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


To add a comment, enter your name, email address, and a message you would like to share with the group in the spaces 
below “Leave a comment”.  Then click “Post a comment.” Within just a few minutes, your comment will be posted and added to the discussion.

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

Previous article Advent With Henri | Week 2 - Winter
Next article Welcome to Advent with Henri


Joan Englander - December 7, 2020

I am looking forward to this journey together. I am in Ojai, California. Advent is a time in which I spent 25 years at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur. The experience with the monks confirmed what I had been longing for: the birth of Love within. I longing for contemplative community and for these few weeks, we will be this together.
I am grateful for this opportunity.

Jody - December 4, 2020

Greetings, I’m a Cape native and longtime enthusiast of both Paraclete and Nouwen. I return to The Prodigal Son every year to help renew my understanding of God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Much like Nouwen, the first time I saw the Rembrandt painting at the Hermitage, I was gobsmacked and stood in front of it until a rather officious museum guard (it was the twilight of the Soviet era) ordered me to move along!

I look forward to this discussion.

Julie Foster - December 4, 2020

I have set this year apart as Advent Time
Prayer work study prayer rest personal time..this has strengthened me to deal with the anxious and sorrowful times
I really this book and look forward to reflections I live on Vancouver Island
BC Canada

Kim Langley - December 4, 2020

Hi Everyone, and Blessed Advent!
I am Kim Langley from Cleveland Ohio, and Paraclete published my book. That was the beginning of my journey into all things Paraclete Press, and what a good one it has been. This book by Nouwen is my very favorite, and such a perfect choice for advent.
I am very happy to be walking together toward Christmas during this very challenging time of Pandemic. Gabrielle, it is with a grateful heart that I am joining this group.
Warmest Regards, Kim

Maxine - December 2, 2020

Hello everyone, this is Maxine from Pickering, Ontario. I have always loved the season of Advent for a great many reasons but mostly because these four weeks gave me the time to dream, to hope and simply to be with God. Christmas with all the exuberance, pomp and ceremony has never been quite what I waited for …. but this year, I find that in spite of the circumstances and challenges Christmas promises a great deal of Hope. The forced quieting of these months has given me an extra long Advent … and so I look forward to sharing the journey with you. Blessed Advent to all.

SMadeleine - December 2, 2020

Iam a religious sister and I love and have been helped greatly by the Henri Nouwen books. He is so human and real and open and why I want to do an Advent study with him

Gabrielle Earnshaw - December 2, 2020

Welcome and thank you to those of you who have posted so far. I am touched by your openness and already feel blessed by this experience. Like you, I am looking forward to our walk together through Advent. If you haven’t posted yet please do – we’d love to meet you. If you prefer to follow along silently we welcome you too.

Today I had a wonderful conversation with Sr. Sue Mosteller, Henri Nouwen’s good friend and writer of many of the wise letters published in Henri Nouwen and The Return of the Prodigal Son: The Making of a Spiritual Classic. The Paraclete Press team and I are looking forward to sharing that conversation with you next week.

Mona McMahon - December 2, 2020

Hello. I’m Mona from south FL and I’m very much looking forward to reading with a group of other interested readers. For about 10 years I’ve belonged to a Catholic book club with 5 others who have become great friends. Since March we’ve all seen our priorities change and become more complicated and despite trying we haven’t been able to get together. I’m feeling a bit isolated and excited to hear what others have to say.

Nicole - December 2, 2020

I’m in Chicago, working for the ELCA and wrapping up my first semester studying spiritual direction at Loyola. This week’s reflection captures why I chose to participate in this group: Henri Nouwen taught me to wait and also to claim the wilderness times through which we must wait. When I first read one of his descriptions of active, expectant waiting it resonated and helped me realize we are always waiting in a sense, so we must also always be living.

Graeme Doyle - December 2, 2020

Hello, I am Graeme and I live in West Des Moines ,Iowa. I have done in person Advent studies in previous years and found them to be a great way to prepare for Christmas.
Looking forward to the journey with you all !

Leave a comment

* Required fields