• Sharon Garlough Brown "A Companion in Sorrow" | Episode Transcript

    Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a new episode of Henri Nouwen, Now and Then. Our goal at the society is to extend the rich, spiritual legacy of Henri Nouwen to audiences around the world. We invite you to share these podcasts and our free, daily meditations with your friends and family. Through them, we can continue to introduce new audiences to the writings and the teachings of Henri Nouwen, and we can remind each listener that they’re a beloved child of God. 

    Now, let me introduce you to my guest today. I’m honored to be joined in conversation all the way from Scotland by Sharon Garlough Brown. Sharon is a spiritual director, speaker, and founder of The Abiding Way Ministries. She’s also the author of many bestselling books, including the wonderful four-part series Sensible Shoes. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, Sharon and her husband Jack have served on pastoral staffs in Scotland, England, and in Oklahoma and Michigan in the United States. Today, we’re talking with Sharon near Dundee, Scotland. 

    Sharon, welcome to Henri Nouwen, Now and Then.

    Sharon Garlough Brown: It is a joy to be with you, Karen, and with your listeners. Thank you so much for the invitation.

    Karen Pascal: Sharon, you have so many wonderful novels and we could discuss many of them today, but I want to focus on Shades of Light, a book described on the cover as both “heartbreaking and enthralling.” Why did you choose to write this novel?

    Sharon Garlough Brown: What a great question. Shades of Light addresses issues of grief, loss, affliction, particularly in the context of mental illness. And without giving too many details, because his story is his story, our beloved son, David, has struggled with debilitating depression for many years. And while my protagonist, Wren, is not my son, she shares many struggles in common with him, which then gives me some insight as Wren’s mom, Jamie, on what does it mean to be a co-sufferer alongside a loved one. Where you are aching for them to be well and whole, and you’re pouring out your cries to Jesus to come quickly, to rescue and save. And we don’t have the power to fix. We struggle to know how to help. We can live in some fear of saying the wrong thing, or not saying the right thing, or never quite knowing where the edge of the cliff is. 

    And so, the Lord has met me in profound ways, as I have shared that journey with our son, and certainly has enlarged me with compassion for others who share similar affliction and suffering.

    Karen Pascal: I knew, as I read, that you’d been there. I can’t explain it other than that. There was such honesty in it, and I am amazed, in my own family and amongst my friends, just how many deal with mental illness.

    Sharon Garlough Brown: Yes.

    Karen Pascal: What I found was so wonderful in the book was the inner voice of your characters that really help. I hear my own fears in it, and the anguish for the person facing depression and facing mental illness. And I felt that you really give those voices to us with such honesty – and with hope. 

    But you also, in a way, interpret to us, “How do I deal with this? If I have faith in God, how do I deal with this, that doesn’t seem to be solvable?” I appreciated that, Sharon, and there’s a lot of honesty in it. 

    Is it difficult for people with depression or with mental illness to read? Has it been helpful in that place?

    Sharon Garlough Brown: That’s a really important question, Karen. It’s the only book I’ve ever written where I’ve heard from readers who tell me, “I can’t read this because it’s too true. I’m too like Wren and I don’t have the capacity to take on someone else’s suffering that’s so close to mine. However, I’m asking everyone I know to read the book so they understand what it feels like from the inside.”

    And along with that, some of my favorite emails have come from those in the depths of mental illness, who have written to say, “I felt heard. I felt seen. I felt known. I felt compassion. Thank you.” And that’s a glory to God. 

    I had three audiences in mind, Karen, when I was writing, that I’m just longing for the Lord to meet. 

    So, the first were those suffering from the depths of despair and depression and anxiety, and for Wren, there’s some panic disorder as well. 

    And those who are suffering alongside – those co-sufferers, the loved ones. And then also, for the body of Christ that for so many years has compounded the suffering by saying things we would never say to someone suffering from cancer or leukemia. Things like, “If you just prayed harder, if you just read more scripture, if you just had more faith, you would be well.” And that just adds condemnation onto the suffering to compound it. 

    So, I was hoping the Lord would reach those without personal experience with this, to enlarge their compassion and capacity to be alongside with some understanding. And so, those are treasures, too, when I get emails from them.

    Karen Pascal: I would say to people listening, if there’s someone in your life, or if you have friends in your life who are coping with family members, or they themselves are coping with mental illness or depression or anxiety attacks, you’ll get such insights from this book. I found right away . . . I made my list of who do I want to give this book to. Who will feel understood? And I think that’s such a gift we can give. That’s a gift of love we can give, when we give understanding. 

    One of the marvelous things about the book is it’s got layers of really interesting insights. You weave in Vincent Van Gogh. And you weave him . . . at the end of the book, I feel like I know him through his art, through his incredible vision. Tell me a little bit about that. How is it that you found and use Vincent?

    Sharon Garlough Brown: So, we’ll go back to the summer of 2016, and I was leading a retreat in Kansas City, and a woman at the retreat said to me, after the session, “I would love to take you to our local art museum for lunch.” So, I went to the art museum and we were exploring the hallways together. And I turned a corner and went halfway down the hall, and a painting on the wall reached out and grabbed me. I mean, I stood before it, Karen, and I gasped, and I nearly doubled over. I wasn’t sure if I was going to burst into tears or if I needed to take off my shoes and worship on holy ground. It was a picture by Vincent, of the olive groves. And he did 15, 16 of those paintings. But I had never … I had seen his work before, but I had never been particularly struck by it.

    But I went back to my hotel room, really curious about my inner response to his work, and started doing a bit of research. And that’s when I discovered that he had painted that particular painting, his series of olive groves, while he was at an asylum in the south of France. And the little news article that I found online said that at the time, he was meditating on the Garden of Gethsemane. And I closed my computer and said, “Wait a minute, here. Was Vincent a believer?” Because that’s not the narrative that I knew. I knew, you know: erratic painter; maybe had bipolar, if we were diagnosing him in contemporary world; had cut off his ear; had died by suicide. That’s the narrative I knew. 

    So, here I am in my hotel room, reading about how he was a pastor’s son, and he wanted to serve Jesus. He wanted to be a pastor. He moved to England when he was in his late teens to serve at some churches. We have a record of his sermons, because he copied them for his brother in letters. And yet he wasn’t skilled enough, he thought, to pursue the study of languages. So, he knew he couldn’t be a pastor – you know, Greek and Hebrew. 

    So, he decided, “Where could I go in the world where I could take the light of Jesus into the darkest possible place?” And he decided to go to the mining villages in Belgium. And he traveled with two books. He traveled with his Bible, and he traveled with The Imitation of Christ. And he then began an incarnational presence with the mining community, giving away his clothes, giving away his food, praying with them, leading Bible studies, going down into the depths of the mine to be with them. He wouldn’t accept housing in a pretty modest home, but instead lived and slept on a mud floor in a hut. 

    And when the missionary society came through to do their evaluation of him, they thought that he had gone too radical, that he was very unwell. And they pulled his funding, leaving him in his late twenties to ask the question, “If I’m not even fit to take the gospel to the poorest of the poor, what am I fit for?”

    And it plunged him into some darkness for a while, but some curiosity about what he could do. And he decided, as he emerged from that, that he’d always liked to draw, so maybe he could teach himself to be an artist. And he had worked in an art gallery. His brother worked in an art gallery. He had family connections that way. So, Vincent started to teach himself how to draw and paint when he was 27. And he ended up painting about 900 paintings in 10 years, and 1,100 drawings. 

    So, here I am learning about him. And I said to the Lord, in December of that year, Karen, I said, “Lord, if I’m meant to do something to bring forth his true story of love for Jesus and love for people, could you show me what that is?”

    And that’s where the convergence of this character who was beginning to gel in my heart, my Wren, converged with Vincent and his story. And I realized that Vincent was a companion in suffering and sorrow to Wren, especially when words were too hard for her. Art had access to her soul. Beauty had access to her soul. And so, he becomes a very important mentor, if you will, throughout the book, Shades of Light, as he was for me, and just such beauty in the way that he saw the world and the way that he saw people with such compassion, tenderness.

    Karen Pascal: It’s interesting, because he was very important to Henri Nouwen. He was one of the people speaking into Henri’s life. Perhaps the whole vision of downward mobility may have been planted initially by Vincent’s life journey and his understanding of melancholy. It’s lovely the way that you break that word open, and it becomes a word that is woven throughout. But I got to know Vincent through your book, and for those who are fans of Vincent Van Gogh, yours is an important book to read, because you have really, I think, got the essence of him in the book. And I just love that about it. It’s so, so special.

    Sharon Garlough Brown: Thank you. I’m honored by that. And it was in February of 2017, Karen, that I discovered Nouwen’s connection with Vincent. I didn’t know that he was connected. And again, some research online that he had taught a course at Yale on Vincent’s life. And, you know, one click leads to another, and suddenly I’m in touch with a woman who was in the class and had a manuscript that she had completed, but without a publisher, for Henri’s unpublished work about Vincent. 

    So, I need to do a shout-out to Carol Berry and her gorgeous book about Vincent and Henri. It’s called Learning from Henri Nouwen and Vincent Van Gogh: A Portrait of a Compassionate Life. And Carol does just an exquisite job. I was able to connect her with my publisher, who said a quick and enthusiastic “yes!” to her manuscript. 

    Karen Pascal: That’s lovely to hear that you had a part of that. That’s terrific. 

    Well, let’s go back a step. I want to ask the question. Tell me about Wren. Who is Wren in this book, and then we can talk about Wren as an artist.

    Sharon Garlough Brown: So again, I’ll do a little background story, because these are the things that you can’t make up. When I was writing the final book of my Sensible Shoes series, a character name came to mind, but I didn’t write it down. And then weeks later, I thought, “Oh gosh, I should have written down the name of that character; it felt important.” But unless the Lord brings it back, it’s gone. 

    So, a few days later, I was sitting outside on our deck in West Michigan, and a little bird landed on the railing not far from where I was sitting with my computer on my lap. And I watched this little bird hop along, and there was no food, no seed on the balcony. But the wren – well, I discovered later it was a wren – but the little bird hopped down and came close to my feet, and then hopped up onto my armrest of the chair, and then hopped across my computer and then hopped onto my knee, (I can still feel those little claws), and then flew away and jingled the wind chimes. 

    And I thought, “Wait, that’s not normal bird behavior. What was that?” So, all I knew was it was a little tiny bird, tufted tail. I went running inside and pulled out my bird book, and I discovered it was a wren. And then I started to cry, because that was the name of the character that had come to mind a couple weeks earlier. So, I was weeping, Karen, saying, “Lord, who is this woman? If you used a bird to remind me of her name, she’s really important.” And I wondered, would she make an entry into An Extra Mile? 

    But no, she waited her turn, waited her turn, waited her turn. And then her story began to emerge, with a 27-year-old woman with a deep sensitivity, deep compassion, deep love for Jesus, who has her entire life struggled with depression and anxiety. And the book starts hard with her making the courageous decision to seek help at a psychiatric hospital. 

    And so, that’s who Wren is. She is courageous. She shines with compassion. She’s been shaped by suffering, and she battles mental illness. And I love all my characters, Karen, but I am particularly proud of Wren and the journey that she makes over the course of three books, in the Shades of Light series.

    Karen Pascal: I love her, too. In fact, I’ll give you a little insight into my world. My older sister was diagnosed as schizophrenic when she was 21. She passed away last year. She was an artist. She was an extremely gifted artist. But, like Vincent Van Gogh, she never sold a painting. 

    And she had this passion for Jesus. Jesus was really what rescued her from serious, serious depression. But there were always battles going on in her. But a wonderful woman. My sister, Janet, was a wonderful, interesting woman. And I love her artwork. I just love it. It’s beautiful. It’s exciting, it’s vibrant. 

    But tell me – it’s one of the things that struck me as I read the book – you really understand painting, too, because it’s so important to Wren as a character. A painter. And you understand the unfolding of the thought process in painting something. Where did you get that kind of insight? Are you a painter?

    Sharon Garlough Brown: I am not. That is not my native language at all. So, I observed some friends who are painters, and I asked a lot of questions, and I bought a set of paints so that I could feel what it feels like to paint. And a little-known detail: I had a little canvas I was working on one day, and I thought, “I wonder if I could paint a rooster.” And so, I prayed, and this rooster emerged, Karen, and very, very quickly. And I’d say it was a fluke, except I have to say it was the Lord. It ended up being . . . Wren paints as she meditates on the cross. And that’s the second book in the series. So, the rooster that Wren paints is actually the rooster that I painted that day as I prayed. The rest of her art is way beyond my capacity on my little kitchen table with my little square. But I had to feel what it was like to blend the colors and to use it as a prayer practice, so that I could inhabit that part of it. But the actual technique and language for what Wren is doing had to come from others.

    Karen Pascal: Well, it’s an added richness to this. We get Vincent’s struggle as he’s painting and the processes that he’s going through, and the wonderful sensitivity to that. And then we get Wren, as well. 

    But there’s another character in the book that’s struggling with mental illness. How did Casey make it into this story and why?

    Sharon Garlough Brown: So, Casey was Wren’s first friend. Wren grew up in Australia, and then moved to the States with her mom and new stepdad at the age of 10. A vulnerable time. And Casey was her first friend, and remained a best friend for her. Casey suffers from bipolar and has been quite erratic. And Wren has been a steadying, or attempted to be a steadying, presence in his life over many years. And there are people that are concerned about her friendship with him. You can see that there’s a lot that’s unhealthy. Wren begins to own her kind of co-dependent part in that friendship. And without giving too many details away about the end of the book, there is some trauma and loss that happens with Casey. 

    So, he isn’t based on anyone in particular. I didn’t have a model for him. But he emerged as someone important and true to life. Again, the recipient of Wren’s compassion, through some pretty erratic episodes.

    Karen Pascal: In this book, it’s the honesty and the gentleness of it that I’m so drawn to. I’m so drawn to . . . the story is great. I come away, because I wanted so much to be a filmmaker, and what I discovered was I’d fall in love with books. I’d want to option them and make them into films. But the marvel of a book is that you go inside someone’s head and you go inside their private conversations. And that’s what makes this so, in a way, irresistible. Because the conversations that are in people’s heads within the book are conversations we can recognize in ourselves. Some of them condemn and characterize people as hopeless or whatever, you know?

    But there’s a wonderful language within that, that makes this book so very important. I think it’s your strength, obviously, Sharon, as you write. I found that to be the case with Sensible Shoes. It helped me understand the journey, from within, of somebody walking in and gaining faith. And that’s the same I find in this story. You have a way of telling the story gradually unfolding from within.

    Sharon Garlough Brown: A part of that, Karen, is choosing to write with a very intimate point of view. So, as you say, you have uninhibited access to everything the character is thinking and feeling. And again, hoping that that is a pathway to enlarge our compassion and empathy for others, but also to see ourselves mirrored in ways that lead us forward with Jesus for transformation and healing and freedom.

    Karen Pascal: I’m glad your characters aren’t tidy, with simple answers. I like the fact that you use these opportunities to open people up to maybe better answers, tender answers, answers that I think Jesus would want to give to somebody suffering internally. And you realize so much is hidden in all our lives. We all have inner dialogues, we all have inner fears and pains, et cetera, but you actually, I think, unwrap them so tenderly and wisely. 

    Sharon Garlough Brown: Thank you. That’s the process of prayer, because all I know – I wasn’t trained as a fiction writer, Karen — all I know how to do is listen prayerfully for God to reveal the characters, so that I’m not creating them, but I’m getting to know them. I’m discovering them as he reveals them in my imagination, and just keeping them company in the journey, not trying to control or manipulate anything. Nothing is ever plotted out. So, the twists and turns, the heartaches, the joys – those all take me by surprise, as well.

    Karen Pascal: Now, you mentioned that there’s three books in the Shades of Light journey. Tell us about that.

    Sharon Garlough Brown: One of the things, for anyone that’s familiar with the Sensible Shoes series: Katherine Rhodes, who is the spiritual director and retreat leader in Sensible Shoes, is one of the primary characters in the Shades of Light series. So, we didn’t ever have access to Katherine’s story or inner life in my first four books, but in these books, you get that journey, because she is Wren’s great-aunt Kit. She goes by Kit in the Shades of Light series. That’s how her family knows her. So, in Shades of Light, the point-of-view characters that you get to know very, very well are Wren and Jamie. Katherine is alongside; we don’t have point-of-view access to her in Shades of Light, but we do in the next two books, because Katherine has asked Wren if she would consider prayerfully engaging with meditating on the cross, the suffering of Jesus, and painting, matching that with Scripture.

    And so, in the second book in the series, Wren is very, very unwell in the second book. And Katherine decides that when Wren doesn’t have access to words or can’t process conversation, isn’t able to remember things, Katherine decides it might be a gift to write Wren letters out of her own experience of loss and grief and trauma. And yes, struggle with depression and despair. So, Remember Me is a novella, but it’s highly distilled experience and wisdom from Katherine. 

    The back of the book is Wren’s full-color art, and Katherine’s meditation on Scripture. I found an artist who was willing to paint as a fictional character, Elizabeth Ivy Hawkins. And so Wren’s paintings are in full color at the back of the book. 

    And then in the third book in the series, Katherine remains a point-of-view character. She’s getting ready to retire from the retreat center. She gives one final retreat, so readers will be able to attend Katherine’s retreat. Wren is also a point-of-view character in that book. Wren has moved in with Katherine as part of her healing journey. She needed a safe place to land. It wasn’t safe for her to continue to remain on her own. And so, she has moved into Katherine’s home for healing. 

    And Katherine’s daughter, Sarah, also is a point-of-view character in Feathers of Hope. Sarah’s very concerned about the drain that Wren is, or the drain Sarah perceives her to be, on her mom. And so, there’s a lot of … it is my most relationally conflicted book of all of my books. There’s a lot that’s going on between characters and conflict and misunderstandings and the need for forgiveness and all of that. So, that’s the Shades of Light series. 

    Karen Pascal: Oh, my goodness, I’ve got to read those two next. Absolutely. And I want to see the paintings. I think that would be terrific.

    Sharon Garlough Brown: Oh, they’re stunning. They really are.

    Karen Pascal: You are not afraid of diving in at the deep end of the pool on this one. And I’m so glad that you’ve done that. 

    I find myself curious. You are a very prolific writer and you’ve got all sorts of other titles on your name. How do you do this? Are you just the Energizer bunny that writes all day? What’s your life like, to be able to write so well and so much?

    Sharon Garlough Brown: It’s seasonal. I don’t write every day, and my writing comes in season, so I always wait for the Lord’s “Go!” And so, there are times of gathering and collecting and prayer. And then, I find that I typically notice that I start feeding on beauty in a really kind of compelled way. Or I’ll start reading poetry and then I think, “Oh, I’m pregnant with a book.” And so, this will be coming. 

    And so, then it’s the beginning with him. It’s the praying it through. I can’t do quick dives when I’m doing a first draft of a book; I need kind of extended . . . so, I’ll give myself maybe a four- or five-hour block. So when I know that I’m in a writing season, I will be really careful as much as I can to block out time to give to that. When I’m in the editing process, I can dive in pretty quickly and out again. But it is an intensive and completely delightful, and can be emotionally draining as well, as I am traveling with these characters. I’m completely immersed in their lives. And I love them dearly from the inside, in all of their imperfections and struggles. And I see myself, my own struggles mirrored in them. So, they’re good companions.

    Karen Pascal: Another aspect that is woven into all your books – and something I value, and I think people coming to it will value – you weave spiritual practices in. Some of them may be fresh to others; they may not know how to do lectio divina or visio divina or those different things. But it’s lovely. It’s like you just come alongside in the book and you get the experience. Is that part of your spiritual process, yourself?

    Sharon Garlough Brown: It is. It is. So, the spiritual practices that have been significant for me in my life with God and my deepening friendship with Jesus are ones that my characters are also being introduced to, sometimes for the very first time. One of the things that Wren encounters in Shades of Light: Katherine invites her to do a prayer collage with photographs. And that was something that was introduced to me by some lovely, lovely friends. So, that was a new one. And I found such life in it, as Wren does, again in a season when words are too hard. 

    Her mom is praying with the word, with lectio divina. And a particular passage that means so much to her mom is out of Mark’s gospel, with the man who brings his son, who is desperately, desperately unwell to Jesus. And this boy has a spirit that is bent on his destruction and continues to throw him down, and the disciples haven’t been able to cast it out. 

    And what’s so interesting, Karen, to me as a detail, is that Jesus, before doing anything to help this beloved son, says to the father, “How long has he been like this?” And for Jamie, it causes her to weep, because she sees, again, the compassion of Jesus who recognizes the co-sufferer. And it’s not that Jesus needs to hear the details of the story, it’s that the father needs to share the details of the story with Jesus. And so, Jamie finds invitation in that, too. So, there are different ways that the characters are just practicing the presence of God, in ways that ring true to where they are, what capacity they have. 

    Karen Pascal: I love that expression you just used: the co-sufferer. And it’s really what this book does. It sees mental illness, not just from the world of the person who’s struggling, but from the family and loved ones and friends, those around them that become co-sufferers and who wonder how they can make a difference, how they can help.

    Sharon Garlough Brown: What really sits at the heart of this book is the question: If the Lord in his love and wisdom does not remove the cup of suffering from us, though we plead with him to, how does he then keep us company as we drink it? How are we invited into knowing Jesus as the man of sorrows acquainted with grief, who does not withhold himself from suffering, but gives himself entirely over to it? And what does companionship with that God enlarge us into, in terms of our own compassion and hope?

    Karen Pascal: One of the phrases that weaves its way through the book is the phrase, “active melancholy.” What does that mean?

    Sharon Garlough Brown: Yes. It’s a Dutch word, that Vincent used. I don’t speak Dutch and apologies to those who do. It’s “vay-moot,” W-E-E-M-O-E-D. And it literally is, in English, it would be a combination of the words “woe” and “courage.” And Vincent’s perspective on that is when you put those words together, when you put together suffering and sorrow and woe along with courage and fortitude, it keeps it from disintegrating into despair. 

    And so, that becomes a fortifying word for Wren. It doesn’t disregard the suffering and just say, “Well, just be brave. Just be courageous.” No. It says, “In the face of suffering, we are also given the courage that we need.” Vincent loved . . . His life verse, if you will, was II Corinthians, Chapter Six, where Paul talks about being sorrowing and yet rejoicing. And that was Vincent’s . . . That was the expression of his heart, that those two things were not mutually exclusive, but were held together. And that this word, weemoed, is a way of holding it in the tension that it has.

    Karen Pascal: What does it mean to be a “companion in sorrow?”

    Sharon Garlough Brown: Hmm. That’s a phrase that Vincent was using: “companion in misfortune.” I like to think of it as going in two directions. That we need companions in our sorrow and in our misfortune, that we need people who will just keep company with us. You know, Job’s friends did a fabulous job of pastoral care for seven days while they kept their mouths shut. And we need people who will share the tears with us, the silence, the worthlessness, the ache, the groaning, without trying to talk us out of it, without trying to fix it, or slap scripture on it to make it all better. So, both the receiving of it, but then, when Paul talks that we offer the comfort to others that we ourselves have received, then it moves outward from having received companionship in suffering. Can I be enlarged, then, to be a companion in suffering to someone else? And so, it moves in in two directions. And Wren, certainly, we see the movement where she can only be a recipient of love and care when she’s so unwell. And then we get to see her modeling, in an incarnational way, that compassion, love, and care for others who are in tender spaces.

    Karen Pascal: It certainly reminds me of the verse in Corinthians about “the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted.”

    Sharon Garlough Brown: Absolutely.

    Karen Pascal: And at the point you need the comfort, you can’t imagine. It’s a resource. It’s just you’re so desperate to hear from God in the circumstances you are in. And then, that amazing word, that you will be a comfort to others is a . . . I have to admit, at the moment that I felt most despair, I felt angry with that word. “I don’t just want to be comforting others, God.” But it’s so true, because God goes to the depth of our need. He’s willing to go where we need him most. And sometimes, it’s through another’s help, but so often it is the reality that God sees the broken heart and can blow his great love into it. 

    I have to ask, are you pregnant with another book? I love your writing. So, I trust that when it comes, it will be this journey that you are already so familiar with, that you and God do together.

    Sharon Garlough Brown: Yes. Well, I’ve just given birth. It hasn’t come out. It’s not available for public viewing yet, but a children’s picture book that’s going to be releasing in the spring, and it is Wren as a little girl, in her grandmother’s art studio, and she is learning to paint her feelings to God. I don’t use the word “lament” in the book, but it translates lament as spiritual practice. So, it’s an invitation for grownups to be alongside children, saying what’s honest and true to God, that we don’t have to be afraid or hide the fullness of how we’re feeling, even our disappointment with God. So, that’s next. 

    And then, I’m not done with these characters, Karen. Shades of Light takes place in the same universe as Sensible Shoes, just nine years later. So, the characters from Sensible Shoes that readers may be familiar with make cameo appearances, to varying degrees, in the Shades of Light series.

    And the timeline of the Shades of Light series finishes in August of 2018. And just a little bit of a plot spoiler, but Wren ends up going to work for a nursing home, as a custodian. That’s what she feels that she can do, and offers a compassionate presence. And when I think about what my Wren would’ve been able to do during the pandemic – caring for the lost, the forgotten, the ignored, those in desperate need of companionship during isolation – I know where she was. I don’t know that I’ll ever write that story. I think probably, if I’m to do another book, we don’t need a pre-pandemic book. We need a post-pandemic book, in terms of how we’re processing losses and upheaval and change. And I think these characters can be beautiful guides as we think about those questions. So, I’m hoping I’m not done with them. They are milling. I know where they are in 2018, 2020, 2022.

    Karen Pascal: Oh, that’s lovely. You know, something I really loved. It’s funny, as you mentioned the pandemic, we’ve been so aware at the Henri Nouwen Society, as we give out daily the meditations that have been written by Henri, so aware of people’s need to hear with his honesty, the vulnerability and the truth he had to offer. Thank you. Because I see you weaving Henri into your book, Shades of Light. How has he been a resource to you?

    Sharon Garlough Brown: It’s his books that really deepened my understanding of what it means to be “at rest in the love of God,” and that everything else springs out of that. But certainly, his work about Vincent has become particularly meaningful, his emphasis on compassion and comfort and solidarity. I love your phrase that you used from him, “downward mobility” – of all that he joyfully left behind to embrace an incarnational presence. And not just what he was able to offer, but what he received. And I think that was even more important than what he was able to offer to that community, but how he was enlarged simply by being with them. And so, I think there’s something profoundly beautiful that humbles me and inspires me in that.

    Karen Pascal: Sharon, thank you so much for this conversation. What a pleasure to talk with you today on Henri Nouwen, Now and Then. Thank you!

    Sharon Garlough Brown: Karen, it’s an honor and a privilege. Thank you so much for your kindness and encouragement.

    Karen Pascal: Thank you for listening to today’s podcast. What an honor for me to spend time with one of my favorite authors, Sharon Garlough Brown. For more resources related to this program, click on the links on the podcast page of our website. You’ll find links to anything mentioned today, as well as book suggestions. I hope you have already signed up to receive our daily meditations, written by Henri Nouwen. If not, you can do that on our website, @HenriNouwen.org. Remember, they’re free and they’re a wonderful way to stay informed about the various things we have to offer to those who enjoy the writings and the teachings of Henri Nouwen. 

    We’d also be so grateful if you would consider donating to the Henri Nouwen Society. Your resources help us share the daily meditations and these podcasts right around the world. If you enjoyed today’s podcast, please take time to give us a review or a thumbs-up, or pass this on to your friends and family. 

    Thanks so much for listening. Until next time.

Praise from our podcast listeners

"A wonderful podcast that does a deep dive into Nouwen's teachings & influence on other leaders."
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