Note: Can I Say This at Church is produced for audio listening. If able, I strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which has inflection, emotion, sarcasm where applicable, and emphasis for points that may not come across well in written word. This transcript is generated using a combination of my ears and software, and may contain errors. Please check the episode for clarity before quoting in print.
What is happening everybody, how are you doing? I hope your week is good. I hope this conversation finds you good. I have a couple quick requests for you. One of them is new. So yes, there's the obligatory support the show, check out patreon. Do the things rate and review the show on iTunes or pod bean or pod chaser or anything else with the word pod in it. Do that. I will say there were two reviews just a few weeks ago, one of them had like five or six people, four of which I don't think I've ever heard of that I have loved diving into their work, and I'm gonna try to get them onto the show.
Because the review requested that and I love new voices. I love new ideas and new thoughts. Let me know, email me all that goodness, but you know, rate, review, support the show, tell your friends, share the podcast, all the things. The show continues to grow and it's because of you that it does.
But here is my other request. So quickly approaching is Episode 100. And I'm going to try to do something different. I won't interview anybody. I want to talk a bit about the impact that doing this podcast over the last 100 episodes has had on me and my life and my faith and the way that I see, and chase, and fall more in love with God. But what I'd really like to do as well is answer just some of your questions as well. However you want to send those to me, I will correlate them but shoot me some questions and I know that if you have them because I get the emails, and I love responding to those. But I would love to do some of that in a more public forum. So send me your questions. If you don't want your name read, tell me and I'll make sure that I either change it or call everybody anonymous. But open request, send me what you want to know. I am looking forward to doing what I think will be the second solo episode. Besides a few brief updates, and the very, very first episode, I'm excited to do it, and I'm also terrified, but let's do it. Why not?
The topic today is “what does it mean to follow Jesus in an age that everybody's anxious?” Like, what does that look like? What is the return and the going look like? What does Jesus call us to be? Why does it matter? How do I not get anxious about it? How do I deal with trauma, like so much, so much here? And so I was able to sit down, electronically because the guest was in Canada, with Gabrielle Earnshaw, who is the editor of quite a bit of the life and work of Henry Nouwen, and if you don't know who in right now and as you just need to hit pause right now and Google that…the man has impacted so many lives, mine among them.
And so he has a book that is out, if it's not out today, it's out like tomorrow, called Following Jesus. It's a beautiful read. It's a simple read, but it is deeply profound. And those are my favorites, the ones that are written in a way that everyone can understand. And things bleed through and seep in, that you weren't expecting. I really hope that you get as much out of this as I did. And I would highly encourage you, I don't usually do this before we even get on the topic. Go out and get this book following Jesus is fantastic. It is it's it's been a blessing to read. So here we go. A Conversation with Gabrielle Earnshaw on some of the work of Henry Nouwen.
Gabrielle Earnshaw I am excited to be talking with you and like we talked about a moment ago, slightly nervous to be talking with you because normally the author in question is not posthumous and so that's always fun but thank you, either you or whomever at your publishers or the people that publish the book for sending me an advance copy.
I have loved digging in to Following Jesus from Henry Nouwen but we will get there. Can you tell me kind of a bit about you? What makes you tick and kind of how you got into this?
Okay, sure. Well, I live in Toronto, Canada, and I, I guess began my work with Henry Nouwen as archivist, I was asked in the year 2000. So it's now 19 years ago, I was asked to start his archives, his papers. Some of his papers had been at Yale University where he taught. And then other papers of his were at L'Arche Daybreak, where he lived for the last 10 years of his life, which is close to Toronto. It's a community for people with intellectual disabilities that he was the pastor for; and I was called in to create an archives for him. And I worked on that for 16 years and it took me 10 years to work through his correspondence alone. He had 16,000 incoming letters that he kept. And then we also instigated a program to collect letters that he wrote to people that they would still have. And so we collected those letters. So that's the type of thing that I've been doing. I did an oral history project on him. So I've become a person who knows a lot about his archives. I know a lot about his family because I've actually was spent a sabbatical in Holland where he's from, and I lived in his former in his father's and mother's house, they're no longer alive. But his younger brother owned the house at the time. And my husband and I lived in it for three months and really, you know, immersed ourselves in Henry Nouwen in his home country.
What did you do before that? Because Well,
yeah, and then
what the heck is an archivist? So I hear that and I think somebody's printing everything. Gabrielle
How does that work?
Okay, so in answer to your first question. I sort of had a classic middle class, childhood in Toronto. I wasn't raised in any religion, which might surprise people because now I am, you know, immersed in Christianity, but I was raised in a very secular household.
But what might be a little bit different than other people is, when I was younger, I started taking myself to church. And that sort of, I think, set me on my path really, I started going to United Church of Canada and the minister was very, a wonderful person and I loved playing the recorder and I love singing and and I guess the the church even though my family wasn't attending, it became a place that I really look forward to going to every Sunday.
And so church and religion generally what is a very, very meaningful and church, is a place where I feel like I belong. So that's an interesting aspect of me I think and my family still is very secular. And, and I attend the United Church now to this day.
And then your second question…what is an archivist? An archivist is somebody who cares for the records of either a person or an organization; like a government or a bank or something like that. I ended up working on papers related to individuals.
So papers can include even though we say papers or records we are referring to everything like photographs and video recordings and administrative files and computer files and, you know, correspondence and draft manuscripts and everything you can think of the person's life all of the records that a person needs to participate in life.
And so when Henry Nouwen and died he had kept almost all of his records. I like to say that he was he was his own best archivist. All I needed to do was just make sure that nothing nothing got lost or misplaced after he died because he he kept absolutely everything. He was very fastidious with his filing. And so my job as an archivist was to create finding guides or ways that scholars or other researchers could use the material, either for their own research for a PhD or a master's thesis, but it could also be for journalists or just regular people who were interested.
I had people who came in and tried to, who looked at letters for example on how he counseled people who got divorced, you know, that kind of thing. So the records are there for everyone to use. And my job for 16 years was to catalog them and make them available to people and make them find double.
And so you said that was your job? Is that not ongoing anymore. Is it complete, like we have all the things or you're I can't do this anymore?
No, I just came to a crossroads in my work with that, with the archives, the archives is very much alive and, and well and people can go to use it at any time. It's at the University of St. Michael's college at UT, in Toronto. But I think what happened to me was I was asked to edit a book of Henry's letters. And, I did that it took me about a year to do and by the time I finished so I took some time off from the work as an archivist. And I guess I got hooked on that. And I've been doing editing books by or about Henry Nouwen since then, and that's been about three years that I've been doing that.
That book that you reference, is that the one that I'm holding? Is that the book Following Jesus? Is that a different book?
No, no, it's actually called Love Henry. Letters on the Spiritual Life and it was published in 2016. It's a, I don't think I'm wrong to say, it's a very beautiful book, what I did is I found all the letters that I felt..we collected about 5000 letters; of those letters, I selected letters that I thought would speak most clearly to people's needs today.
So I try to really think about what it is that the 21st century Christian or the 21st century seeker needed to hear. And Henry was a very, very generous letter writer. He was a prolific letter writer, and he wrote to his good friends, as you might expect, but he also wrote extensively and beautifully to people who wrote to him with a question or a problem. So a lot of the letters read, like spiritual direction. So that's why they really, I feel like a person reading them today could feel as though he's writing to them.
So that's that book. And then I edited a book of a devotional.
So I went through every, Henry wrote 39 books, and I went through each of them in chronological order, and selected the, what I felt were the gemstones in each of the books, which was quite difficult. I ended up with a 600 page document with that one.
laughter from both
And I had to whittle that down to of course 365 days, or 366 days so I that that book came out last year. And then now this is the latest one Following Jesus, which is quite different because following Jesus is based on talks that Henry did in 1985.
So my work as editor was to take something that was spoken over a six week period, one one night a week for six weeks in March of 1985. And, and and turn it into something that people could read without losing Henry's enthusiasm and the immediacy of what it would have been like to have been a person sitting in the pews.
He gave his talks in a church at Harvard. And so I tried to retain his voice as much as possible, but even that… the excited voice that he had some times when he wants to really connect with people, but also make it so that it's, you know, sort of, not repetitive, or, you know, make it more readable.
so that was my task that I was given about a year ago now. And now it's the exciting moment when the book is going to be read by other people.
Again, I've very much enjoyed reading it. One of my favorite…I don't know if this was done, it had to have been done by someone that does work like what you do…
And to be honest before you'd said you were an archivist. Like, I didn't know that that was a job that exists. Although in hindsight, it must; it obviously…it makes sense that it does exist, but I just never, I'd never thought- it never occurred to me.
But one of my favorite books, I bought it at a used bookstore across from my work. And it is the second volume of a bunch of letters of CS Lewis.
and I bought it, I thought it was going to be theological letters. And some of them are, but by some, I mean a minute amount. It is mostly letters to like professors and a conversation about the wars, and politics and economics. And that is just brilliant. Like, I'm reading it. I'm like, yeah, this isn't what I thought it would be. I was really hoping for some theology, but this is really good. And, I mean, it's just nice to see a candid side of people that are
less edited. I really enjoy that.
Yes, and that was the same goal for the letters book as well; was to sort of allow people into into Henry's life a little bit more and I organized them chronologically so that you could see his development and his even his transformation.
I think that it's for somebody who is writing about spiritual transformation, that the fact that he actually underwent one and that it's actually documentable. It's a gift actually. And I didn't know that it would, when I started out with that book, I did not know that I would end up with this portrait of a man transformed by his faith. And that and that, that is what you know, makes Henry Nouwen somebody who a lot of people can relate to because they're also struggling in their faith and in their following Jesus-to get to our book we're talking to tonight.
And he did as well and then he would write about it with with a lot of raw honesty, and a lot of people can can relate to it and then feel freer to struggle themselves in a way that is transformative.
Just from the opening missive and if it's all right, there's a part like right at the beginning that I want to talk a bit. Kind of that transformation, but just kind of maybe some of your thoughts as well. On the first chapter there, I believe the first chapter. Yeah, Chapter One is the invitation. And there's a part where there's just all these quotes of what Jesus doesn't say, which I've never really heard it put that way.
Do you know what page?
17-second and a half paragraph?
Okay. Oh, yeah. Right. Yeah.
So yeah, everyone says, you hear it every Sunday or many Sundays, Jesus says, Come and see, you know, come on with me, you know, leave your feet and put the Nets down. Let's go do this thing. But, Henry's here saying, you know, but here's what he doesn't say.
He doesn't say Come on, and I'll change you. He doesn't say become my disciples. Listen to me. He doesn't say to do what I tell you. No, he says, just come around, look around and get to know me.
Like that's the invitation get to know me. I'm curious in so you talk about Henry you know, transforming throughout these times.
Can you break that apart a bit, which is some of what you know of it of? Here's what we're getting at when we're inverting that question of, here's what everybody knows, Jesus said, but it's more important to talk about what he didn't say.
Yeah. Well, that's, I mean, that's one of the beauties of this book. And that's why a lot of people felt it was a it was something that needed to happen and that's why they asked me to do it. And I think it's because he, I could have called this book and I in fact, I probably even put it forward as an idea like let's call this book Following Jesus: It's not what you think.
Because I think in a way Henry certainly did not have a confrontational style in the least he refers to Jesus is very Invitational I think of Henry is very Invitational, he has no desire to force anyone to believe anything he's saying he, in fact, the more you read of him, or and I've listened to a lot of his talks, he's often saying…
Listen to this with your heart. I know you're going to you know, you've been trained, especially as University people or even people who've gone to any kind of schooling, you've been trained to listen to this with your head. But listen to this with your heart and don't ask, Do I agree with this or disagree with this? But ask how does this relate to my own experience?
And Henry was really not interested in people listening to him so much as him providing space for them to listen to God. That was his whole…he had a personal transformation. But as far as I've been able to see, he started off with that. He started off a very young priest, even in this earliest works. In his earliest letters, he had that kind of…it was like I'm a witness. I'm telling you what I have experienced No, tell me what you've experienced. And I think if you've read some more of the book, you'll see that he he's often times telling the reader to, don't just take my word for it. Think about this for yourself, test this out in your own life. Listen, listen to what your own life is telling you. And then relate it back to what I'm saying and see if it rings any bells. Yeah.
I wanted to just just reflect on this. What Henry says that, you know, Jesus, when the very first his very first, sort of, in the in the first chapter, he's talking about, how is it that Jesus introduces himself to people he does it in a very gentle way. And he does it in a way that where the people that he is speaking to, in this case, it's John and Andrew, they ask the questions and he answers them in a very in a very…he has no expectations.
No, mandate, he's just saying come and see, are you interested in me? Come and see. And then he says dwell with me. And Henry focuses on this passage in the Bible because he wants to suggest that there is an Invitational quality to following Jesus. There is nothing about following Jesus that is mandatory or should feel constrictive in any way we follow.
Henri will go on to say
I we follow out of love, not out of fear. We don't follow Jesus to to know to be like him. We follow Jesus to follow our unique vocation.
We each have our own unique vocation Jesus had his unique vocation. And we have our unique vocation. And a word that comes to mind frequently for me around Henry Nouwen is freedom, there's a freedom in how he writes it's very Invitational, very open, it creates space, but he's also aiming for freedom. So freedom to be loving people.
One of the main trajectories of that, maybe that you also got out of the book is that there's this trajectory of how can I be a more loving person? What's constricting me, what's, what's holding me back. And then he goes even further, as you as you might know, he talks about loving our enemies.
He says, this is the one place that the New Testament is actually new. And I really loved that. This is where Jesus is saying, love your enemies. And I think that, obviously, this is the most challenging aspect of being a follower of Jesus; being a Christian is to really deeply absorb that, that I don't want to say commandment but that invitation, I guess, let's call it an invitation to love our enemies.
And I feel like this book is like a treatise on love, in fact, because he does talk about love, between people in marriages, in relationships in families, and then with our colleagues and he talks about sort of human love. And he calls it transactional. We have a transactional way of viewing love. Like we say, well, I'll love you, if you love me, you know, I'll give you this, if you give me that are the just sort of seems to be baked in to us.
We have that sort of in our DNA, but he's saying, but as followers of Jesus, we have to love out of God's love. And that how can we do that? We do that by knowing knowing in our deepest being that we are beloved by God, that we are the beloved sons and daughters of God. So I think that there's there's challenge in this book. But there's also I feel like he lays out a path that makes it easier to follow; somehow after reading it, the path of being a follower of Jesus.
And so, I've got it highlighted here, you just touched on it briefly there. When we talk about love and the gospel and loving your enemies. And I think you're right and you touch on it. I think it's in a prior chapter on scarcity, we're so afraid that for some reason, like there's like, somehow the economy at a cosmic with a K, Greek Kosmos,
is somehow we're going to run out of compassion, or love or race, or mercy.
And that's only going to be filled with fear and rage and anger. But then you also, you know, here on page 63, it says, you know, the good news of the gospel is that God has no enemies. The Gospel tells us that God loves every human being the same way with the same intensive love. And I like that, like the economy of scarcity, like there is not an economy of scale. And I love talking about that because economics is like I literally work at a bank for a living. So economics, jam. And when that I'm like, Yes. And the transactional quid pro quo. Diana bass wrote a great book last year on gratitude about all the quid pro quo and transactional based stuff. Yeah, absolutely love that. I want to touch back on…
can I just make one one comment on that, like, one thing that I love that relates to that is that he called it the logic of God. You know, and we are such rational, logical people. I mean, this is this is how we're, you know, this is how we're trained from, you know, going to kindergarten all the way up. We are trained to use our intellect to use our cognitive function and to, to be extremely logical and rational and Henri points out that actually God that there's no logic to God. It's complete logic and that's I again I find that very freeing because then you can start to see that all around you instead of looking for how things are you know falling into place and and you know things like well there should be a lack of food because we have you know, you know X Y Z but then you can start saying well actually where am I seeing abundance and in fact I'm and then you start looking for abundance when you when you hear that there is this logic to God you start looking for abundance and you see it all around you.
When I read those stories of abundance towards the beginning like you know there's there's too many bread there's too much fish there.
There's too many fishin the net there's just just go give it give it away the multitude. But I read it in for some reason, the back of my mind I read it in a playfulness, like not only is there's so many fish, and you're just missing the point, there's a silly amount of fish like, it's just ridiculous. Like, I know you don't believe me, but if you look down there, you can't even count them. Because there's just a silly amount of fish and want to dwell and I want to broach two parts together, because in my mind, I feel like they are so there's a part here where it says, gosh, where is it? I got it here it is,
like a child dwells in the house with her mother and father. Just dwell, play around sit there half hour, just sit there, just be present.
But that juxtaposes for me towards the tail in there, where we talk about being present. And then there's a part that says, you know,
we grow more intimate by constant leaving and returning.
And then he says, You know,
I want us to feel that for a moment because that's how we might come in touch with the mystery of spiritual life.
And so how did those two you think maybe interplay together of dwelling, but also leaving and going? Because they don't seem to make sense together but read separately they do. But I feel like they're so totally connected.
Okay, well, I think first of all, in a way, you know, we have the subtitle of the book, it's finding our way home in an age of anxiety.
And I think home is a major theme of this book. What does home mean? And I think what we're talking about mostly here is our spiritual home. And and Henri is, I think, very emphatic that we begin to really trust that our home is in God and with God, and that we live our lives we do the leaving and the returning in the world, knowing that we are always within the home of God.
So there's a leaving and a returning, which is an important part of spiritual maturity and even just maturity through life. But I think in this way as followers of Jesus in the Christian context, it means to be home, even while you're on the road. Does that make sense? In fact, I think he even says that we that we can be home, even while we're on the road and what he means is that we are so deeply steeped in our identity as a child of God, that we can go and come and we can suffer and we can struggle, but at all times we are in the home and in the embrace and in the safety of God.
The other thing I think he means about dwelling in it's really important is that none of this can happen without spiritual disciplines. We cannot retain that identification as children of God without constant prayer, without a constant conversation with God. So when he's talking about dwelling he in sometimes he's talking about it in a more of a in that more metaphysical sense, but sometimes he's actually just talking about take 15 minutes out of your day and dwell, sit still, sit in silence, be in solitude, and sit with God be with God.
And in those cases, you don't even have a conversation with God at that point. This is this is really where you're sitting in the silence. I like to think of it like I'm crawling into the lap of God and that I am sitting there. And you know, like a child with a parent. You don't need to say anything at that point, right. There's no need to fill the space with with language with words, and I think that for Henri Nouwen it's of primal importance to have time in our day that is completely set aside for creating space for God.
That is a very constant theme in all of his books and all of his writing and all of his talks. Because it was very important for him. He was a really restless person, he was restless, he couldn't even, like if you met him, you could see that he had a kind of nervous energy.
I never met him. But I've heard this from many, many people. So he, you know, any images of him being very, you know, sort of calm and, you know, in a meditative state at all times is completely, not a good image of him. He ran around a lot. He left a lot. He did a lot of leaving. He was in a huge search for how to follow Jesus and this question of the discernment of how do I follow Jesus?
Where do I follow Jesus was his main question. And this led to him being quite restless and moving around a lot. And then consequently also being very lonely and having bouts of depression, he really did struggle a lot, but a lot of his wisdom comes from that struggle.
And I think a lot of his authenticity and the reason why I can trust him as a reliable guide, as a trustworthy guide, for my own spiritual life, is because he was struggling with all of these things. He had something in his core that he was always listening to the voice of God, always in conversation with Jesus, always in prayer.
And so he was a Catholic priests of course, he was, this was his vocation, this was his formation. But, still, I think even people like me, can identify with him.
You had a metaphor there of a child crawling up into my lap, which I have two young girls any young son. And that's what literally that happened tonight. My daughter and it's probably inappropriate, but whatever. Like I go to her bedroom, she just taken a bath. She's four. And she's playing a game like, I'm not gonna put on my underwear, you're gonna put on my underwear. And this just keeps collapsing in me.
And she's like, we're going to do lotion. I'm like, No, you're going to put on your underwear. Because I'm a little bit uncomfortable at the moment. I'm going to need you to put on something little baby girl, but then she just cuddles. And I love it and I love it. But, I know, and I get emails and messages that that is not the case like some people are rejected. And that is hard to envision that type of love. So what do you think, because Henri dealt with that so for those that are reading this are dealing with other texts, like how would you respond to this rejection?
Sin is real and that trauma is real, and here's how we can pivot on that to something way more beautiful.
You're absolutely right. Self-rejection was Henri’s, for whatever reason, he dealt with that his whole life because in fact he wasn't rejected by his parents. He had loving, stable parents, they tell the story that from a very young age he would relentlessly ask the question, do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? And no answer was good enough for him. And this actually plagued him his entire life. I don't think he actually ever had that go away. But I think when I talk about his transformation, it's that he was able to live with that struggle and love in spite of it, and be free in spite of it. And I think it's really important. I don't think that for Henri at least and possibly for us as well; It's not necessary to be completely fixed, right?
We don't need to be completely healed. We don't need this, we can live with our suffering, we can live with our struggles, and still have lives of freedom and integrity and be fully loving people and be loved.
And I think that is what he would say to that m. But I know that he would, if he heard someone speak about about terrible rejection in the form of abuse or that manner of rejection, I think he would be in tears with you. And I think that he would cry with you. And I think that the compassion that he would feel for you or for anyone who is going through that…that would be coming from his own wound. His own wound that he was somehow able at a certain point in his life to bind up. It didn't go away, but he was able to bind it up. And from that wound, he was able to be compassionate to other people. And I think that a life of compassion is a life worth living. And I think a lot of people are asking, you know, what is the meaning of life? What's the point of all of this? And at a certain point in the book, you might remember Henri says, you know,
the answer is, if we follow Jesus. Now I know why I'm living like there's a, there's a kind of, it can totally reshape our lives following Jesus.
There's many components to it, but one of them is becoming a very compassionate person is being able to suffer with other people and to and to not run away from it. And to stand tall in it and in our own suffering. And I think that that's what he's talking about when one of his chapters is called The Cost.
You know, we have to hold our own crosses. And we have to bear our own crosses. But I think that there is an almost a beauty in that if you know you were saying how can we see it in a more beautiful light, but I also don't want to say that this is easy, and I don't think Henri Nouwen would say it's easy at all.
I think it's a lifelong journey to it. And, as I say, Henri Nouwen, you know, he died at 64 of a heart attack suddenly. But he was still struggling. If you read his last journal, he was still struggling with all of this…everything you could read in his first journals, but he was living it in a different way. And that's where possibly the hope is: that we can live our struggles in a different way, we can live our suffering in a different way.
We don't need to lash out at people because we're suffering. We can be more compassionate with people because we're suffering.
I think that might be how he would answer it.
So we're following Jesus. And I don't even remember what page it was because I didn't highlight it. But there was a part in there recently about Jesus is giving people new names. And so when I think about me following Jesus, like, it's really one of the thoughts that I had was, you know, so what is my new name?
If I'm following Jesus, and I'm trying to be authentic, what is that? And I don't have an answer to that. And I don't really need to have an answer to that today. I do care. But I think that it's a great call to action of what what am I being called to? And what does that look like? What does that name, that beloved name, what does that look like?
One of my favorite pages pages of the entire book, Gabrielle is page 55. Where there is a conversation on the first love.
I literally just want to frame the whole page.
Like, you know, it's I've loved you before you could love anyone. This is so beautiful. So, so beautiful.
the original Love is the original blessing. Long before we talk about Original Sin or original rejection, we should be speaking of God's original love.
And I think that is so true because we focus so much on sin and how we have to constantly be making up for this sin in some manner. And Henri is saying, let's put our gaze on something else. Henri does that a lot?
He'll say, “yes, of course, we could put our focus on there. But actually, let's shift our focus and put it on something else”. And this in this case, he saying, Let's gaze on this. The original love, God loved us with a…. God loves us, not “loved” us…loves us with the first love.
And when I was talking about love before I was talking about human love as transactional and he calls that the second love. And so the first love is to love as God loves us.
We can only do that when we feel in our very bones, that we are God's beloved children, and that God loved us before we could love anyone or before we could receive love from anyone.
Yeah, Henri Nouwen does a beautiful job. I think of this book, as a portrait of God in a sense too, and it's a portrait of God that some people might not recognize because God is so gentle, is so affirming and welcoming. And, as he says, he doesn't actually refer to God as male or female, but he says, God is home.
God is our refuge. God is our dwelling place. And if we could really feel that, I think life would change for us.
Yeah, I agree. I want to pivot if you're comfortable. So you talked at the very beginning about your family upbringing and then just kind of how your…. I assume Christian, I can't remember if you say Christian or not, I have to go back in and relisten. So how has diving into all of this stuff on Nouwen, not just this book, but so many things? How has that changed the way that you do faith? And I don't want to say religion because religion is not a big enough word, at least for the God that I worship. So how has all of this changed you?
Wow. Changed me?
Well, obviously, I was already primed for some sort of, I think I was asking from a very early age, what does this all mean? You know, why are we here? Who am I? Those types of questions, I think, and I was in a house that wasn't asking those questions. I came from a loving house, but people weren't asking my family weren't asking those deeper questions. I experienced a lot of death in my life. My father died when I was two and my best friend died when I was 16.
I have experienced a lot of death in my life and so I think I've been these these types of questions have had a lot of urgency for me and I have always been a seeker looking for answers. So I've explored all the different religions I've read a lot of different spiritual writers and then by grace, I was chosen to be Henry Nouwen’s archivist, but not because I knew anything about Henri Nouwen; because I didn't.
I had never heard of him. But because I was the right person for the job from a professional standpoint. And so when I accepted that position, and believe it or not, it was a six month contract it was really not… it didn't look so great on you know, at first it was just going to be a six month contract, I would come in, or catalog the papers and then then leave.
But somehow I think that this was just the beginning for me.
Because then I was able to, it's like I became an apprentice of Henry Nouwen.
And then my son died when he was four and a half. And that's this is now going on to 10 years ago. And my son died of acute myeloid leukemia was a it was….it was every, you know, every bit as traumatic and catastrophic as you can imagine. And that's really when my, all of that reading all of that digesting of Henry Nouwen really helped me survive it. It was like everything I had read was now coming in, I was now living. And I had to make sense of my son's illness and then consequent death.
His his writing on grieving on how to live with that level of suffering. I feel like I couldn't have lived that experience the way I did without him. So it's quite profound actually is, the impact of him on my life. But it's not just that it's also about how I orient myself. You know, what's important to me.
Is it isn't important to earn a lot of money? Is it important to have a lot of prestige? Is it important that I, you know, look successful in the world's eyes?
I think my son's death really changed my worldview as well. But Henri Nouwen’s questioning of that has also had an impact on my life. So the decisions I make about how I'm going to spend my time have been impacted by him. And I think also that I have a spiritual practice that I believe in, you know, he writes about it with such eloquence that I believe it, and I have implemented it, and I live that.
It's hard to actually articulate how profound the impact of him on my life has been and, and the kind of the mystery of it. Because, as I say, I wasn't raised in a religious household. I don't have a theology degree. I, you know, I go to a very progressive United Church.
But here we are. I'm the person who is now quite familiar with Henri Nouwen.
Thank you for sharing that. I know, I didn't send you questions ahead of time. And so that probably caught you off guard, but thank you. That's, yes. So children that passed away from cancer or so in my family. My wife takes care of a lot of children with cancer. That's her specialty.
pediatric oncology. hematology, infusion.
Yeah, so those are special people.
I don't know how her and those others, I don't know how they do it. I don't know any part of the body that makes that happen. I don't possess it. I can't do it. I'm glad someone can.
But anyway, yeah, they leave me entirely speechless. But thank you for sharing that.
Sure. I could say to that, that Henri Nouwen would say as you've read in the book that every person has their own unique vocation. And so to follow Jesus doesn't mean that we you know, imitate them like I mentioned earlier on. It means that we find our own vocation. And it might mean that you know, some people are meant for a quiet contemplative life some people you know, they express their love of God by doing social justice work. Some people express their love of God and their discipleship to Jesus by being a really good Dad, you know.
So every person who is a follower of Jesus is unique. And he, you know, he calls us all as being a mosaic and all together we, we become the face of God. So if you put all of us, individuals, every human being on the planet doing the, you know, following their, their vocation, their call, listening to God, and following their call, each of us becomes the face of God, but none of us can do it alone. And we need lots of people helping children with cancer, but we also need a lot of people doing other things. And, I think Henri would be quite impassioned about that is that there's no One way of following Jesus.
Where do people get the book? So it's out when is it September 17? Something like that. Right?.
Yeah, it's it's everywhere I assume correct everywhere? This probably is the book I've read most often this year since I've gotten it it's easy to read, it's not long, it's easy.
And it is oddly addictive.I just want to come back to it; it's written in a way that I like it but where can people go to learn more about work like this? Like, is there a place that I can listen to the talks that this book comes from? Is that a thing that exists? Or do I have to come to Canada to do so?
Okay, so there is a Henri Nouwen society and and that's easy to find with Google. You just key and Henry Nouwen society and that will come up and it's kind of like the hub of all things Henri Nouwen, and it will list all of his books and you know, some information about more generally, and upcoming events, that kind of thing. If a person wants to really delve into into archival material, they can go to the Henri Nouwen archives at the University of St. Michael's college. And they don't have to go there physically, they can work with the archivists. They're electronically some, the talks are actually available through the archives. So you could listen to them online through the archives. They're not freely available, you have to go through them, but they are available.
Nice. I'm gonna make that happen. That's the person I am I like to rip these things apart. So I'm, yeah, I'm making that happen. So. Okay, yeah, I think I happen to know a person that knows who the new archivist is. And so I may collect it,
I think it's you, but I might be wrong may get the best contact for that. Anyway.
Thank you so much for coming on. I really appreciate it.
I've enjoyed being invited and you taking the chance and inviting the editor of a posthumous work. That was a big risk, and I hope it was worth it.
I enjoyed it very much so. So thank you so much.
So when I think about this work put together by Gabrielle from some of the lectures of Henry Nouwen, you know, from the 80s it's amazing how much of it is relevant now as it was then. And I find so much graciousness, and that the fact that the words and lessons that we can learn from Christ supersede every single time and place and dimension of reality that we hold true. There's something about the way that we are called the way that there's purpose, the way that fear and hope are intertwined. You were blessed. You were wholly loved. You've always been accepted.
Talk with you next week.