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August 15, 2012 Chris McDonnell, UK
is sometimes all too easy to be overwhelmed by the spate of critical comment in
the press and on the web as different positions are argued and resentment with
authority expressed with varying degrees of charity. Let me say at once that I
too have contributed to this ongoing discussion, hopefully positively yet hugely
anxious at the direction we seem to be taking.
others have struggled in earlier years with debate in their own lives but have
to the end remained faithful to the Gospel of the Lord. One such was the Dutch
priest, Henri Nouwen.
first came to the writing of Henri Nouwen through reading Thomas Merton.
discussion with a Sister of Notre Dame (SND) in the late eighties, I mentioned
my interest in Merton. It was she who directed me to Nouwen and in particular to
the Genesee Diary. The honesty of
that book led me on to explore other writings of his and so my appetite for his
writing grew. I have ended up with a good few of his books on my shelf. I
enjoyed the journal format of much of his writing, the realization that words
committed to paper were the result of a lived experience. Out
of Solitude in particular I read and re-read. His oft-repeated
concern: that there is a necessity to share the suffering of others, not with
high flown words, but just by being there, being alongside those in need, the
silence of the caring hug, the touch of shared concern.
have been attempting to write over many years, but it was about this time that I
began writing with greater regularity. The juxtaposition of words and
photographs in With Open Hands I
used in various ways. In the early 90’s I wrote to Henri in
quite unexpectedly, a copy of With
Open Hands arrived in the post.
wrote on the title page: “To Chris McDonnell: your poems are very beautiful
and deeply moving. I am grateful to God for your gift of “Song and Praise”
– peace and love, Henri Nouwen”. His
willingness to give time to someone he had never met and the encouragement he
gave me to continue writing is an example of the individual care that was
central to his life.
1996 I wrote him a letter and received no reply, only to read his Obituary a few
weeks later in the Tablet. There was indeed a sense of loss.
recently occasioned this piece, on the 15th anniversary of his death.
We exchanged some
and a book or two, back in ‘95 and ‘96
until, just after I had written him and received
I came across the Notice of his passing, and
felt a loss.
The gift of his
book remains with me
signed and inscribed with generous words,
his name undimmed, his voice of Christ
significant, in these, our Autumn days.
(And yes, the first part of the
Games are over. The Para-Olympics begin in late August. What a glorious
festival of sport and excitement, mercifully, trouble free.)