Book Review: Love, Henri

Love, Henry:  Letters On the Spiritual Life, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, edited and with a preface by Gabrielle Earnshaw

[Note:  This book was provided by Blogging For Books/Convergence Books. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

While the thought that my own letters would be compiled with personal commentary after my death for readers would cause me to loose at least a night’s worth of sleep in horror and expectation of shame and personal ruin [1], this book is a warm and intimate work that tends to make one think better of Henri Nouwen than one does already, especially to the extent that one sees the graciousness of his writings [2] and his struggle with intimacy and belonging in evidence in gracious letters as well.  Reading this book, I am convinced that for all of the distance in age between the late Nouwen, who died in 1996, and myself, that I would have been able to consider him a friend had I known him and had I enjoyed the privilege enjoyed by others as diverse as former Oregon Republican Senator Hatfield, Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fame, and many others in being able to send and receive thoughtful letters from a man who was both intensely honest as well as immensely gracious in his written correspondence with others during an extremely busy life as a prolific reader and sought-after speaker.  Perhaps many other readers will feel the same as I did, feel Nouwen as a kindred soul, a flawed but genuine man who sought to encourage others even as he was sensitive to the ruptures in communication and intimacy that hounded his own life, and even as he wrestled with his own wellspring of unfulfilled longings.

The content of these letters is immensely varied, and combined they make up a solid book of slightly more than 200 pages, divided into three sections by chronology, the first part going from December 1983 to the end of 1985, the second part going from 1986 to 1989, and the third part going from 1990 to his death in 1996.  The letters are written about the author’s struggles with same sex attraction, are written in response to letters to him, are about matters of faith and practice, are gracious but sometimes challenging, include the author’s insistence on seeking to explain himself where he is misunderstood and also to accept whatever of value can be found in sometimes intense personal criticism directed at him, and demonstrate him as a loyal friend as well as an insanely prolific writer.  His letters are sometimes short and sometimes long, sometimes a bit perfunctory in being written for people he did not know, and at times deeply intimate in their discussion of the author’s own well-known sensitivity to the suffering of others, and in all points reveal the author to have been a person of great worth as a friend in time of need and as someone who encouraged gratitude among those for whom life was going well.  Anyone receiving a letter like those included in this book should feel a certain sense of pleasure that a very busy man nevertheless took the time to write so thoughtfully and kindly to them–and any letter writer would hope that gratitude and a benefit of the doubt to the contents of those letters would be the way that one’s letters would be read in, something that is not always the case and something that Nouwen talks explicitly about in one of these letters to a critical reader of one of his own books.

The chief and lasting benefit of this particular work is to allow the reader to gain a better sense of what the author was like as a person, as a human being struggling to do and to be right with God and with other people and live as an example of Jesus Christ and His ways to those around him.  Among the more touching letters in this book are the author’s gentle way of handling with criticism and misunderstanding of his writings, his loyal friendship to those in floundering marriages, his expressions of his own resolution to be loyal to his oaths and also to be loyal even to those friends who abandoned their devotion to canon and biblical law, to their responsibilities as priests, and who were unfaithful to their vows of fidelity to spouses, even as he continually encouraged them to obey God and accept the authority of even imperfect religious institutions like the Roman Catholic Church.  Anyone who takes this book seriously will gain a greater appreciation for Nouwen as a man, and hopefully seek to develop graciousness and kindness and also honesty in dealing with others in their own lives and in their own interactions with others to as great an extent as Nouwen himself did.  As such, this is yet another worthwhile posthumous book to be added to Nouwen’s impressive body of work.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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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5 Responses to Book Review: Love, Henri

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