Rediscovering the Love of God: insights from Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen’s writing has impacted me greatly. Whether his marvelously moving book The Return of the Prodigal Son, his gleanings from the spirituality of the desert fathers and mothers in The Way of the Heart, or his powerful reflection on Christian leadership with In the Name of Jesus, his words move me. Recently, a friend encouraged me to return to one of Nouwen’s books that expresses the heart of much of his writing, Life of the Beloved. This brief book expresses so much in such a small amount of space. Reflecting on the core truth we all need to understand—that we are deeply loved by God—Nouwen structures the book around four words that express four aspects of our belatedness in God: taken – blessed – broken – given. Here are a few quotations that struck me as I was reading it the other day. Perhaps they may spur something in you as well.

Well, you and I don’t have to kill ourselves [with our work]. We are the Beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parens, teachers, spouses, children, and friends loved or wounded us. That’s the truth of our lives. That’s the truth I want you to claim for yourself. That’s the truth spoken by the voice that says, ‘You are my Beloved.’ (36)

Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper. (37)

If it is true that we not only are the Beloved, but also have to become the Beloved; if it is true that we not only are children of God, but also have to become children of God; if it is true that we not only are brothers and sisters, but also have to become brothers and sisters…if all that is true, how then can we get a grip on this process of becoming? If the spiritual life is not simply a way of being, but also a way of becoming, what then is the nature of this becoming? (44-45)

Becoming the Beloved means letting the truth of our Belovedness become enfleshed in everything we think, say, or do. It entails a long and painful process of appropriation or, better, incarnation. (45)

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