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Posted October 19, 2004

Book: God’s Beloved: A Spiritual Biography of Henri Nouwen
Author: Michael O’Laughlin
Orbis Books, New York, pp. 197

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

“I knew Henri Nouwen as a personal friend, and I can honestly say that this book captures his spirituality, his conflicts, his stages of growth, and because of that, his very believable holiness. This book is a real contribution to all of us who are on the same paths.” Fr. Richard Rohr, Author of Soul Brothers.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Henri’s way of keeping things real was to avoid intellectualism, and he did not make reference to spiritual authorities or even doctrines. He avoided religious language and references. Indeed, he had surprisingly little interest in some of the classic figures of the Christian tradition. Although centered on the Bible and the Eucharist, he preferred to explore the ordinary elements of existence and the pathway of his own feelings. Henri had a special gift for taking up familiar aspects of religion and of ordinary living and making them come alive. Words that we all know by heart, stories we have heard countless times, truths that we repeat or recite but that have grown stale and remote — he could infuse with new meaning. This ability to make familiar things come alive was the fruit of his creative, contemplative process of living in the world. Henri’s spirituality was intimately bound up in personal artistic contemplation, and, as a preacher or writer, he wove words around whatever event or story or image he was considering.

What we might learn from this? I think that learning to see the world in this new way is a task that could certainly take most of a lifetime. What van Gogh, Merton, and especially Nouwen were doing was contemplation — van Gogh before a landscape, Merton before a Zen koan, and Nouwen before the biblical image of the Prodigal Son — but that contemplation became art because of each individual’s creative propensity and power. All became witnesses, recording what they saw, staring intently until the outlines blurred. To engage in their practice, one must dwell deeply, repetitively yet creatively, with an idea, an image, or a feeling until, after a time, that idea or image blossoms within oneself into a new and liberating vision.

If we are to claim this piece of the Nouwen legacy, it will not be by being faithful to the same topics or the same approach as Henri’s, but by ourselves becoming artists and living our lives in faithful openness to the vision of God and the world.

Table of Contents:

1. Origins and early influences

2. the psychology of Henri Nouwen

3. An artist, not a scribe

4. Eating and drinking in the House of God

5. Jesus at the center

6. Spirituality and prayer