It took a long time to finish this index, but I’m grateful I did. Henri Nouwen was a gem of humanity, and his precious letters show that.
I’ve always wondered how Nouwen and his books were incredibly in touch with humanity. Was it because he was a modern-day mystic? Was it because he studied psychology? Was it because he traveled the world? Was it because he spent time with the poor and the marginalized—first in Latin America then with the mentally challenged people at L’Arche communities? Possibly all of the above and more, but be sure add this to the list: Nouwen befriended people from all walks of life.
Nouwen’s correspondents range from parents; family friends; childhood friends; friends he met on the road; friends he fought with and lost; friends he reconciled with and reconnected; friends he never met and friends he planned to meet; people he wanted to talk to and people who wanted to talk to him; fans of his works and critics; people with hidden sins and people with apparent faults; couples going through divorce; the physically, sexually, and emotionally abused; people struggling with loneliness; people wrestling with their sexuality and sexual orientation; long-time Christians frustrated with the church; new believers questioning purgatory, eucharist, and social justice; people who lost jobs and enormous amounts of money; people who just got a promotion; teenagers questioning the existence of God; senators doubting God’s sovereignty; nuns and monks; circus workers; politicians and millionaires; men entering priesthood and being kicked out of it; women struggling with ministries; people who left the faith, people of Jewish faith; widows and widowers; those who lost loved ones; pretty much anyone who can write “Dear Henri,” Nouwen would respond “Love, Henri.”
Nouwen was in touch with humanity because he allowed humanity to touch him. And often the weak and vulnerable parts of humanity are windows into transcendence. God is found in the broken because Jesus is the broken human as well as God Incarnate.
Nouwen rarely responded as a teacher or someone who obviously knows more or better. Instead, he would come alongside as a fellow wandering Christian. He understood very well that Christian maturity is not so easily measurable and therefore comparable. We are all on the way together; it’s not a competition; it’s a communal pilgrimage.
Nouwen never failed to point to Jesus. How in every hardship and struggle, Jesus is already there awaiting our return. How in all kinds of doubt, Jesus walks with us as a lamp onto our feet. How in every abandonment, Jesus weeps with us and comforts us. How in every high and low, Jesus can and must be deeply loved.
One of the highlights is celebrating Nouwen’s own growth. The 16,000 letters (not all in the book) span 1973-1996, right until about a month before his sudden death. The most persistent demon, or the one that stuck out most, that Nouwen faced was loneliness. Earlier in his letters, he would tease out that the short-bits or long-bouts of loneliness and depression could form some sort of spiritual development, but a tinge of hopelessness lingered. He described them as “dark nights of the soul,” as if that’s all they were; he’s just waiting for them to past. But by the last year of his life, his outlook deepened: “Don’t forget that our deep loneliness is our gateway to the love that our world hungers for.” No longer a demon, but a burden to bear for a world equally lonely and desperate for God’s love. Loneliness and depression are terrible, Nouwen would not deny, but God is found there nonetheless.
Love, Henri is so beautiful that maybe with the start of the new year I would do something likewise. I’d be a fool to think I can ever emulate his prose and poise, but wouldn’t hurt to try, right? Nouwen started correspondence, wisely I might add, right before his 42nd birthday. I’m turning 28 in 2020. But then again, I don’t dare try to replace nor be Henri Nouwen; he’s his own and me mine.
So, I welcome you, whether I know you or not, to write me a letter by using the Connect. page; I promise to close each response with “Love, Sooho.”