You Are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living
Henri Nouwen (Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99)
I have read quite a few of Henri Nouwen’s books and he never fails to move and inspire me. I never seem to tire of him. He was a profoundly spiritual, prayerful man, but he always struck me as lonely, insecure and, in his craving for affection, full of self-doubt. Friendship meant the world to him but his deep sensitivity caused him to be easily hurt and disappointed and let down.
This all-too-human quality made him so appealing and easy to identify with. He had a particular compassion for those on the margins of society, the outcasts.
His friends report that he couldn’t pass a beggar on the street and he always stopped to listen to the poor man or woman’s story and give them what help he could. He left a successful academic career to devote his life to people with mental disabilities as pastor of L’Arche Daybreak Community in Toronto.
You are the Beloved is a book of meditations for every day of the year, selected from the writings, talks and letters of Henri Nouwen. It is compiled and edited by Gabrielle Earnshaw.
Henri was acutely aware of his own mortality and fragility. Writing about death, he says: “I have a deep sense, hard to articulate, that if we could really befriend death we would be free people. So many of our doubts and hesitations, ambivalences and insecurities are bound up with our deep-seated fear of death that our lives would be significantly different if we could relate to death as a familiar guest instead of a threatening stranger.”
Genuine, sincere friendship was very important to Henri. Nothing was too much trouble to him when it came to his friends. There was a deep vulnerability about him and he craved affirmation and affection from friends. There is something profoundly moving about this.
In a piece called ‘The Friend who Cares’, he writes: “When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand.”
The friend,” he continues, “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 the friend who cares.”
This theme of friendship permeates Nouwen’s life and his writing. He experiences God’s loving presence through the prism of caring human relationships.
“True friendships are lasting because true love is eternal. A friendship in which heart speaks to heart is a gift from God…love between people, when given by God, is stronger than death. In this sense, true friendships continue beyond the boundary of death. When you have loved deeply that love can grow even stronger after the death of the person you love. This is the core message of Jesus…dare to love and be a real friend. The love you give and receive is a reality that will lead you closer to God as well as to those whom God has given you to love.”
Another theme of Nouwen is what he termed the “powerlessness” of God. God chose to enter into human history in complete weakness. “People with power do not invite intimacy,” he says. “God became a little baby. Who can be afraid of a little baby? How can we fear a baby we rock in our arms, how can we look up to a baby that is so little and fragile, how can we be envious of a baby who only smiles at us in response to our tenderness? That is the mystery of the Incarnation.”
When I read these very moving words I think of the efforts to legalise abortion here in Ireland up to 12 weeks of pregnancy with no reasons required.
Henri Nouwen died in 1996 at the age of 64 but his life and message continue to be relevant and deeply inspiring.