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Friday, January 16, 2015

Formation Friday: Henri Nouwen

"The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it."

These are the words of Henri Nouwen (pronounced Now-in), Roman Catholic Priest, Psychologist, Professor, and world-renowned author.

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) was born in Nijkerk, Holland, the eldest of 4 children. He was ordained as a Priest in 1957, and after studying both Psychology and Theology, he spent 20 years as a professor at several prestigious schools, including Yale and Harvard. It was during these years that his name became internationally known as the author of numerous books such as "The Wounded Healer."

As an author, Nouwen was influential in a number of areas. His writing was focused on spiritual formation, psychology, social justice, and community. Throughout his works, there emerge three themes: solitude, community, and compassion. To Nouwen, these three function as the disciplines which "create space for God" in the Christian Life. It is by creating this space that we begin to hear God speak, to see the ways in which He is moving around us. Nouwen wrote,

"I believe you can look at solitude, community, and ministry as three disciplines by which we create space for God. If we create space in which God can act and speak, something surprising will happen. You and I are called to these disciplines if we want to be disciples."

It was this conviction which led Henri to completely alter his course of life. Although he enjoyed great success as a professor and author, Nouwen was spiritually restless. He found that his time in "the ivory tower" of academia and book writing isolated him from the life of community which he saw Jesus modeling in the Gospels.

So, after 20 years as a professor and author, Nouwen left the university life for the compassionate life. He took a position at L'Arche, an international network of communities created to serve the mentally handicapped. For the final 10 years of his life, Nouwen served at Daybreak, one of the communities located in Ontario, Canada. This internationally known author was now a personal assistant to the mentally handicapped within the walls of an unknown community in Canada. He spent his days providing basic care by cooking, cleaning, encouraging, praying, and living life with those inside the home.

Nouwen has had a great deal of influence on my life. His writings and his life have molded my perception of what it means to be a child of God. I pray that his words and his life will speak to the deepest recesses of your heart and mind, as they have for me.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

"Jesus' life was a life of obedience. He was always listening to the Father, always attentive to His voice, always alert for his directions. Jesus was "all ear." That is true prayer: being all ear for God. The core of all prayer is indeed listening, obediently standing in the presence of God...A spiritual discipline, therefore, is the concentrated effort to create some inner and outer space in our lives, where this obedience can be practiced." (Making All Things New)

"I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found." (The Return of the Prodigal Son)

"Joy and resentment cannot coexist." (The Return of the Prodigal Son)

"The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world--free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless.... I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries."


If you want to read more from Henri Nouwen, here are the books I recommend:


Evan Smith

is a Pastor currently living in Phoenix, AZ. He majored in New Testament Studies at Ozark Christian College. Born and raised in Texas, he grew up the third-born of 7 kids and loved (almost) every minute of it! He is happily married to his high school sweetheart, Breanna, and has two wonderful kids, Hannah Joy and Peter. More than anything, Evan wants to be a man who is marked by a hunger for God.

The God who came, still comes. The God who spoke, still speaks.”

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