Turn My Mourning Into Dancing: Finding Hope In Hard Times, by Henri Nouwen
One of the sure signs that one has become a writer of importance  is that after one’s death books are made by combining together unpublished or forgotten essays in larger book collections for posthumous royalties. This particular book is written with an elegant and tender introduction by Timothy Jones, where he discusses the graciousness of the Nouwen estate in granting him access to look at Nouwen’s unpublished papers, for he was apparently a prolific writer, and create this particular book out of five related essays that, at 110 pages, makes for a small but fierce read, which appears to be something fairly typical for the works of the author. The rest of the book consists of Nouwen’s own writings on five contrasts between where we often find ourselves and where we wish to be as Christians.
The book as a whole consists of five moments that believers can take through hard times: from our little selves to a larger world, from holding tight in fear to letting go in faith, from fatalism to hope, from manipulation to love, and from a fearful death to a joyful life. Despite the fact that the book is made up of five essays that were found among hundreds of pages of lecture notes and sermon transcripts, they make a coherent book because Nouwen had a certain consistency of mindset and a focus on contrast that makes this book a much more unified whole than its origins and contents would immediately suggest. One can imagine that Nouwen would have made a book like this at some point, but as a labor of love and also as a shrewd undertaking based on an understanding of the author’s reputation as a wounded healer, as a complicated but open man about his struggles and brokenness, it makes for a worthwhile tribute and belated addition to the author’s oeuvre. As might be expected, the author’s approach in these matters opens up a veil about his own life, showing his own struggles with selfishness and pettiness, and the fact that he was quite willing to admit that the insight he gained from other people through observing their example of good conduct.
There is a lot to praise about the book. For one, it is written with the author’s usual graciousness and openness and his concern for encouraging those who suffer. This book is full of comforting thoughts for the afflicted, and demonstrates the author’s fond appreciation of the writings of other people like Thomas Merton and C.S. Lewis. Besides a short read that encourages a broader perspective and a move from selfishness to generosity in one’s dealings with others, this book provides a great deal of worth to those readers who are themselves also writers, such as a recognition of the importance of showing the worth of other writers through reference and quotation and also the hope that one’s words will be able to continue to provide encouragement to others long after one is gone. Our words, whether spoken or written, have great weight and importance that it is worthwhile to consider and to appreciate.
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