Book Review: Henri Nouwen: His Life and Spirit

I don’t typically jump up and get excited about reading biographies. Maybe I’m still scarred from my school days or maybe I just haven’t read any truly excellent biographies. They always seem to me to end up “and then so-and-so did this, then this happened, then so-and-so met what’s-his-name and they went there.” The word dry comes to mind. I don’t know, I just usually can’t quite get into them. Henri Nouwen: His Life and Spirit by Kevin Burns was thankfully not like any biography I’ve ever read.

Book Review: Henri Nouwen: His Life and Spirit reviewed by Kate Taliaferro at dailygraces.netI didn’t know a whole lot about Henri Nouwen prior to reading this biography which is one reason why I decided to give it a go. I knew he was a big name in Christian spirituality and was around the time of Vatican II. I had read a few excerpts of his works here and there and recall being impressed by his depth and ability to find say something very meaningful in only a few simple words.

Kevin Burns was able to elevate the genre of biography for me. Rather than recapping the story of Nouwen’s life, Burns found a way to almost paint his life with words. The book is very aptly named: Henri Nouwen: His Life and Spirit. I do walk away from this book with facts about who Nouwen was and what his life consisted of. But more importantly I feel as though I have been offered a glimpse of the spirit of Nouwen, which is really the whole point of his life. To put it another way:

As his brother [Laurent] says, “I see the way we look at Henri today, and a lot of people who read his books today that do not know him from a personal side. They create another person, generally a very nice person, a wise person. They do not realize that he paid dearly for what he wrote” (107).

I’m sure it was tempting for Burns to “create” this nice, wise person as the central focus of his biography. However, through diligence, patience and an incredible amount of time, it appears to me that he managed to tell Henri’s story while including the reader in some of Henri’s more difficult moments and struggles. In many ways the hardships which Henri weathered are the source of some of his most genius works and contributions in Christian spirituality.

Of course, it is impossible to tell the story of someone’s life in a book. Kevin Burns freely admits that and explains in his introduction

The book in…your hands offers a composite portrait of Henri Nouwen…This portrait is assembled from observations by a small but close group of people who knew him well, and from my own reading of his books…I try, though, to capture something of the spirit and intensity of his life, recognizing the impossibility of trying to capture in words the entirety of any person’s life journey (xii-xiii).

In my opinion, Burns has done an excellent job in his efforts to share the spirit of Henri with us.

Book Review: At Play in God’s Creation

I’m not an artist by any means. I’m more of a following the pattern, stay inside the lines kind of person. I’m always amazed by what people can dBook Review: AT Play in God's Creation found on Daily Graces at dailygraces.neto with a blank piece of paper or a yard of material. I was excited, as so many others were, when adult coloring books became a thing in the past year or so. Now I can color with my kids and not be limited to dinosaurs or disney princesses. As the trend has caught on, some authors and artists are starting to use the coloring books as a vehicle for contemplation, centering and as an alternative, creative way to work out one’s feelings. Tara M. Owens (author) and Daniel W. Sorensen (illustrator) have crafted a new coloring book called At Play in God’s Creation that is designed as,

“An invitation to meditation and contemplative prayer and, we believe, a gateway into deeper presence with the Holy One through the creative acts of coloring, quieting and reflecting.”

The book is full of quotes from various saints that are woven into the coloring pages in a unobtrusive way. They catch your eye without claiming it, encouraging you to read them over and over again as you color around their words.

Book Review: At Play in God's Creation by Daily Graces at
Copyright 2016 Kate Taliaferro
Book Review: At Play in God's Creation by Daily Graces at
Copyright 2016 Kate Taliaferro

I found it so interesting how certain motifs were repeated throughout the coloring book. Other coloring books I’ve encountered are a series of beautiful designs, clearly drawn by the same hand, but without repetition. In At Play in God’s Creationyou find one page depicting a shepherd walking at night holding a lantern while keeping watch over his sheep with a prayer asking God to keep watch over all who need assistance, hope or protection. The next page contains a close up of that same shepherd holding his lantern aloft whose light streams across the whole scene with a quote from St. Hildegard of Bingen about how all living things are sparks of radiance that stream forth from God.

Also, hidden throughout the book, are symbols Owens and Sorensen chose to represent key figures such as St. Therese of Lisieux, St. John of the Cross and St. Augustine. These symbols are found in almost every page, acting as guides as you work your way through the swirling pathways, celtic knots, crashing waves and rays of light.

If you like to color you should check this book out. There are almost 100 pages of coloring, prayer and reflection just waiting for you to create your own masterpiece. What is so unique about this book is that not only will you be able to hang your new piece of art on your wall, you will also have a new point of connection with God. This book is truly a call to prayer, a new way to immerse yourself in the Holy.

Daily Graces.

Book Review: Mary’s Way

Book Review: Mary's Way by Daily Graces at kktaliaferro.wordpress.comI am the kind of person who likes to dive right into a book. I fully commit, reading quickly and absorbing the story or purpose in most of my free moments. I enjoy how different authors’ develop their characters or forward their message through the written word.’s latest book Mary’s Way: The Power of Entrusting Your Child to God by Judy Landrieu Klein was a book that though I enjoyed as a whole, I could not read the way I usually do.

Judy Klein’s life has been tumultuous to put it lightly. Her family has suffered through the pains of death, addiction, debilitating anxiety and many other trials. Klein herself also worked through a series of conversions on her way to Catholicism, coming to terms with extreme feminism and a need for control. Reflecting back on her life, Klein shows the reader how the major events of Mary’s life provide a unique lens for understanding the trials she and her family have walked through.

As each chapter of her life unfolds, Klein explores with the reader how the more she surrendered to God’s will, the more she emulated Mary’s fiat or yes to God’s will at the Annunciation, the deeper her faith grew. It allowed her to grow through her trials, seeing how God can use even the most devastating moments as a channel for grace.

Klein’s ability to impact her readers’ hearts, and especially my own, is through her gift to tell a story gently but not without giving the reader the full weight of what happened. Her stories wrenched my heart in ways that few books ever have. This is not a book to push through, it’s one to cry over, re-read, maybe cry again, and together with Klein see how there truly was light and grace through it all. Klein herself puts it best:

One must stand in the tension between the grief of death and the hope of new life to embrace resurrection’s paradox: it is through death that we find life, by dying that we rise, and only by losing our life that we find it.

If you are struggling with your own fiat, this book is for you. If you aren’t quite sure what it means to surrender your life to God’s will, this book is definitely for you. If you need encouragement as you seek to discover your fiat, this book is absolutely for you. Just make sure you have tissues at the ready.

Daily Graces.