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Nouwen had never expected to publish this book, which he referred to as his 'secret journal'. What he had written as affirmations to himself as he traveled through a time of deep personal crisis seemed too raw and private to be shared publicly. Eventually, though, friends encouraged him that his readers would benefit from knowing the fierce inner battle which had birthed the deep spiritual insights which characterised his later years. Eight years after the crisis, The Inner Voice of Love was published. It was 1996, the year in which Nouwen died.
At the close of this series, I am personally grateful that Nouwen was willing to share his anguish and his journey to freedom. Over the years I've come to know Nouwen as a teacher and author rooted confidently in God's unconditional love. The Return of the Prodigal Son absolutely radiates this confidence, and I often suggest it as a must-read for those with whom I work. The Inner Voice of Love reveals that this confidence was hard fought for. He learned to activate his faith that he was loved by God out of his own desperate need to experience God's love and affirmation. His 'notes to self' show his readers also how to forge our own paths toward being secure in our knowledge of this truth.
Nouwen writes that during his crisis "I wondered whether I would be able to hold on to my life. Everything came crashing down--my self-esteem, my energy to live and work, my sense of being loved, my hope for healing, my trust in God everything. Here I was, a writer about the spiritual life, known as someone who loves God and gives hope to people, flat on the ground and in total darkness" (from the Introduction).
His authenticity, one of the characteristic strengths of his ministry, offers us a window into the depth of his crisis, and the secret of his overcoming. Eight years later, Nouwen reflects back on the time of crisis: "What once seemed such a curse has become a blessing. All the agony that threatened to destroy my life now seems like the fertile ground for greater trust, stronger hope, and deeper love." There is a testimony to God's power at work in weakness, and that the poor in spirit offer rich soil for God's transforming work.
In the daily reflections of this series, I quote liberally from the book and then pose questions for reflection with the intent to make Nouwen's affirmations deeply personal and relevant for your life today. If you missed the series, you may follow it at my blog (also on Facebook). Read slowly, which is how Nouwen suggests reading his book. Bite-sized reflection will make this series most beneficial.
*(Dutch translations: The Inner Voice of Love is published as Binnen Geroepen and The Return of the Prodigal Son, Eindelijk Thuis).