Book Review-With Burning Hearts by Henri Nouwen

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With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life  Henri J. M. Nouwen

Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2003 (illustrated version).

Emotional Response-5

Scholarly Response-4

My response-

Using the story of the walk to Emmaus (Luke 24) as his guide, Nouwen invites us to sit with the sacrament of communion and find ways to bring the awe and wonder back to this sacrament.

We are reminded that we can bring our broken hearts to Christ’s table and there we will be joined with others who have broken hearts too. We are called to respond to our losses not with resentment but with gratitude (34). Nouwen urges us to take responsibility for our part in human brokenness. Only after accepting responsibility can we respond in gratitude.

I first read this book while in the midst of deep grief and wondered how do you hold in your heart all nature speaking of her and the new beginning when you still miss her so much? After much reflection, the answer is to come to the table as I am and be willing to be transformed. Eating at Christ’s table and being part of a faith community doesn’t immediately remove your pain. It does give you a place to share with others who have had pain in their lives. It gives you a place to be a giver and a receiver and a call to go out into the world with what you have learned. The word transforms us and transforms our worldview.

“That’s the Eucharistic life, the life in which everything becomes a way of saying “Thank you” to him who joined us on the road” (126). I recommend this book to anyone who wants to think more about living a life filled with thanksgiving. While the book is not challenging to read, it may challenge the way you think about others, the sacrament of communion, and yourself.

1. Mourning Our Losses “Lord, Have Mercy”

“If there is any word that summaries well our pain, it is the word loss” (24).

“To grieve is to allow our losses to tear apart feelings of security and safety and lead us to the painful truth of our brokenness. Our grief makes us experience the abyss of our own life in which nothing is settled, clear, or obvious, but everything is constantly shifting and changing” (30).

“Living Eucharistically is living life as a gift, a gift for which one is grateful” (34).

“The prayer for God’s mercy comes from a heart that knows that this human brokenness is not a fatal condition of which we have the become the sad victim, but the bitter fruit of the human choice to say “No” to love” (36).

2. Discerning the Presence “This is the Word of God”

“We cannot live without words that come from God, words to pull us out of our sadness and lift us up to a place from where we can discover what we are truly living” (51).

These words “make Jesus himself present to us” (51).

“When we say that God’s word is sacred, we mean that God’s word is full of God’s presence” (55).

“Our little stories are lifted up into God’s great story and there given their unique place. The word lifts us up and makes us see that our daily, ordinary lives are, in fact, sacred lives that play a necessary role in the fulfillment of God’s promises” (59).

3. Inviting the Stranger “I Believe”

“When your dearest friend has died, all of nature speaks of her…But as you keep walking forward with someone at your side, opening your heart to the mysterious truth that your friend’s death was not just the end but also a new beginning, not just the cruelty of fate, but the necessary way to freedom, not just an ugly and gruesome destruction,, but a suffering leading to glory, then you can gradually discern a new song sounding through creation, and going home corresponds to the deepest desire of your heart” (64-65).

“Maybe we are not used to thinking about the Eucharist as an invitation to Jesus to stay with us. We are more inclined to think about Jesus inviting us to his house, his table, his meal. But Jesus wants to be invited” (67).

“Without an invitation, which is the expression of a desire for a lasting relationship, the good news that we have heard cannot bear lasting fruit. It remains “news” among the many types of news that bombard us each day” (69).

4. Entering into Communion “Take and Eat”

“The Eucharist is the most ordinary and the most divine gesture imaginable. That is the truth of Jesus. So human, yet so divine; so familiar, yet so mysterious, so close, yet so revealing!” (82-83).

“Eucharist is recognition. It is the full realization that the one who takes, blesses, breaks, and gives is the One who, from the beginning of time, has desired to enter into communion with us” (88-89).

“Here we touch one of the most sacred aspects of the Eucharist: the mystery that the deepest communion with Jesus is a communion that happens in his absence” (90).

“Community creates community, because the God living in us makes us recognize the God in our fellow humans” (96). “Thus communion not only creates community, but community always leads to mission” (97).

5. Going on a Mission “Go and Tell”

“Jesus calls us to the same sequence from communion to community to ministry” (113).

“In the long run, mission is possible only when it is as much receiving as giving as much being cared for as caring” (115).

“But when the giver receives and the receiver gives, the circle of love, begun in the community of the disciples, can grow as wide as the world” (116).