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September 21 – Henri Nouwen

Today’s Bible reading

Read Colossians 3:1-3

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

More thoughts for meditation about Henri Nouwen (1932-1996)

On this day in 1996, Father Henri Nouwen died at age 64. Henri is a favorite author of many of us at Circle of Hope. Born in the Netherlands, he taught in universities abroad and at Yale, Harvard and Notre Dame. The last decade of his life, he spent in the L’Arche community of Toronto, sharing his life with community members with severe disabilities. Henri’s transparency, intelligence and faith brought him many readers. He has led many of us to deeply value solitude and contemplative practices.

In this excerpt from The Way of the Heart Henri reflects on the call to solitude that led the Desert Fathers and Mothers (and us, still today) to understand their gifts by fleeing the shipwreck of the society of their day:

“Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people’s fatal state and have lost the power and motivation to swim for our lives.”

Other Nouwen quotes:

“As soon as we are alone…inner chaos opens up in us. This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again. Entering a private room and shutting the door, therefore, does not mean that we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings and impulsive desires. On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distraction, we often find that our inner distraction manifest themselves to us in full force. We often use the outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New and Other Classics

“Aren’t you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? Don’t you often hope: ‘May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.’ But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out. This is the way to spiritual death.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life

“For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.

Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming

Want more?

The Henri Nouwen Society can tell you everything: [link]

On Nouwen’s struggles with celibacy and orientation: [link]

Suggestions for action

Nouwen is famous for encouraging self-reliant and denial-ridden Christians to accept their neediness and self-delusion. He taught that healers are wounded, like Jesus.

Are you avoiding solitude because your outer distractions are helping you avoid your inner turmoil and the struggle of spiritual development? Probably. We, as a community, are devoted to going deep with God, but we know that many of us are trying to stay shallow. Let God pull you under. Be receptive to being loved, not just avoiding the realization that you don’t love or are not loved well.

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