Book Review: Here and Now: Living in the Spirit by Henri J.M. Nouwen

Book Review of Here and Now:Living in the Spirit by Henri J.M. Nouwen. Photo and Review by Jeff McLain.
This is a book review of Here and Now: Living in the Spirit by Henri J.M. Nouwen. This 1997 edition of Here and Now: Living in the Spirit was released by The Crossroad Publishing Company. Through this reflective read, Henri J.M. Nouwen unpacks how the Spirit-filled life is not just an earthly journey to spend eternity with God, but rather it is about experiencing eternity, by the power of the Spirit, in the here and now, where ordinary moments become extraordinary vocations and experiences. 

In his Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, Henri J.M. Nouwen challenges us towards a spiritual journey and way of living that doesn't define life by living in the worries about tomorrow, or dwelling in the anxieties of yesterday, but trusting the Spirit of God with our present reality and moments. It is in the experience of the present that we learn to experience and trust God's Spirit and discipline our life to see every moment as pregnant with possibility. Through eleven short, but packed and reflective chapters, Nouwen looks at what it means to live in the present, find joy in the present, experience conversion in the moment, live disciplined in the here and now, root our spiritual lives into now, slow life down with prayer, grow in compassion in the day to day, and also live out in the present the vocations of family, relationships, and our identity. Besides the 11 chapters, there is a small preface and afterward to the book.

Nouwen points out that “it is hard to live in the present,” because “the past and the future keep harassing us. The past with guilt, the future with worries.”[1] However, it is not just the past and future that keeps us from stepping out in bold faith and contentment, rather and perhaps even worse “than our guilt are our worries. Our worries fill our lives with “What ifs.”[2] Yet, even more “the real enemies of our life are the “oughts” and the “ifs.” [3] Nouwen points out that it is the oughts and ifs that “pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future.”[4] Nouwen gives us disciplines, practices, and a challenge to experience God as Jesus did, “being where and when we are” in the throes of our lives.[5] These disciplines, practices, and challenges help us to learn that “each day, each hour, yes, each minute as a new beginning, as a unique opportunity to make everything new. Imagine that we could live each moment as a moment pregnant with new life.”[6]

Because our lives are so often “restless and so unable to find inner quietude… we can’t wait to get busy again, thus avoiding the confrontation with the chaotic state of our minds and hearts.”[7] Nouwen challenges us to reorient ourselves into the present, confronting the chaotic state of our minds and hearts rather than the chaos. Prayer, he maintains, “is the discipline of the moment.”[8] To pray is not only a confrontation with what is going on inside us but also “to listen attentively to the One who addresses us here and now.”[9]

In Here and Now, Henri presents that living in the here and now is about finding joy in the present, and perhaps “the great challenge of faith is to be surprised by joy.”[10] Additionally, living in the present is about embracing reality. Though it is hard, it is important to “embrace our suffering, trusting that it will lead to a new life.”[11] In life, we can choose to see each moment as an invitation to be further converted to the ways, words, and works of Jesus. Nouwen points out that when we become busy running our own lives, we become “oblivious to the gentle movements of the Spirit of God within [us].” [12] Rather, we must get in tune with what God’s Spirit is doing in us, at the moment, but “it requires a lot of inner solitude and silence to become aware of these divine movements. God does not shout, scream, or push. The Spirit of God is soft and gentle like a small voice or a light breeze.”[13] Knowing what God is saying to us in our present moment is perhaps one of the most important aspects of finding purpose, contentment, and joy.

In addition to listening to what God’s Spirit is saying, we need to live in very disciplined ways to maintain our obedience to what God is saying. Nouwen points out that without discipline, “without a clear goal, we will always be distracted and spend our energy on secondary things.”[14] Only a clear goal will keep us focused on obediently living out what God wants from us. That disciplined life begins with a discipline of prayer, because “by the discipline of prayer; the disciple that helps us to bring God back again and again to the center of our life.”[15] Disciplined living also keeps us centered on God in a world where daily “our society bombards us with a myriad of images and sounds…The words yell and scream at us: “Eat me, drink me, buy me, hire me, look at me, talk with me, sleep with me”! Through the disciplines of prayer and spiritual reading, we can stop our mind from becoming the “garbage can of the world…filled with things that confuse us, excite us, depress us, arouse us, repulse us, or attract us whether we think it is good for us or not.”[16] Disciplined living doesn’t allow others to “decide what enters into our mind and determines our thoughts and feelings?”[17] Disciplined living stays focused on what God is saying to us in the whispers of now.

The reason disciplined living is so hard is not only because of our worries and anxieties, and because of our busyness. It is not only hard because society is bombarding us with the false promises of a sensualized life, but it is also hard because of the pains we carry in life. Nouwen makes a case that “much of our pain comes from our experience of not having been loved well” by our friends and family in our early formation years.[18] Though, he argues that we conquer this deficiency by learning to release our pain, offering forgiveness, but also by embracing “all of our past, the good as well as the bad events, the joyful as well as the sorrowful moments.”[19] It is important to learn that even in the places where pain has happened, God can redeem those moments.

A disciplined life realizes that there is nothing in our own power that can fix our worries and situations, there is no way to “push away our worries with our minds.”[20] Rather, only through prayer that we “will gradually discover that [our] worries become less obsessive and that [we] really start to enjoy praying.[21] Disciplined living also pursues living with compassion in a world where “competition continues to be the dominant mode of relating among people, be it in politics, sports, or economics,” however “all true believers” must learn to “proclaim compassion, not competition, as God's way.”[22] Nouwen defines compassion in this way; “Compassion means to become close to the one who suffers. But we can come close to another person only when we are willing to become vulnerable ourselves.” [23]  Moments of compassion often “are moments without words: moments of deep silence.”[24] This is an important learning journey both for us, and those we are embodying compassion towards, there is always a mutuality of giving and receiving. Everyone who has truly entered into the compassionate life will say: "I have received as much as I have given."”[25]

The life that is disciplined in the Spirit also realizes the importance of vocation or calling in the areas of family, relationships, and personal identity. Those who experience marriage, Nouwen says, must understand that “marriage is foremost a vocation.”[26] That call to marriage recognizes that “marriage is a spiritual reality… a man and a woman come together for life, not just because they experience deep love for each other, but because they believe that God loves each of them with an infinite love and has called them to each other to be living witnesses of that love.”[27] Such is true of all relationships, Nouwen challenges, as he explains that “all human relationships…are meant to be signs of God’s love for humanity as a whole and each person in particular.”[28] This is perhaps most seen in the lives of our children. Nouwen points out that as parents we must see how “children are a gift from God. They are given to us so that we can offer them a safe, loving place to grow to inner and outer freedom. They are like strangers who ask for hospitality, become good friends, and then leave again to continue their journey. They bring immense joy and immense sorrow precisely because they are gifts.”[29]

The vocation of our identity is also essential to living a disciplined life to the Spirit in the here and now. In a world driven by competition, fame, and fortune - “Jesus came to announce to us that an identity based on success, popularity, and power is a false identity – an illusion! Loudly and clearly, he says: “You are not what the world makes you; but you are children of God.”[30] Jesus modeled for us a life “a life of obedience, of attentive listening to the One who called him the Beloved,” and he desires the same for us.[31] Part of living into our vocation well is considering our legacy, but also our death. Nouwen points out that in living in the present, we realize the longing we have for God’s greater restoration, and dying well is important because “we believe that death is not the total dissolution of our identity but the way to its fullest revelation.”[32]

In the chaotic hustle and bustle of our daily lives, Henri J.M. Nouwen's Here and Now: Living in the Spirit serves as a timeless beacon of wisdom and guidance, inviting readers to embrace the transformative power of the present moment. As Nouwen eloquently articulates, the Spirit-filled life transcends mere existence; it is an ongoing journey of discovery and revelation, where every ordinary moment holds the potential for extraordinary encounters with God the Father through the Spirit of God. Through his poignant reflections and practical insights, Nouwen challenges us to relinquish the burdens of the past and future, and instead, to cultivate a deep sense of presence and attentiveness to the whispers of God's Spirit in our midst. In a world fraught with distractions and noise. This read offers a sanctuary of stillness and spiritual discipline, guiding us toward a life rooted in joy, compassion, and purpose. I will be reflecting on this read for years to come.

Highlights & Quotes

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[1] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 17.

[2] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 17.

[3] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 18.

[4] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 18.

[5] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 18.

[6] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 16.

[7] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 21.

[8] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 18.

[9] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 20.

[10] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 30.

[11] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 39.

[12] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 52.

[13] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 52.

[14] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 68.

[15] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 68.

[16] Henri J.M. NouwenHere and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 71.

[17] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 71.

[18] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 78.

[19] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 81.

[20] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 89.

[21] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 91.

[22] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 98.

[23] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 105.

[24] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 106.

[25] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 107.

[26] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 126.

[27] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 126.

[28] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 127.

[29] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 118.

[30] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 134-135.

[31] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 136.

[32] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1997), 139.


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