Life of the Beloved: spiritual living in a secular world


by Henri J.M. Nouwen


Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.

Henri Nouwen was asked to write a book explaining the spiritual life in terms that his secular friends could understand avoiding theology and technical language. Life of the Beloved is certainly that book. Words don’t adequately express the depth and breadth of Nouwen’s oneness with Christ. It is the most tender, loving book ever written about Nouwen’s love for his Beloved. In the prologue he tells of his wonderful human friendship that mirrors his love for Christ. The man he is visiting with is a Jew in a Christian seminary and Nouwen invites him to come to the seminary to complete his deepest desire, that is, to write a novel. Nouwen offers him both time and money to do so.


There is so much to say about this book and I am not presenting it in a linear fashion but in a way that makes sense to me. “As I grow older, I discover more and more that the greatest gift I have to offer is my own joy of living, my own inner peace, my own silence and solitude, my own sense of wellbeing.” (p.113) The joy expressed in this statement is something we are often afraid of. It is time to break open the joy that Nouwen speaks about in a way that liberates others to share in that joy and to recognize their own joy in the ordinary everydayness of life.


God says to each one of us: You are my Beloved! “Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness, I hear at my center words that say: “I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depts. Of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you and wherever you rest, I keep watch…..You belong to me. I am your father, your brother, your mother, your sister, your lover and your spouse …yes even your child…wherever you are I will be….We are one.


Further into this thought, Nouwen states: “The world is evil only when you become its slave. The world has a lot to offer—just as Egypt did for the children of Jacob—as long as you didn’t feel bound to obey it. The great struggle facing you in not to leave the world, to reject your ambitions and aspirations, or to despise money, prestige, or success but to claim your spiritual truth and to live in the world as someone who doesn’t belong to it.” (p.130) Nouwen completes his thought by stating: “The change of which I speak is the change from living life as a painful test to prove that you deserve to be loved, to living it as an unceasing YES to the truth of the Belovedness.” The unfathomable mystery of God is that God is a Lover who wants to be loved. The one who created us is waiting for our response to the love that gave us our being. God offers us countless times to say YES. Eternal life is the full revelation of what we have been and have lived all along.” (p.138)

This book is savored in tiny sips over and over. It helps us to realize the importance of being at one with the Beloved and the joy of savoring his love. It is not an easy book to find as it was written in 1992 and has for its foundation a strong sense of the spirituality of every aspect of our lives whether we are sick, physically disabled, or just part of the everyday ordinary, we say YES to God because we are His.

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