Book Review: Henri Nouwen – A Book Of Hours

Henri Nouwen – A Book Of Hours, compiled by Robert Waldron

Given that Henri Nouwen was one of the more prolific writers of the contemplative Catholic tradition in the 20th century and a spiritual example to many outside of the fold of Roman Catholicism where he served as a socially conscious Trappist monk, it was probably inevitable that a book like this would be made. This short volume is, for those who are not aware of the medieval heritage of the book of hours, a collection that follows the structure of monastic life, and in many ways is part of a frequent contemporary tradition that creates books out of the scraps of an author’s previously published books [1], divorced of their original context and placed in a novel context in the hopes of providing short material for readers to reflect upon who lack the time to tackle an author’s larger work and who want inspirational and encouraging short quotes of a purportedly authoritative nature. It should go without saying that given the author’s background, it is likely to be of most interest to readers that share the interests of Nouwen in the schedule of monastery life and to those with a high view of Roman Catholicism [2].

The most notable aspect of this short work, which is only 160 pages including its notes and references to those works of Nouwen that were selected for excerpts—Nouwen was a prolific author, with more than 40 published works to his credit, and Waldron himself is a noted compiler of Catholic authors including Thomas Merton. The book is divided as follows: the compiler introduces the concept of the Hours that govern the lives of Catholic monks and usually female devotees of Catholicism that appear to be the main audience for books like this. After the main contents of the book there is an epilogue about Henri Nouwen’s Theology of the Home of Love that undergirds much of his work and his thought about the nature and character of God, followed by a bibliography and illustrations. In between the book is divided into four weeks, with sections for each day of each week. Each day is divided into the various periods of prayer and singing during a monastic day: Vigils (early morning), Lauds (morning), Angelus, which consists of a fairly standard set of prayers, including the Hail Mary, None (afternoon), Vespers (dusk), Compline (evening), a Hail Mary for the Salve Regina (a reference to the supposed saving power of Mary), and a short passage of the Bible to be read before bed.

About the best thing that can be said about this book is that it is very short, and it provides at least a helpful introduction to readers who wish to become familiar with the prose of Henri Nouwen. Readers who do not share a belief that Nouwen’s writing is of sufficient doctrinal integrity to count as worthwhile devotional reading on a part with the Bible, and who do not share the author’s Catholic worldview, including its beliefs about Mary, or an interest in the schedule of monastic life, will likely find this work of little value. In truth, this book appears to be of interest mainly as a signifier of Nouwen’s reputation as a writer, and for its quotes in favor of the development of compassion and empathy on the part of readers, a recognition of God’s graciousness towards us, and an encouragement in a practice of justice and peace in one’s life. These are worthy ideals, regardless of a reader’s disagreement with the theology of the book or its author/compiler, an encouragement to living a godly life is to be appreciated even if it comes in a fragmented and somewhat uncongenial structure, and in the context of unbiblical theological assumptions and practices, like the ungodly devotion to Mary as the supposed mother of God.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/18/book-review-sacred-stories/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/book-review-let-the-journey-begin/

[2] But see, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/tag/cadfael/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/05/02/book-review-brother-cadfaels-herb-garden/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/04/08/book-review-cordially-yours-brother-cadfael/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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