Highlights #1: The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery by Henri Nouwen

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The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery is Henri Nouwen’s journal of his seven-month stay in the Abbey of the Genesee in upstate New York. His reflections on daily life with the Trappists are funny, wise, profound and down to earth. Nouwen’s goal is simply to record what it’s like to pass the time in a cloistered community.

Here are some of the passages that I highlighted:

I have not learned yet to make the work of my hands into prayer. Page 12

There is a contemplative way of working that is more important for me than praying, reading, or singing. Page 12

The Christian life on earth is simply the beginning of our heavenly existence. Page 13

Sadness is often the result of our attachments to the world. Page 15

The Lord is at the center of all things and yet in such a quiet, unobtrusive, elusive way. He lives with us, even physically, but not in the same physical way that other elements are present to us. Page 19

Contemplative life is a human response to the fundamental fact that the central things in life, although spiritually perceptible, remain invisible in large measure and can very easily be overlooked by the inattentive, busy, distracted person that each of us can so readily become. The contemplative looks not so much around things but through them into their center. Through their center he discovers the world of spiritual beauty that is more real, has more density, more mass, more energy, and greater intensity than physical matter. In effect, the beauty of physical matter is a reflection of its inner content. Contemplation is a response to a world that is built in this fashion. Page 20

If I could just live the day quietly, then my mind would be more vacant for God and freer for the simple things of every moment. Page 21

Some things are unexplainable. Page 21

I keep thinking about distracting things and wonder if I ever will be “empty for God.” Page 22

The spiritual life does not consist of any special thoughts, ideas, or feelings but is contained in the most simple ordinary experiences of everyday living. Page 24

Moods are worth attention. Page 24

There is a healthy form of “indifference.” Page 25

I want to be committed without becoming a fanatic and open-minded without becoming wishy-washy… page 26

Anger often reveals how you feel and think about yourself and how important you’ve made your own ideas and insight. Page 27

Anger is indeed one of the main obstacles of the spiritual life. Page 29

Anger bars my way to God. Page 29

I am the source of my own anger and no one else. Page 30

The question is not, “Do I have time to prepare?” But, “Do I live in a state of preparedness?” Page 59

Here and now is what counts. Page 60

In the contemplative life every conflict, inner or outer, small or large, can be seen as the tip of an iceberg, the expressive part of something deeper and larger. It is worthwhile, even necessary, to explore that which is underneath the surface of our daily actions, thoughts, and feelings. Page 64

I become more and more aware that for me writing is a very powerful way of concentrating and of clarifying for myself many thoughts and feelings. Once I put my pen on paper and write for an hour or two, a real sense of peace and harmony comes to me. Page 103

Writing about prayer is often very painful since it makes you so aware of how far away you are from the ideal you write about. People who read your ideas tend to think that your writings reflect your life. Page 104

I have a sense of inner contamination… page 113

It almost seems as if it is impossible to speak and not sin. Even in the most elevated discussion, something enters that seems to pollute the atmosphere. Page 113

It always seems that there is something more urgent and more important than prayer. Page 118

There is a great difference between single-mindedness and narrow-mindedness. Page 121

Heschel tells the beautiful story of the Polish Jew who stopped praying “because of what happened in Auschwitz.” Later, however, he started to pray again. When asked, “What made you change your mind?” He answered, “It suddenly dawned on me to think how lonely God must be; look with whom he is left. I felt sorry for him. Page 122

Nouwen tells the story of visiting a hermit on the grounds of Genesee. The old man said, “Isn’t the rain beautiful?” He said. “Why do we keep resisting rain? Why do we only want the sun when we should be willing to be soaked by the rain? The Lord wants to soak us with his grace and love. Isn’t it marvelous when we can feel the Lord in so many ways and get to know him better and better! He lets us experience his presence even now in all that surrounds us. Imagine how it must be when we can see him face-to-face!” Page 136

The ideal of the monk is to live in the presence of God, to pray, read, work, eat, and sleep in the company of his Divine Lord. Monastic life is the continuing contemplation of the mysteries of God, not just during the periods of silent meditation but during all parts of the day. Page 148

God dwells only where man steps back to give him room. Page 148

To live a spiritual life is to live in the presence of God. Page 152