Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Gift Book from God

I want to share a little story with you about a spiritual classic that I first read in my early twenties: The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton, a monk at Gethsemane in Kentucky, who died in 1968. At the time I discovered this book, I was struggling (as ever!) with my Catholicism. Merton's autobiography chronicles his upbringing as the son of a non-Catholic, nonreligious artist; his self-absorbed youth; and his restless young adulthood. Eventually, his hunger for more led him to find God in the Roman Catholic Church, and he entered the monastery.

Merton's descriptions of encountering Christ in the Eucharist flooded my heart with love for God and for the Church who draws Him so near to us. It was profoundly moving, and as a result, I have read several books by and about Merton.

This, in turn, led me to discover another great spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen. Nouwen's writings are so full of love for God and his people that they filled my own heart with even greater desire to know God. Nouwen, too, was a restless seeker, and went from post to post, including teaching stints at Notre Dame, Harvard, and Yale. Eventually, he found his vocation at the L'Arche community of Daybreak in Toronto, Canada, where he lived with and served the mentally handicapped.

Although I love all of Nouwen's work, I was particularly delighted to read his Encounters with Merton: Spiritual Reflections which seemed to bring both of my brilliant spiritual mentors into clearer focus.

Alas, as time passes, the fire from these readings fades. So, when a friend of mine who loves to browse used bookstores asked me if there was any book I'd like her to scout for me, I immediately requested The Seven Storey Mountain, as my original copy was long gone and I wished to re-read it.

I never believed she'd find a copy, but when my birthday rolled around, she happily presented me with the book. I accepted her gift, turning it over in my hands. It was a hardbound copy with a plain dark cover, and in great condition. Wondering if perhaps she'd found a first edition, I opened it.

Copyright, 1948. A first-year edition, but with no "First Edition" mark. What gave me goosebumps was the signature of the previous owner, H. Nouwen. Below that was an inked stamp: HENRI J. M. NOUWEN Dept. of Psychology University of Notre Dame. The book came from my friend; the gift, though, came from God.

1 comment:

  1. Your story gave me goosebumps! What a treasure has found you. You may also enjoy writings of Jean Vanier. If I remember correctly, in the 60's he was instrumental in setting up the first L'Arche communities of handicapped people and those who felt called to care for them.