O’Laughlin, Michael. God’s Beloved. A Spiritual Biography of Henri Nouwen. Orbis 2004.
M.O.- a spiritual director at the Healing Centre in Arlington, Massachusetts and editor of Henri Nouwen’s award winning “Jesus, A Gospel”.
An inspiring biography about an inspiring man who touched and continues to touch (through his writings) many people. Henri Nouwen’s life and influence is a example of genuine ‘ecumenicalism’.
Henri Nouwen was on a continual search for “friendship and real intimacy with other people and with God”. (2) This search came to its highest level of completion when in 1985 he became a Chaplin at Daybreak, a part of l’Arche in Toronto.
Henri grew up in a Dutch, conservative, family in a Catholic community. The events of W.W.II brought about significant changes in the way Catholics and non-Catholics interacted in Holland. In the 1950s “a new kind of Catholicism, open to the laity began to emerge”. (34) At age 25 (1957) Henri became a student at Nijmegen University where he enrolled in a doctoral program in psychology. He found the teachings of Freud and Jung shocking. His arrival in the U.S.A. coincided with the changes of Vatican II. His acceptance of a faculty position at Notre Dame required that he return to Holland to complete his doctoral degree. This program was not completed and he returned to the U.S. and accepted a position at Yale, a Protestant university. “Henri Nouwen began to teach and exemplify a new type of Christianity that was for all Christians everywhere, and this happened at Yale.” (56)
Psychologically Henri was an ENFP personality type with typical strengths and weaknesses. His ongoing ‘battle’ with shame and anxiety lasted all his life. He was concerned about being loved. This anxiety “is fundamental to any spiritual evaluation of Henri Nouwen”. (83)
Henri is portrayed more as an artist than a scribe in his writings. Similarities between Henri and Vincent van Gough are presented. L’Arche became an “exponent of French sensibility” (101) for Henri. Henri learned much from Thomas Merton’s “Vision of Catholic Christianity”. (105)
To Henri, Christianity and God were experienced through the Eucharist. This was his experience as he celebrated Mass with his severely handicapped friends. It was in his celebration of Mass that Henri demonstrated a high level of Ecumenicalism.
The central element of Henri’s teaching was an abiding personal faith in Jesus. This was characteristic of that faith as he taught at Harvard, a school that was not sympathetic to such religious teaching. This life of faith reached its pinnacle during his time at L’Arche. He learned much from residents like Adam a severely handicapped person.
Henri’s spirituality is summarized in the following quote, “If life is a response to God’s love, then part of our response is to see ourselves, be ourselves, own who we are, and speak from our hearts. Henri’s personal spirituality revolved around his realizing and embracing his own identity”. (162)