“Here and Now: Living in the Spirit” by Henri J.M.
As the title suggests, this book is about living in the moment. Normally the front cover of a book is forgettable, but what graces this cover is an intentional reminder of a life lived in the moment: Vincent Van Gogh’s La Meridienne (The Siesta). Not your typical spiritual guide, Nouwen isn’t inviting us to travel the world and join with missionaries, he’s not inviting us to any work at all. He instead invites us to recognize what God has placed directly in front of us and to rest in the holiness the current moment provides.
An easy read of only 174 pages in 11 chapters he wastes no time expanding needlessly on any subject, telling us of his own experiences, reflections, and insights. Nouwen covers joy, suffering, disciplined living, the spiritual life, prayer, relationships, and many other subjects. Nouwen writes in the preface how he came to be writing his book, “One day I simply sat down behind my desk and began to write down thoughts and feelings that emerged from my mind and heart.” He goes on to say, “I found I was writing about myself, my friends and family, and my God, all connected in many intricate ways.”
I read this book only a few pages at a time, taking from it a daily lesson and rarely more. As accessible as the author is, one could easily finish this book on a Sunday afternoon, but taking more time to digest and embrace the lessons taught may be more profitable. Nouwen writes directly to his audience, he is personal and relatable, not trying to write anything lofty, overly deep, or even necessarily original, but simply an honest account of his life and path to joy and contentment in his Christian religion.
“Prayer is the discipline of the moment.” He writes this early in the book while speaking of distractions and all that pulls us away from being attentive to what’s going on around us. His own distractions include thoughts of family, friends, sufferings, complaints, and what he calls a deafness, in which he doesn’t even listen to himself while he prays, let alone God. He spends much of the book addressing this deafness and constantly calling us out of it and inviting us to hear the call of God. “If we could just be, for a few minutes each day, fully where we are, we would indeed discover that we are not alone and that the One who is with us wants only one thing: to give us love.”
Nouwen was born in Holland, and spent much of his career as a professor at Harvard, Yale, and Notre Dame. He served people suffering from AIDS, at a time when the disease was still highly misunderstood and stigmatized. For the last 10 years of his life, he lived and worked with physically and mentally challenged people in Toronto, Canada. People complained that he was wasting his talents. He writes of what he calls ‘Downward mobility,’ moving towards those who are suffering and sharing in their pain. The most striking chapter for me was on compassion. He writes, “When I reflect on my own life, I realize that the moments of greatest comfort and desolation were moments when someone said, ‘I cannot take your pain away, I cannot offer you a solution for your problem, but I can promise you that I won’t leave you alone and will hold on to you as long and as well as I can.'”
Intimate and to the point ‘Here and Now’ is the book I recommend if all you need is a guide for how to live your day today.