Book Review: Life of the Beloved by Nouwen

Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular WorldLife of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World by Henri J.M. Nouwen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nouwen is one of my favourite Christian writers – simultaneously mystical, transcendent, encouraging, and practical. This isn’t at the top of my list of his books. However, it may be just the right book for someone struggling with finding worth, identity, or hope in dark times.

The genesis of this one is interesting – Nouwen was an already well-known writer and figure and was chosen to be profiled by a local paper. The local reporter obviously had very little interest in either Nouwen or the writing project, and so the conversation during the interview went in interesting directions. The interview flipped, in a way, and Nouwen was asking the writer about his own hopes and dreams. That weird meet-cute led to a long friendship between the two men – Nouwen a Christian mystic and Fred Bratman a Jewish secular writer. This book is an attempt by Nouwn to “write a book explaining the spiritual life in terms that [Bratman] and his friends could understand.”

The epilogue indicates the book was unsuccessful, much to the disappointment of Nouwen. While the book avoids a lot of explicit theology and technical church language, it did seem to remain unknowable to Bratman. The latter remarked that some basic questions still needed to be answered before the book would make any sense, whether or not the theology was only implicit. Nouwen eventually decided to publish the book because others found the manuscript useful.

The short book is broken into six sections – becoming the “beloved” (a being God loves no matter what), and what that practically means: being taken (chosen), blessed, broken, and given. If you’re familiar with church, those words may ring a bell. Nouwen compares being God’s to being like Jesus – to being like Communion for the world.

What I enjoyed the most in this book was Nouwen’s easy contemplation of death. A true mystic, the lines between heaven and earth, life and death, pain and joy – they’re all blurred and eventually just part of one whole. A very useful take for someone like me with thanatophobia.

Favourite quotes:

“The blessings that we give to each other are expressions of the blessing that rests on us from all eternity.”

“We often live as if our happiness depended on having. But I don’t know anyone who is really happy because of what he or she has. True joy, happiness, and inner peace come from the giving of ourselves to others. A happy life is a life for others.”


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