Genesee DiaryGenesee Diary
by Henri Nouwen

I’ve been reading Nouwen for quite a few years now, ever since I was pointed in that direction by a friend in my Thursday night church group. This book isn’t organized around a single topic or theme, but is simply a personal journal of a year that the author spent in the Trappist Abbey of the Genesee in Piffard, NY. Like any diary, it takes one day at a time, recording impressions and thoughts as they come, trusting that a clearer vision of their direction and meaning will come later on.

I love the way Nouwen writes about the human experience of God’s presence. He doesn’t use stiff theological and doctrinal language, but speaks in a natural way about encountering God in the ordinary efforts and wonders of everyday life. I’ve always struggled with discouragement when reading much of traditional church-oriented religious writing. Nouwen writes from a perspective the seems less focused in church and more focused in God, however and wherever he speaks to us.

My favorite story from this book is the one about picking the stones out of the raisins in order to prepare to make the raisin bread, a mundane task that resembles so much of my own daily work, yet one in which God is present. This is where Nouwen speaks my kind of language. How do I get through the busy-work that occupies every one of my days, without losing sight of the patient friend at my side? When I remember to turn my head aside from the work for a glimpse of him, I can’t miss him working beside me. But how do I remind myself to turn my head that way, when the work itself pressures me to give it all my mind? It’s not that I want to neglect the work, rather that I want to not neglect the presence of my divine comrade. Nouwen wrestled with this issue himself, and following him as he learns how to see God in the monotony of raisin-cleaning is a help to a reader like me, too.