Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life

Over the years I’ve read a lot of Henri Nouwen books. The reading of nearly everyone of these books is associated, in my mind, with some really important even or series of events in my life. To say that Henri Nouwen was there for some of these life changing/ministry changing moments of my life is something of an understatement. However, most of what I have read from Nouwen hasn’t been especially personal. Yes I know he has several “journals” or “memoirs” of certain seasons in his life and ministry, but reallove-henrily, who is Henri Nouwen? And is he really like the person that we meet when we read his published books? Well, if you want the answer to that question, you are in luck because a collection of his letters to friends, disciples, and just generally interested people has been published by Gabrielle Earnshaw.

Earnshaw has provided those who are interested in the works of Nouwen a fine window into a previously unseen part of Nouwen’s interior life. In this collection, we see Nouwen, not pontificating and giving abstract advice, but rather we see him giving wisdom to ordinary people about how to live an authentic spiritual life.

Earnshaw notes that prior to his death Nouwen had received more than 16,000 letters. “He kept every postcard, piece of paper, fax and greeting card that arrived in his mail. And he responded to each of them. His response to these letters was an often overlooked part of his ministry. In these letters we see him dealing with such pastoral issues like:

  • Loss
  • Sickness
  • Injustice
  • Finding and losing Love
  • Discerning a career path
  • Handling conflict
  • Managing one’s emotions
  • Coping with self-doubt

If you can identify with any of these issues, this book might be for you.

Personally, I was encouraged by his insistence to “be very faithful to a regular prayer life” and his encouragement to “spend silent time in your prayer room… and allow yourself to taste already now the peace that comes from this [Christ’s] victory.” I was encouraged by his advice to those in ministry. For instance,

It is so important for the people around you to see that peace of Christ reflected in your eyes, your hands and your words. There is more power in that than in all your teaching and organizing. That is the truth we need to keep telling eachother. (88)

Your special task as superior is to keep Jesus, the crucified and rise Lord, in the heart of your people and in the center of your community. Keep speaking about him and keep his words calling you and your sisters to faithfulness. (151)

And another piece of advice to a young minister,

One thing I would like to ask you is to keep faithful to a life of prayer. Without prayer, confession, anger and frustrations may become unbearable for you, but when in prayer you connect them with the struggle of Jesus himself, I trust that your vocation will deeper…I would also like you to stay faithful to the church, even when you see its tendency to be self indulgent…In the long run, living in Christ without being connected with the church is impossible. I have seen this over and over again.

These pieces of advice stick out to me, given that I am working in ministry. However there is plenty throughout the book that will speak loudly to anyone who is pursuing a deeper relationship with Christ.

If you are looking for a seasoned, deeply spiritual, voice of wisdom to point you to Jesus, I would recommend that you find someone in your church and go through this book with them, because in Nouwen’s writings you will find the voice of someone who is seasoned, deeply spiritual, and will point you to Jesus.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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