The book: (from the publisher) Over the course of his life, Henri Nouwen wrote thousands of letters to friends, acquaintances, parishioners, students, and readers of his work all around the world. He corresponded in English, Dutch, German, French, and Spanish, and took great care to store and archive the letters decade after decade. He believed that a thoughtful letter written in love could truly change someone’s life. Many people looked to Nouwen as a long distance spiritual advisor.
Love, Henri consists of over a hundred letters that stretch from the earliest years of Henri’s career up through his last 10 years at L’Arche Daybreak. Rich in spiritual insights the letters highlight a number themes that emerged in both Henri’s work over the years, including vocation, solitude, prayer, suffering, and perseverance in difficult times. These deeply spiritual letters, sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, ultimately demonstrate the rich value of communicating with God through others.
The author: Henri Nouwen was a Dutch-born Catholic priest, professor, and pastor, who gained international renown as the author of over 30 books on the spiritual life, including such classics as The Wounded Healer, The Inner Voice of Love, and The Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen’s books have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold upwards of seven million copies worldwide, resonating with people across the religious, spiritual, cultural, and political spectrum. Since his death in 1996, ever-increasing numbers of readers, writers, teachers, and seekers have been guided by his literary legacy.
Genre: Non-fiction/Christian Life/Biography
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Reflection: When I requested this book to review, I had no idea what a treasure I was about to receive. I asked for it because (dare I admit this?) I’d not read any of Henri Nouwen’s books, though of course his reputation is vast and I have often read excerpts of his writing. Based on what little I knew, I wanted to know more. So glad I chased that instinct.
Given that his last letter was written twenty years ago, its relevance came as something of a surprise. Although why should it? Many of the social issues, and I daresay all of the spiritual ones, are those saints throughout the centuries have wrestled with.
I found Henri Nouwen’s wisdom both soul nourishing and personal. He (with apparently very little effort) conveyed deep human connection alongside expansive thinking. He mentored me as he spoke honestly about busyness and balance. In every instance, he is forthright and honest, but always kind. He also displayed a reassuring confidence in his own wisdom and experience as he apparently — like the apostle Paul — well understood the benefit of sharing what he himself had learned. His life-giving words are gracious and generous as he imparts brilliant insights with humor and humility.
I found myself anticipating moments during my day when I might sit down with Henri’s letters, in the same way I look forward to an afternoon cup of tea. These times provided both respite and nourishment for my soul. They also fueled my desire to grow into a better communicator — kinder and less egocentric while maintaining a disarming directness.
I envision Love, Henri as a coffee-table book without the pictures, one to keep at the ready for convenient, casual perusal. Although to this I must issue a warming: you’ll find it a bit addictive. The letters tend to be short, bite-sized morsels, rendering a great compulsion to read “just one more.”
With Christmas mere weeks away, I would also recommend this treasure of a book as a considerate gift to any man or woman who welcomes thoughtful, civil discourse on all matters spiritual. Or who simply welcomes the opportunity to have his soul enriched, her mind enlarged, by one of the great spiritual thinkers of our time.
Thanks to Convergent Books and Blogging for Books for providing me this copy free of charge. All opinions are mine.
After words: Have you read much of Henri Nouwen? Can you recommend a favorite?