One of my spiritual fathers was still alive on this earth when I first "met" him. Henri J. M. Nouwen (January 24, 1932 – September 21, 1996) was a Dutch Catholic priest and writer who authored 40 books on the spiritual life.
Our "meeting" came in two ways. A mentor friend of mine pointed me to Nouwen's classic work, The Return of the Prodigal Son. This is an amazing book based on meditations on Rembrandt's painting by the same name. (See a previous post for a favorite quote).
The other "encounter" came through a gift from my friend Penny. The precious volume she gave me came at a very significant time. Our young adult son was in the hospital going through a long surgery for thyroid cancer. It was then that Nouwen's Bread for the Journey became bread for my journey through the days that followed.
As a result, I fell in love with Nouwen's writings and began to read whatever I could find that he had written. Henri Nouwen helped me learn to embrace my broken humanity as the place where I could meet the Lord.
Here is a selection from Bread for the Journey. What follows are memorable quotes from Nouwen's best loved works.
Bread for the Journey, June 04
by Henri J.M. Nouwen
Being Clothed in Christ
Being a believer means being clothed in Christ. Paul says, “Every one of you that has been baptized has been clothed in Christ” (Galatians 3:26) and “Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). This being “clothed in Christ” is much more than wearing a cloak that covers our misery. It refers to a total transformation that allows us to say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ and yet I am alive; yet it is no longer I, but Christ living in me” (Galatians 2:20).
Thus, we are the living Christ in the world. Jesus, who is God-made-flesh, continues to reveal himself in our own flesh. Indeed, true salvation is becoming Christ.
Jesus was a revolutionary, who did not become an extremist, since he did not offer an ideology, but Himself. The Wounded Healer (1972)
Prayer is not a pious decoration of life but the breath of human existence. The Wounded Healer (1972)
When we walk in the Lord's presence, everything we see, hear, touch, or taste reminds us of Him. This is what is meant by a prayerful life. It is not a life in which we say many prayers but a life in which nothing, absolutely nothing, is done, said, or understood independently of Him who is the origin and purpose of our existence. The Living Reminder: Service and Prayer in Memory of Jesus Christ (1977)
My hope is that the description of God's love in my life will give you the freedom and the courage to discover . . . God's love in yours. Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (1994), pg. 175
We often confuse unconditional love with unconditional approval. God loves us without conditions but does not approve of every human behavior. God doesn’t approve of betrayal, violence, hatred, suspicion, and all other expressions of evil, because they all contradict the love God wants to instill in the human heart. Evil is the absence of God’s love. Bread For the Journey (1996)
I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. In the Name of Jesus (1989)
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares. Out of Solitude
People who pray stand receptive before the world. They no longer grab but caress, they no longer bite but kiss, they no longer examine but admire. Encounters with Merton
To pray means to open your hands before God. It means slowly relaxing the tension which squeezes your hands together and accepting your existence with an increasing readiness, not as a possession to defend, but as a gift to receive. Above all, prayer is a way of life which allows you to find a stillness in the midst of the world where you open your hands to God’s promises and find hope for yourself, your neighbor and your world. In prayer, you encounter God not only in the small voice and the soft breeze, but also in the midst of the turmoil of the world, in the distress and joy of your neighbor and in the loneliness of your own heart. Prayer leads you to see new paths and to hear new melodies in the air. Prayer is the breath of your life which gives you freedom to go and to stay where you wish and to find the many signs which point out the way to a new land. Praying is not simply some necessary compartment in the daily schedule of a Christian or a source of support in time of need, nor is it restricted to Sunday mornings or mealtimes. Praying is living. It is eating and drinking, action and rest, teaching and learning, playing and working. Praying pervades every aspect of our lives. It is the unceasing recognition that God is wherever we are, always inviting us to come closer and to celebrate the divine gift of being alive. In the end, a life of prayer is a life with open hands where we are not ashamed of our weakness but realize that it is more perfect for us to be led by the Other than to try to hold everything in our own hands.Only within this kind of life does a spoken prayer make sense. A prayer in church, at table or in school is only a witness to what we want to make of our entire lives. Such a prayer reminds us that praying is living and it invites us to make this an ever-greater reality. Thus, there are as many ways to pray as there are moments in life. Sometimes we seek out a quiet spot and want to be alone, sometimes we look for a friend and want to be together. Sometimes we like a book, sometimes we prefer music. Sometimes we want to sing out with hundreds, sometimes only whisper with a few. Sometimes we want to say it with words, sometimes with a deep silence. In all these moments, we gradually make our lives more of a prayer and we open our hands to be led by God even to places we would rather not go. With Open Hands (1972)