Posts Tagged ‘Henri Nouwen’

A Book Review: With Open Hands by Henri J.M. Nouwen

January 9, 2009

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With Open Hands is a book by Henri Nouwen on prayer.  It is not quite like any other book I have read before.  It is a small book, but it is packed with such wonderfully crafted words of wisdom that it spoke to the deep places in my spirit.  Though the cover bears Nouwen’s name as the author, it was written from “many hours of intimate and prayerful conversation” with 25 theology students Nouwen invited to discuss their understanding of prayer.  Throughout the book are quotes from the meetings they had.  It was nice becuase it was very obvious throughout the book that it was a community effort and it would not have been as meaningful to me without them.

The book starts off with an introduction that is subtitled “With Clenched Fists.”  It’s a play on the title see, and it really spoke to me.  I don’t want to say more than that because I don’t want to ruin the way Nouwen presents it for anyone that would choose to read it.  It really challenged me.  But not in a “save the world” kind of way which is par for the course with me.  Rather in a somewhat subdued but deep seated upheaval of the way I view not just prayer, but God myself, and the people around me.

Other things I appreciated about this book are the fact that there was a lot of white space on the pages.  It gave me room to think somehow.  It’s amazing to me how our physical environments effect the way we respond to the world.  Sure, different people respond differently, and some probably tolerate things better than others, but I think it’s safe to say the physical space we live in effects us more than we know.  So for me, when I enter into a book, it becomes the physical space where I live.  The room on the pages made it easier to receive what was on the pages.  Each chapter also ends with a  “Question for Meditation.”  Sometimes these types of things can annoy me as they seem canned and shallow.  But I liked it in this book.

I think this is a book that anyone could benefit from and I highy recommend it.  I am actually going to read it again and for me that’s a big deal.  I hope you check it out the next time you are at a book store!



January 7, 2009

“Taken” is a loaded word that is used by some to indicate approval, acceptance, and delight in a romantic sense.  As in “I was taken by her beauty” or the response of a woman to a man who is being hit on, “I’m taken.”  I have often wished I was “taken.”  But alas, I rarely have been in this romantic sense.  In order to cope with this lack, which I perceived as a HUGE lack, I tried to think about being “taken” by God.  I even participated in the True Love Waits campaign.  But honestly, it didn’t work.  I have come to think that the reason for this is two fold.

  1. What does it mean to be a sexual being?  Unfortunately I think our society has largely convinced us that being a sexual being means having sex.  I can’t remember where I first read it so I can’t give credit where it’s due, but I distinctly remember the first time I came across the idea that I can love people as a sexual being without being physically sexual with anyone.  I have thought about that for a long time.  The idea is perplexing to me having been brought up after the sexual revolution and within a society that is pretty sex crazy.  But I admit, I have not yet resolved this idea mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.  That said, I am starting to see it is true.  So if by using the word “taken” to communicate something about who God is to me and, more importantly, who I am to God but had a largely physical ideology of being a sexual being, it was destined for failure before I began.  God works in and through the physical world, but God is not a physical being.  God is Spirit.  Not ‘a‘ spirit, just God is Spirit.  Maybe being a sexual being means loving the Lord with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving my neighbor as myself.  Simple, but not easy.  And this leads me to my next point.
  2. How can I be taken if I am not beloved?  If I am to love my neighbor as myself, but I don’t love myself, how can I love my neighbor?  Not very well at best.  The word beloved is used quite a few times in the Bible to refer to God as well as to refer to lovers many associate as a metaphorical description of the church catholic (as in the church as the universal body of Christ, not the Roman Catholic Church).  My favorite verse that uses this word is found in Song of Songs.  “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (S of S 6.3).  I love this verse so much and it speaks to me so deeply that I purchased a ring that has these very words on it in Hebrew.  And yet, I don’t think I have ever really believed this either.  I have wanted it to be true.  I have hoped that it was true.  And yet I have been riven to despair because deep down I knew, or thought I knew, that there was no way it could be true.  So if I was not beloved by God, I was not really taken either.  But I surely didn’t understand that then and I am only on the precipice of understanding that now.

In Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved, he speaks to this idea of being “taken” as a being “chosen.”  Stepping into the Presbyterian tradition, this is a loaded word for sure.  I have much to learn in that regard so I am  unsure if Nouwen’s use of the word will compliment the reform tradition or cross it, but I am not concerned with that here.  As Nouwen goes through his thoughts on being “chosen,” he says, “In this world, to be chosen simply means to be set apart in contrast to others.”  I agree with this statement.  He goes on to say,

To be chosen as the Beloved of God is something radically different.  Instead of excluding others, it includes others.  Instead of rejecting others as less valuable, it accepts others in their own uniqueness.  It is not a competitive choice, but a compassionate choice.

I have struggled with this idea without even knowing it.  Firstly, I have a hard time accepting the fact that God accepts me.  Secondly, I have a hard time excluding others.  But Nouwen begs us to “not surrender the word “chosen” to the world.”  And I must admit, I believe we have.  And so I will pick these things up again, taken, chosen, Beloved, and attempt to chose “to celebrate my chosenness constantly.”  I will try not to reject myself because to do that means rejecting what God has done.  And hopefully, in doing so, I will be able to love God and love people more completely.  After all, “the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 22.40)


January 6, 2009

I was actually able to get up early this morning.  WhenI started my current job in September of 2007 I was able to do that for about 3, maybe 4, months.  It was great while it lasted.  It makes my days go much smoother when I have time alone in the morning.  It is much nicer to ease into the day instead of starting off with deadlines and details.  When things in life started getting a lot crazier, and the excitement of the newness of the job, seminary, and my call into ministry dissipated it became harder and harder to get up in the morning.  I have never been late to work, but I have definitely cut it close quite a few times.  It helps that work is 5 minutes away from my apartment! 

So today I woke up before th alarm went off and felt rested and glad to start a new day.  I didn’t quite realize the alarm was about to go off until it did because I put my alarm across the room to help me get up earlier.  That did NOT work, but it did make it impossible for me to read the clock at night (since I don’t sleep with my glasses on) which has made me less conscious of the time when I wake up in the middle of the night. 

I am reading a book by Henri Nouwen titled Life of the Beloved right now and I am enjoying it.  I just finished another book by himas well.  I really like his perspective.  He has good things to say but it’s writtenin such a way that it’s not overwhelming at 6am. 

I have a few books I would like to do book reviews for on here so we will see.  Here are some of the books I would like to include:

  • The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne
  • Tribal Church by Carol Howard Merritt
  • The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight (in progress)
  • With Open Hands by Henri Nouwen
  • Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen (in progress)
  • Here and Now by Henri Nouwen
  • The Kruetzer Sonata and Other Short Stories by Leo Tolstoy (in progress) 
  • A compilation of short stories by Flannery O’Connor
  • Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell (in progress)
  • A Time to Embrace by William Stacy Johnson (in progress)

I am sure there are a couple of others around that I have started but am working through (or have recently finished) but that’s good for now.  I’ve been reading Nouwen in the mornings and the short stories in the evenings.  The other books are more challenging mentally and theologically, not to mention the fact that some of them would make me want to jump out of bed and save the world in my PJs, so they are reserved for more reasonable times of the day.  Or maybe that would be better said “times of the day when I am more reasonable.”  : )

Well, I think that list will be more helpful for me as I try to write about each of them but maybe for a few of you one or two of them on there will be something to look forward to!