"You are the Beloved" by Henri J. M. Nouwen: Book Review

Heather Jenks

4 Stars

February 10, 2018

I took 3 months to read through this book, not because of its length, which was quite satisfying considering it is set up to be read daily, but because of its depth. There were certain times I sat down intending to read 10 or more entries, but was caught up in a thought process, provoked by Nouwen's meditations, which halted me from reading farther. I had to mull bits and pieces over and allow them to sink further in. I had to turn them in different directions in my minds' eye to make a decision about whether I believed them or not, and what any implications of my belief or disagreement with the author may have in my own thought-life.

Now, I know this review sounds favorable, but I must confess (for your benefit) that it took me about 2/3 of the book to decide I liked it. The reason for my hesitation to enjoy this complex read was simple. I had been misled. The site from which I ordered this book gave a description which led me to believe there would be 365 days of reading on how we are beloved in the eyes of God. This sounded like what I was yearning for. Yes, I know Jesus loves me, but I find all too often I do not view myself with a proper respect for God's view of me. I get caught in traps of self-criticizing and heaping guilt and disapproval upon my own head that I would never allow if I had an adequate grasp on how God may see the whole situation. I am my own worst enemy at times and I know having a deeper rooted sense of my identity in Christ would benefit my boldness for the gospel, my faithfulness in praising and my ability to extend kindness and forgiveness toward myself. I approached this book with a craving to be washed over and over in daily reminders that I am deeply loved and secure in my position in Christ.

What I found between the covers is much more truly described as "Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living" as indicated on the front cover. Nouwen's writings felt adequately consistent with the theme of viewing ourselves as God's beloved for the first 1/4 of the book. From there on, the whole of spiritual life, from prayer, hope, gifts, forgiveness, God's faithfulness, compassion, community, stillness before the Lord, and all other topics pertaining to living as a Christian became the focus of the book. They did not seem primarily organized topically or by theme, with the exception of a few entries which would coincide loosely with major holidays. Certainly it was not inconvenient for me to read the whole book in different seasons than projected- there weren't days and days of Lent, Easter, or Christmas passages for me to read through.

I have read many long quotations from Henri J. M. Nouwen in "Disciplines for the Inner Life" by Bob and Michael Benson. Since I enjoyed that devotional immensely and had found Nouwen's writing intriguing, I was excited to read "You are Beloved." One not familiar with the author may benefit from knowing in advance that he was a Dutch-born Catholic priest, professor, and pastor. I find his writings do contain influences from mysticism, but while I do not practice this myself, I can appreciate his ideas without feeling they are pushed upon the reader or overly zealous in their presentation.

As I read a book I intend to review, I add slips of post-it notes to pages I was most impacted by. I discovered a new method of use which has helped me in reflecting on a long work. I place post-its near the tops of pages which were influential in a positive manner, while placing post-its near the bottom of pages I felt negatively toward. In this case, I learned I disagree with Nouwen's theology on 3 points.

‚ÄčFirst, there is a reading entitled, "God Needs Me as Much as I Need God." I think my reason for disagreeing may be obvious, but nevertheless, I utterly disagree that God needs or is in debt to any person. This idea diminishes His Omnipotence. Second, an entry entitled, "God Longs to Bring me Home," which includes the quotation:

"The question is not "How am I to find God?" but "How am I to let myself be found by him?" The question is not "How am I to know God?" but "How am I to let myself be known by God?" And, finally, the question is not "How am I to love God?" but "How am I to let myself be loved by God?""

I disagree with this passive approach to committing one's life to loving, following, and abiding in the presence of Christ. Do a quick search of Bible verses about seeking God- He tells people to do this over and over, as well as gives examples of how things have gone awry when people prioritize seeking other things. I believe our hearts, imaginations, and souls are designed to seek and it is our responsibility to seek wisely. Finally, on a less serious note, the author argues that joy is not the same as happiness in one passage. I know this is a popular teaching, but I feel it is doing linguistic acrobatics to spiritualize being unhappy while having a hope. You can be unhappy and be hopeful, but this is not the same as joy in my personal opinion.

I had just over a dozen locations marked because they resonated with me in a positive manner. Several of them I wanted to share, but the quotations would be rather lengthy in order to preserve the intended meaning. Here is a brief quotation which I think makes a valuable distinction. It was placed under the heading, "Our Gifts Are Not the Same as Our Talents."

"More important than our talents are our gifts. We may have only a few talents, but we have many gifts. Our gifts are the many ways in which we express our humanity. They are part of who we are: friendship, kindness, patience, joy, peace, forgiveness, gentleness, love, hope, trust, and many others. These are the true gifts we have to offer each other."

This book, if read with a solid Biblical understanding, is thought provoking and has some beautiful depictions of the struggles of the Christian life which we all endure, but are never truly alone in. I would recommend it for mature high schoolers who are not prone to follow every theological pathway which sounds or feels best at the moment and for adults in the same boat. Do not come to this book looking for identity, as I did. Come to this book for a sense of community, imperfect, but comforting.

**In the interest of full disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purpose of reviewing from Blogging for Books. I am not required to give a positive review; my opinions shared are authentic.