Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life

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Readers of Mary & Me will know that Mary Humston was that kind of friend for me after the death of my husband in 2012. She still is.

Henri Nouwen was that kind of friend to those who corresponded with him. An internationally renowned priest and author, respected professor and beloved pastor, Nouwen wrote over 40 books on the spiritual life. He corresponded regularly in English, Dutch, German, French and Spanish with hundreds of friends and reached out to thousands through his books, lectures and retreats. Since his death in 1996, his literary legacy has only increased, with readers, writers, teachers and spiritual seekers being guided by his words.

When he died, he left behind a treasury of personal papers, including 16,000 letters. He not only kept every postcard, piece of paper, and greeting card that arrived in his mail, he responded to each of them.

Love Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life is a collection of letters that spans more than two decades, from Nouwen’s years as a professor, to his time as a Trappist monk, to missionary work in Latin American, and finally his role as a pastor of a community of people with disabilities. Friends wrote him about their grief, deteriorating marriages, faltering faith, and job struggles, and these letters in reply are extraordinary.

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To a friend considering quitting his job, Nouwen wrote: “…my first inclination is to encourage you in your work which you have started. It seems you are in a spot which is hard, but which has many, many opportunities, and there are indeed people there who need your presence, your encouragement, your insights, and most of all, your deep religious commitment.

I have a feeling that in the future you will be called to other places and to other types of work, but it seems that a few year in this dessert might in fact be a good preparation for the more involved type of ministry.”

He goes on to say;

“Be sure to be very faithful to a regular prayer life, to spend a lot of time in reading and to stay in in good contact with friends whom you trust. I am sure after a while it will become clear where God is calling you, but my first response to your letter is that right now he calls you to be just where you are.”

This is the kind of advice we could all use when we are struggling with something; a reminder to pray, to read, to take some contemplative time, and to be willing to trust God that there is a plan in all of it.

I had to set this book aside for several days after I read it, as I contemplated some of my own struggles.  I have a mentor or two in my own life that I write to, and while their replies are more often by e-mail than snail mail, their advice is similar to Nouwen’s. We get so busy in our hectic lives, we forget to make time to pray, to listen to God.

This is one of the few books of actual letters that I’ve read, and I enjoyed it immensely. It has gotten me interested in reading more of Nouwen’s work.

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