All biography is like that, built through conversation…“Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says. It involves a sort of martyrdom or self-sacrifice, as we try to imitate Moses before the burning bush: we have to remove our sandals when standing on the ‘holy ground’ of our encounter with the one who speaks to me. Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice.”

Like every biography, what follows is a thinking and responding work in progress. A generation from now, as more letters and recollections surface, the contours of the mapped portrait of Henri will continue to evolve with more thinking and more responding.

In his new book, Henri Nouwen: His Life and Spirit, Kevin Burns explores the legacy of renowned author and Spiritual Director Henri Nouwen. Through personal interviews of those who were close to Nouwen, including Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche International, Burns reveals a man who was very human.  It is precisely through understanding Nouwen’s struggles, weaknesses, and dark night of the soul that we catch a deeper insight into his spirituality and writings.

Well written insight into the life of a well-respected man and author. Nouwen’s views on pastoral psychology are very helpful and I enjoy much of what Nouwen has written. Burns does a good job showing the life of Nouwen and the human side along with its struggles that he too had like the rest of us.

Burns doesn’t exclusively retell the details of Nouwen’s life.  Instead, he highlights the experiences that shaped Nouwen as the “hyphenated” priest-psychologist-professor he was known to be. Through this Burns gives us deep insight into the life of Nouwen that eludes getting bogged down in details.

Nouwen had a way of writing and relating to others that Burns captures well in this work. In Burns Afterward: Where Biography and Autobiography Intersect. Burns states, “Reading a biography, we compare and contrast someone else’s life challenges and choices with our own in a delicate dance with those partners biography and autobiography…The Christian tradition encourages us to seek out models of holiness and inspiration wherever and however we might find them.” It is through this process biographies like the one Burns has wrote here become part of our own autobiography which we are all in process of writing however intentionally or unintentionally with our lives.

Through Burns work the reader is privileged to gain insight into the life of Henri Nouwen and see just how similar the reader is to him. Nouwen was similar to most of us in his struggles, though with his own unique setting and story.

I appreciated the process Burns used to gather facts about Nouwen’s life and weave them together for a clearer picture of the type of person he was. Through this process the reader can become inspired by the type of person and life that Nouwen lived.

Burns list nine points of intersection which serve as lessons for us as readers (pp 109-117):

  1. Be open to blessing
  2. Be open to the moment
  3. Be open to friends
  4. Be guided
  5. Be useful
  6. Be patient
  7. Be aware of your role
  8. Be unfiltered
  9. Be loved

Enter the story and see for your life the points where Biography and autobiography intersect through Nouwen’s life and your life.

Henri Nouwen: His Life and Spirit


Note: I received a free copy of this book by the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review and the thoughts expressed here are my own.