Book Review: Life of the Beloved

In recent years, my spirituality has been an important part of my life. I now consider it a big part of my identity, though I typically only share it with those whom I’m closest with.

Part of my journey, is reading what some of the most well-known spiritual thinkers – Christian and otherwise – have to say. I recently came across the work of Henri Nouwen, and I was immediately drawn to it.

I’ve read some of C.S. Lewis and Thomas Merton. While I like their work, there’s something about Nouwen’s honesty and blending of spirituality and psychology that really appeals more to me.

Life of the Beloved is one of Nouwen’s most well-known books. The subtitle is: Spiritual living in a secular world. The book is a letter to a friend of Nouwen, who asked him to describe the spiritual life to someone lacking a rigorous religious background.

In the epilogue, Nouwen says the book and letter failed to do that. His friend says Nouwen’s descriptions of the spiritual life didn’t resonate with him.

I read the reviews on Goodreads and they were decidedly mixed. The believers basically say Nouwen doesn’t go far enough, that he doesn’t include Christ in his descriptions of spiritual living.

Personally, I loved the book. Like another Nouwen book I’m reading, I feel like he boils down the spiritual life to its bare essentials: God’s love. And Nouwen isn’t afraid to fess up to his own loneliness, depression and fear.

When I read such personal writing like that, I’m often amazed by it. I feel like it takes a lot of courage to speak up and put your vulnerability on the line like Nouwen did.

Another key point Nouwen makes is the futility of searching for meaning in the material world. Nouwen argues that, ultimately, that core meaning should come from God’s love and the knowledge that we’re the beloved children of God.

There was something comforting about that last part. Perhaps Nouwen’s friend couldn’t relate to it. Perhaps he felt it was unnecessary, as many in the secular world believe.

But as I read the book, I took solace in it.

Have you ever read anything by Henri Nouwen? Have you read the Life of the Beloved? Let me know in the comments!

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