” (p. xvii) In these and similar words the Archbishop shined a light on the war in Ukraine and its affect on the Ukrainian people. What influence did our reading have on your perception of the war?

b) Reflecting on his friend, Archbishop Gudziak observed, “Henri was interested in authentic experience with God, not ideology. Most of all, Henri was craving real Christian community. . .” (p. xxvi) How does the Archbishop’s observation align with your understanding of Henri and why (e.g., based on other Nouwen books you may have read). How do you think Henri would have responded to today’s seemingly more polarized church and world?

c) The second quote at the top of this page was written by Henri as he prepared to go to Ukraine. He is seeking conversion, and he knows that it requires a choice. He poses the question, “What am I hoping for?” (p.1) Have you ever sought conversion? What choices were demanded? What did you experience? Please share to the extent you are able.

d) Henri discusses two types of adventures that he anticipated during his time in Ukraine: i) “an adventure in a new world of people, ideas, and aspirations,” and ii) “an adventure in a new inner world inner experiences of faith, trust, and friendship.” (p. 8) What do you think about Henri’s idea of the two types of adventures that he would experience. How might this apply in your life?

e) Henri describes his preparations for his trip, including his historical research and his thoughts on the influence of Eastern Christianity on his faith journey. (p. 10 to 21). Were there any thoughts or ideas that you found particularly interesting or enlightening and why?

We look forward to hearing from many of you this week. The quotations and questions above may prompt your reflection, but pleased don’t be limited by them. Our community thrives and grows closer together when you share whatever touched you in the readings and respond to the comments of others. We are also grateful for those who are joining us for this Advent journey who may decide not to post comments. We are all God’s beloved sons and daughters and everyone is welcome here.

One quick reminder: If you do not see the comments at the bottom of the post, look for the words Recent Comments in the right hand column and then click on the first comment beneath that header. The comments will then open at the bottom of the post. You can scroll to the bottom of the comments to Leave a Reply and your can enter your comment. You can also reply to the comments of others by clicking on Reply just below their entry.

As St. Francis (Henri’s favorite saint) said to those he met,
“May the Lord give you peace.”

Nov 29th to Dec 2nd: Advent 2023 — Welcome and Introductions

Reading: Preface by Robert Ellsberg, p. vii — xi

In writing this diary of his travels to Ukraine in 1993 snd 1994, Henri
was in effect sending a letter to the future. . . . (T)his simple story
was waiting for the right time, and for an audience
that could appreciate it. (p. vii)

Note: Saturday, Dec 2—Some of you might not see the comments at the bottom of the page. If you do not see the comments, go to the right hand column and click on the top comment under the heading Recent Comments, and all the comments should then be shown. Scroll to the bottom of the comments and you will see the box to enter your own comment. You may also reply to the comments of others. If you have any questions, please contact me at

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

A warm welcome to each of you as we gather at this “most wonderful time of the year” for another Henri Nouwen Society book discussion. As always, a beautiful community of people will gather for a fruitful discussion as we journey through the Advent season together. If you’ve joined us in the past, welcome back! If this is your first book discussion, we are so glad you are here!

This Advent we will read and discuss the recently published Ukraine Diary, written by Henri Nouwen in conjunction with his travels to newly independent Ukraine in 1993 and 1994. As Robert Ellsberg, the publisher of Orbis Books, notes in his Preface, when Henri approached him about publishing this book when it was first written, Ellsberg questioned whether this book would find an audience and he was unwilling to publish Henri’s diary. And yet, three decades later, as the brutal war in Ukraine continues unabated nearly two years after the Russian invasion in February 2022, Ellsberg reminds us that Henri’s “letter to the future” (p. vii) provides us with visibility into the character of the Ukrainian people that Henri encountered and “bears a message for our own time.” (p. xi)

In his Preface, Robert Ellsberg offers us his insights in to his relationship with Henri and how this book came to be published in English thirty years after it was first written. Henri’s diary is the meat that is sandwiched between an timely Introduction by Archbishop Borys Gudziak and an Afterword by Henri’s brother Laurent Nouwen who has continued mission to Ukraine started by Henri over the intervening years.

I’m looking forward sharing a spirit-filled Advent season with this online community of seekers as we gather to to read and discuss Ukraine Diary by Henri Nouwen. Our discussion begins in earnest on Sunday, December 3rd.

As we begin our journey together, it’s always nice to know something about our companions. Over the next few days you are encouraged to introduce yourself. You may choose to share:

  • Your general geographic location.
  • To whom or what you dedicate your days or energy, and why.
  • How you came to know and read Henri Nouwen and whether or not you have participated in previous Henri Nouwen Society online discussions.
  • What you hope to gain from this experience.
  • Any comments you have on Robert Ellsberg’s Preface

Please scroll to the bottom of the page to post a comment introducing yourself and to share other thoughts as we embark on our Advent journey.

Shown below my signature is a brief personal introduction followed by the book discussion instructions for those joining us for the first time or interested in a review.

In gratitude,

Ray Glennon, Moderator: Ray and his wife Dawn live in Columbia, Maryland. He came to know and trust Henri’s written word in a special way in 2004 when he discovered The Return of the Prodigal Son for sale after Mass in Singapore at a difficult and transformative point in his life. He began participating in Henri Nouwen Society book discussions in 2010 and has served as a moderator since 2014. He has developed and led several adult education courses based on the life and work of Henri Nouwen. Ray and his wife are professed members of Secular Franciscan Order (OFS) and he volunteers in various ministries in his Catholic parish and at the Franciscan Shrine of St. Anthony. You may contact Ray by email at

Henri Nouwen Society Online Book Discussion Instructions
Let’s briefly describe how our online book discussion works. If you’ve joined us before, this will serve as a review.

Beginning this Sunday, December 3rd, and each Sunday throughout Advent, a new entry or post will be added to the book discussion (the blog) home page. The post will identify the reading for the week, present a brief moderator’s reflection, and suggest some questions for discussion. Participants are invited and encouraged to comment on the post by responding to the suggested questions, by sharing their own reflections, and by replying to the comments of others throughout the week.

To read the comments or to leave a comment of your own, scroll down to the bottom of the post.  If you don’t see any comments, click on the small link at the bottom that says ## Comments.  To leave a new comment, continue scrolling down and use the “Leave a Reply” box.  To reply to someone else’s comment, click the Reply link directly below their comment. After you submit a new comment or a reply, it needs to be “approved” either by me or Will at the Henri Nouwen Society so it may take a few hours before it actually appears on the blog page. If you have any questions or problems, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at

Advent 2023 | Book Announcement

Book Selection for Advent 2023 | Ukraine Diary

For this coming Advent Online Book Discussion, we’ve chosen Henri Nouwen’s latest book – Ukraine Diary. A previously unpublished work of Nouwen’s, it’s like a time capsule, a message from the past with special meaning for today.

More about the Book

In 1993 and ’94, Henri Nouwen made two trips to Ukraine that were deeply significant to him. With extraordinary prescience, Henri identified in Ukraine certain spiritual and moral qualities struggling to assert themselves—exactly the qualities, almost thirty years later, that the Ukrainian people have mobilized in their struggle for freedom and independence. He found a people hungry for hope and healing, in need of the life-giving message he most wanted to share: that we are all “beloved of God,” and that God’s love meets us where we are most hurt, weak, and vulnerable.

“Henri is deeply in touch with the Slavic soul, its long suffering, and the national identify of the Ukrainian people. He still speaks prophetically about Russian imperialism, the gospel call to peacemaking, and prayerful resistance in a troubled and fearful land.”

Michael J. Christensen

Details about the Online Discussion

Join us Wednesday, November 29th for greetings and introductions. Then beginning Sunday, December 3rd, we’ll journey through Advent reading and discussing this timely book.

Facilitated by Ray Glennon, the Advent online book discussion is a wonderful way to celebrate Jesus’ arrival as Emmanuel (God with us) into our global community at Christmas. What a wonderful way to give special meaning to your Christmas preparations. We do hope you can join us.

A reading schedule will be posted prior to the beginning of the book discussion.

Need a copy of the book?

It is available at many bookstores, or you can order it online through the Books menu link above, or these links below.