Week 1 - Advent with Henri

Week 1 - Advent with Henri

“In The Return of the Prodigal Son, Nouwen lets go of the compulsion to run away from difficulties, to hold on to fear, to cling to resentment and childish fantasies.  By letting all go he comes home to himself.  Gradually, he steps into an entirely new way of being.”  (Henri Nouwen and the Return of the Prodigal Son: The Making of a Spiritual Classic, p.7).

 Welcome to Advent with Henri! The Paraclete Press team and I look forward to creating a virtual community where we discover and reflect on Henri Nouwen’s spiritual wisdom. May it be a time of transformation and readying for Christmas and for the new start that 2021 offers. 

For our discussion this year, we are focusing on Henri Nouwen’s most popular book The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming and my deep dive into how it was written: Henri Nouwen and the Return of the Prodigal Son: The Making of a Spiritual Classic. These books trace Nouwen’s deepening awareness of God’s infinite love in his life.  “At the end of the book, Nouwen is not perfect, nor is the journey over, but he has been changed.” (p.7). This time together is our chance to reflect on our own return to God’s love.  Over the next four weeks, we will look at the themes of Waiting, Winter, Hope and Renewal.  I will draw out insights from Nouwen’s book and my own, as well as speak to special guests to deepen our reflection. 

Let’s briefly describe how our online book discussion works. 

Beginning today, and for each Tuesday in Advent, you will receive an email with a short reflection for the week.  The reflection will be followed by questions to help deepen your experience. You are invited and encouraged to share your responses or make comments of your own by adding to the blog.

To begin our Advent journey, we’d like to invite you to introduce yourself.  You might tell us where you live and what draws you to this book discussion.

You will get the most out of the discussion if you have read both books ahead of time (they are short!), but it is not necessary.  You can purchase Henri Nouwen and the Return of the Prodigal Son here and The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen here.

Welcome to each of you and I look forward to your introductions.  If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask either by submitting a comment or sending me an email at the address below.

Your companion,



Gabrielle Earnshaw is the founding archivist of the Henri J. M. Nouwen Archives and Research Collection at the University of St. Michael’s College, a position she held from 2000 to 2016. She has edited four posthumous works by Henri Nouwen and is the author of Henri Nouwen and The Return of the Prodigal Son: The Making of a Spiritual Classic. An Nouwen expert Gabrielle leads retreats and workshops on Nouwen and his spirituality in North America and Europe. 




Advent Theme Week 1 - Waiting

There is a tremendous amount of waiting in our lives generally, but this year it seems that all we are doing is waiting – waiting for the lockdown to end, waiting for the pandemic to end, waiting for COVID test results, waiting for a friend to recover from the virus, waiting for a vaccine, waiting for election results.  We might call 2020 the year of anxious waiting.  There is another kind of waiting however.  It is Advent waiting.  Henri Nouwen puts it this way:

“Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for. We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus…Waiting for God is an active, alert – yes, joyful – waiting. As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes.” (Nouwen, Bread for the Journey)

Consider the Father in the parable of the Return of the Prodigal Son.  He has been waiting for his youngest son for a long time.  He could have used the interval to stew, to get angry, to build up resentment (which is what his older son did) but instead, the Father practiced Advent waiting. He used the time apart to prepare his heart for  a joyful reunion, and, when the day came, as he knew it would, he was ready.  He ran out of the house to greet his son, meeting him right there in the here and now, no questions asked.  No explanations necessary. 

As we begin our Advent walk with Henri Nouwen as companion, perhaps each of us can reflect on our own style of waiting.  Some other questions we might consider:


  1. What are you waiting for right now? How are you waiting?

  2. How might you prepare your hearts to receive people who have hurt you?


An additional thought for your consideration:

As I was preparing for this reflection it came to me that perhaps at this moment in time, at the beginning of our journey together, the most important thing we can glean from Henri Nouwen and his book The Return of the Prodigal Son is the value of a collapse.  Let me explain.  Henri Nouwen collapsed in front of the poster of Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son the first time he saw it.  He tells us that at the time of this encounter he was “dead tired.”  He was “anxious, lonely, restless and very needy.” Is this not a good description of many of us? The pandemic has drained our reserves. Our collective suffering is great.  Many of us are in need of a deep, restorative rest.  Henri teaches us that even the strong ones get tired.  He shows us that we too can show our vulnerability.  Let’s recall what happened when he collapsed: he was embraced by God.  It was only in falling to his knees that the father could place his hands on his shoulders and hold him close. 

My question for us this week is can Advent this year be a time of deep rest?  Can we acknowledge our great fatigue and drop? If nothing else, can this Advent season be a time for receiving God’s love?


🎧 Conversation with Gabrielle | Listen Now


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If you have any trouble or questions, feel free to email katiet@paracletepress.com.

Previous article Advent With Henri | Week 2 - Winter
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SJ - December 8, 2020

Here in Washington state I spent most of the first nine months of “Covid time” working intensively in my garden. The months flew by. There was much time for reflection, often with the help of essays or excerpts from various Nouwen writings. But as summer ended a teenage child sank into substance abuse and other destructive behaviors. Their complex therapy, involving all of the family, appears to be bringing them back from the brink. It seems that a time of pensive and anxious waiting is transitioning to something quieter in me. My hope is that this study can be a part of showing me how to find meaning in all we’ve been through and how to embrace the one who has returned.

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