God’s Beloved, A Spiritual Biography of Henri Nouwen
By Michael O’Laughlin
One of the reviewers has said of this book, “A biography of a soul – it shows us not how we can be more like Henri Nouwen but how, like him, we can become our own true selves: beloved of God.” That was my experience as I read this book.
I think some of the psychological tools used by the author to enhance the understanding of Henri Nouwen will be foreign to the general reader. As I was reading through the chapter where he goes on at length about the personality type that described Henri, I wondered where he was going and why he spent so much time with this. Later he does explain himself saying that he wanted to show how Henri was no exception to the traits of personality that shape us.
“I have relied heavily on the MBTI in writing this chapter because it sheds so much light on Henri’s surprising combination of greatness and weakness, vision and vulnerability. I believe that a good number of the more puzzling aspects of his personality can be explained as aspects of the ENFP personality type. By this I am saying that Nouwen was probably much more psychologically healthy than even he himself suspected.” (p 76)
The author then goes on to encourage each of us to be true to the personalities we have been given, not to simply follow in the footsteps of Henri Nouwen. I like that. Each of us has been given gifts of personality. We need to come to an acceptance of this and let God transform us in the ways he wants, use us in the ways he has for us, rather than trying to live to a standard of another person who may be fundamentally quite different than us. We will always learn from the experiences of another person but we are not expected by God to be like them. We are loved by God for who we are.
I recently finished reading Holy Listening by Margaret Guenther. I found this through a reference to it in another book I read recently Sacred Companions by David Benner. I guess I was drawn to read more about the way God changes us through our relationships; specifically the kind of friendships where we work at growing deeper in faith in Christ together. I have found this kind of friendship, a spiritual companionship, to be one of the greatest stimuli for spiritual growth in my own life. It is a blessing to be involved in helping others grow spiritually and to be nurtured in kind by my friends.
Margaret Guenther taught me many things as I read her book. The book talks about the art of spiritual direction and I wonder if perhaps God is leading me in this direction. We will see where he takes me. I think there are aspects of spiritual direction of which I have been privileged to be a part. Listening is something I am comfortable with although I believe that anyone who gives spiritual direction has to be fairly healthy in the spiritual sense. I know God has things to work on in me.
One of the things that I found refreshing was the way Guenther was so comfortable with her femininity. In one section she encourages women to read the gospels “with a woman’s eye” and to be comfortable “with feminine imagery for God in prayer.”
I found myself realizing that even though my own father has always been loving and approachable, it is still the memories of my mother’s unfailing love that probably portray best the unfailing and utterly dependable love of God. In my mother’s example of love, there is that sense that no matter what I did, she would still love me. It was to my mother that I went for comfort when hurt. It was to her that I turned first for her motherly wisdom.
One of the books I picked up recently is a little book by Esther De Waal called The Celtic Way Of Prayer. She speaks of our pilgrimage as we travel through life and of our connectedness to the world we live in and see as well as the mysterious unseen world around us. At the end of her introduction she states:
“…I am reminded that I travel in company with those who have made this peregrinatio (pilgrimage) before me, by the whole company of heaven, the saints and the angels, a ‘cloud of witnesses’, who surround me and who hold me up as I go.”
This reminds me of my own experience when my mother died. We were in the Congo and had just arrived at the place we were to work about five days earlier. Our passports had been sent down to the capital to have permanent residence visas a couple of days before. When we got the radio message we were not able to travel – no documents. The news was so totally unexpected as was her sudden death. Within the shock of the news came the sense of her presence with me. Not a ghostly presence but as one now forever alive. I knew that although she was no longer living and able to give me the motherly advice I would have liked from her I had the closeness of her spirit still living and caring for me.
It became a little more clear to me why Catholics would pray to the saints – or rather to God via the saints. We protestants of the evangelical genre tend to avoid discussing these things – they are somehow looked on as irrational and not theologically sound. But we are told that we are surrounded by the saints who have gone before us. They do uphold us on the way – by example to be sure, but also in some mysterious way that is beyond our comprehension. Maybe it is somehow that their world is closely linked with ours since we too live with one foot in eternity when we acknowledge God in our lives.
Somehow, I have grown up with a sense of the supernatural being a real part of my life. It has helped me accept what I cannot understand. It gives me a sense of awe as I look at the wonders of the God’s world around me from the most intricate details of a cell to the majesty of the mountains. It gives me hope for my future as I travel homeward, not alone but with all those who have gone before as well as those living in this time with me travelling the same path.
Some thoughts for today:
He felt great pity for the crowds that came,
because their problems were so great
and they didn’t know where to go for help.
They were like sheep without a shepherd.
I’m glad my God has pity and has become our shepherd.
Proverbs 2: 7,8
He grants a treasure of good sense to the godly.
He is their sheild,
Protecting those who walk with integrity.
He guards the paths of justice
And protects those who are faithful to him.