Wednesday, September 08, 2010
The Joy of Discovery: My Side Trip with Henri Nouwen
To my list of favorite Christian teachers and authors, you can now add Henri Nouwen. I've had a few of his books on my shelf for some time, waiting to be read, but it wasn't until this week - when I began reading Befriending Life: Encounters with Henri Nouwen - that I discovered just how powerful an impact this man made on so many lives.
My initial thought when starting on this side journey was to mentally slap myself for not having turned to his writing sooner. Then again, don't we always approach things in our lives exactly how we are supposed to, and at exactly the right moment? Yes, Nouwen was on the shelf (or, in my case, the bedside table), but the time wasn't right until this week. And what an exciting and emotional time it has been.
Here was a man who was one of the most acclaimed teachers and lecturers in the world, holding professorships at Harvard and Yale before moving into the L'Arche Daybreak community in Canada and living out the rest of his life as a friend and mentor to many. And yet his writing - and the memories others have of their time with him - are sprinkled, sometimes more heavily than others, with the same doubts, indecision, insecurity, and need for acceptance that we all experience. Rather than hiding these feelings or attemtping to overcome them, this renowned Catholic priest used them to relate to people and to help them with their own struggles and spiritural journeys.
My journey with Nouwen will indeed be a long one, and I look forward to reading as much of his work as I can get my hands on. And if that writing is anything like this excerpt below, taken from Befriending Life, it will be a great journey indeed.
"The key to gratitude is to cultivate surprise. Surprise!
"Let's say I call you up and say that I am coming over soon and I am bringing you flowers. You might be very happy. You also might build up expectations about when I would get there and how nice the flowers would be. Indeed, you might build up such a strong sense of what was going to happen that when I actually got there and had only three daisies you might be disappointed.
"But imagine instead that I call you and say that I will be coming by and then, when you open the door, there I am standing with a bunch of flowers. Surprise! I have brought you a gift that you didn't expect. You would be touched and happy ... and grateful."