Gabrielle Earnshaw "You Are the Beloved" | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello and welcome to Now and Then. I’m Karen Pascal, Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Today I’m talking with Gabrielle Earnshaw. For 16 years Gabrielle was the archivist for the Henri Nouwen Archives at the Kelly Library. Then she took on a fresh challenge. Gabrielle has edited three books drawn from the rich treasures of Henri Nouwen’s writings and teachings. I want to introduce you to one of these books: You are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living. Gabrielle, tell me how did this book come about?
Gabrielle Earnshaw: Well, I think it was the idea that we wanted to have a devotional that people could read every day; have a little bit of Henri Nouwen every day. And another idea we had was, why don’t we pull these quotes from the 39 books that Henri left before he died? So his first book was published in 1969. It was called Intimacy and his last book was Adam, which was actually edited posthumously but was published in 1996. And I wanted to go through each one of those books and see what is the best part of this book. It’s almost like the greatest hits of Henri Nouwen but the unifying theme was around belovedness. Henri wrote a book called Life of the Beloved. It was published in 1992, and it is one of his most beloved books. He, in that book talks about our identity as not being what we make, what we do, who our parents are, but our identity is our identity as a child of God.
And as a child of God, we are beloved of God. And I think that this is a very powerful statement. Even to reflect on that for a year would be, I think, probably a very good practice. But what we did is we expanded on that. So we thought– I thought– that I would go through each of Henri Nouwen’s books, starting at the beginning and look for aspects of that book that reflected that theme of being the beloved. I wanted the book to be something that people would read and draw inspiration from and also consolation, this idea that we live in a world that is difficult for there’s a lot of challenges, a lot of struggles. And the idea that I had in my mind is that this would be a book that a person might start their day with or end their day with in a quiet moment of their life. They might not have a lot of time, but they could set aside a short amount of time to read a passage from one of Henri Nouwen’s books that affirms them. So the passages that I was looking for are all aspects of Henri Nouwen’s spirituality dating from the very earliest book to his very last. But there’s a lot of common themes in all of these books, for example, the importance of silence, the importance of silence so that we can hear that we are the beloved of God. So it felt important to me that I include several meditations on the practice of silence or allowing silence into our life. And in that way, we can hear the voice of God who calls us the beloved. So that was how I went about it. I actually found it absolutely delightful to be able to go back to the very beginning ,reread books that I’d read before, but with this very determined goal of finding his most salient passages that speak to this theme of being the beloved, of our identity as a child of God, and how do we live if we claim that identity, how do we then live.
And this book is meant to be almost like a sanctuary where you can enter into this book every day in the morning or the night, or when you can find the time. And it can become that place where you can contemplate your life on this planet but as a child of God. And how then do you handle conflict? How then do you handle strong emotions that are dark possibly: anger, resentment, how do you live loss as a child of God? And so that is how the book came together. By the end of reading the 39 books, I had a document, a Word document that was 600 pages. I still have it. And this is sort of what I thought were the best of the best.
I also had – readers will notice if they buy the book – that it’s dedicated to a man called Robert Durback. It was just a wonderful gift that I had that Robert Durback who was probably one of the first scholars, the first real scholar on Henri Nouwen, had a set of first editions and he donated them to the Henri Nouwen Society. And Karen, you gave me those books that I could use to draw from to use for my reading. And Robert was a very very astute reader and he loved to underline, and he did it very carefully with a ruler and a red pen, and that guided a lot of my reading as well, because if Robert thought it was a good passage I took a second look at it. And so the book is dedicated to Robert Durback because he, as I say, was one of the very first people to really start studying Henri, start promoting Henri.
And then this gift of his books and his perceptiveness around which of the passages could be actually extracted. I mean that was part of the challenge for me. It wasn’t just that I liked a passage I also needed it to be a sort of a full package. So I needed to excerpt it. And Robert helped me with that.
So that was really my methodology. It’s actually quite intuitive. And then once I got all of these 600 pages of meditations, then what did I do? Well, what I did was I actually printed the document, cut each so I had actually one doc meditation on one page. And then I used my living room and my dining room and I spread them all out. And then I tried, again, very intuitively, to think about the liturgical year. I tried to think about what would be happening in people’s lives on specific days. And then I started grouping the meditations that way. And so it’s not based on starting from the beginning and ending at the last book. It’s nothing like that. It’s more based on what do people need to read. For example, we’re in Advent right now. So I went through all of my meditations, 600 pages, and looked for the meditations that might have some meaning for people as they enter into Advent. So there’s a lot on waiting there, but Henri actually wrote about waiting, active waiting, the act of waiting, what are we waiting for – all of those types, clusters of themes around the theme of waiting. He wrote it in many of his books. It’s not just in one particular book, so I gathered those all together. And then that’s how I did it. And then it was finesse. And I had a lot of help from you for example, Karen. You helped read it. I had other readers who would look at my meditations and say, this one’s too long, or this one is not very inspiring it ends on a bit of a more searching note. We wanted each day to end with a kind of a feeling that people could go into their day or go into their sleep with a feeling of well inspiration and consolation.
Karen: Well, I know the book is a treasure. I have to admit, I have loved it. I’m following along daily, enjoying it so much. It’s a journey. I think God was with you as you went searching to find the essence of Henri. I highly recommend that people consider getting this book. It’s called You are the Beloved. It is edited by Gabrielle Earnshaw. It is Henri J.M. Nouwen – the very best of it. And it gives you daily meditations for spiritual living. I want to encourage you to go to our website and go to the bookstore and look for You are the Beloved. This is a treasure that you’ll want to have. Oh, Gabrielle one more thing…
Gabrielle: I’ve got one more thing to mention. Because I think what’s really important to say is that I did draw predominantly from his published works, but what’s exciting about this book is that I also did draw some of my meditations from unpublished work. Because I was Henri’s archivist for 16 years, I’m quite familiar with the unpublished material. And I used some of his excerpts from some of his talks. I used excerpts from some of his articles. And then I also, of course, used some of his letters because I edited his other book, a book of Henri Nouwen’s letters. And I took excerpts from some of those letters as well. So it really is a chance for people who know Henri Nouwen really well, it’s a chance to sort of reread him and get reintroduced to his books. And then also for people to discover some new material.
Karen: Oh, that’s wonderful. So you’ve got to have this one in your library. It’s going to introduce you to new things. And I think what’s really wonderful about it is it’s the essence of Henri, that part that writes so much to the heart, you’ll be fed by this. This is really a rich treasure, and Gabrielle has done a superb job of giving a broad but complete introduction to Henri. If you’re interested in purchasing You are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living, go to our website: henrinouwen.org in the book section.
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