The Common Good
November-December 1996

Nouwen's Symphony of Movements

by Bob Hulteen | November-December 1996

Worthy Of Note

Worthy Of Note

Nouwen's Symphony Of Movements
By Bob Hulteen

When I told friends I was rereading Henri Nouwen's books as part of a tribute to him, I not only was loaned books, I was also treated to poignant stories about how he had touched people's lives. He seemed ever-so-slightly to change people on contact.

A psychologist by vocation, Nouwen was a leader in the movement to bring spirituality back to his profession. For decades, the field of psychology had retreated from religious devotion, usually even blaming it (all too often rightly) for increasing psychological unhealth. Nouwen saw another path, and he chose it.

Nouwen, as prolific as he was insightful, really does not have a seminal work. Instead, each book is a steppingstone for the journey. His greatest contributions, in my opinion, are centered on a deep psychological reinterpretation of the Golden Rule: Nouwen sees health in the act of loving God and others as ourselves. These three foci of love form his holy triad.

In Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (Doubleday, 1975), Nouwen identifies personal movement from loneliness to solitude (our relationship to ourselves); from hostility to hospitality (our relationship to others); and from illusion to prayer (our relationship to God). The often painful paths toward wholeness come in these movements.

Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life (Ave Maria Press, 1974) is his attempt to expand on the first movement. In this small and meaningful offering, Nouwen encapsulates his commitment to action and contemplation. In the tension of these two elements of the life of faith, Nouwen creates home, and invites us in to share.

Nouwen was not one to withdraw from the world simply to "contemplate." He believed in deep engagement with the world-in the life of people with disabilities, in anti-nuclear organizing, in the crisis in Central America. !Gracias! A Latin American Journal (HarperCollins, 1983) is Nouwen's journal reflections on his travels in Central America; his commitment to the renewal of the world through proximity to the poor is palpable in this book. And in With Open Hands (Ave Maria Press, 1972) Nouwen says "conversion is not only necessarily for yourself and your neighbors, but for the entire Christian community."

With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life (Orbis Books, 1994) acts as a compass in our journey toward God. Nouwen feels that the Eucharist, interpreted through the disciples' experience on the road to Emmaus, is paradigmatic: Our mistaken perceptions and illusions are broken along with the bread, and we too can see the true God.

Movement was an essential theme for Nouwen. In Intimacy: Pastoral Psychological Essays (Fides/Claretian Publishers, 1969), it is the movement from magic to faith; in The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Meditation on Fathers, Brothers, and Sons (Doubleday, 1992), a powerful exploration of the dramatic return of the son as depicted by Rembrandt's painting, it is the movement from grief to compassion. In several works the movement is from woundedness, grief, or sorrow to return, acceptance, and reconciliation. Nouwen challenged us, as we mourn, to be open to God's grace.

And Nouwen opened for us his own pain: Beyond the Mirror: Reflections on Death and Life (Crossroad Publishing, 1990) tells of the accident that almost ended his own life, and A Letter of Consolation (HarperSanFrancisco, 1982) was written for his father six months after his mother's death. In Memoriam (Ave Maria Press, 1980) is his own reflection of her death, and in it we can recognize our own grief in his open sharing.

Sometimes Nouwen's insight may touch a too-tender part, and seem to ask too much-to believe in life as a gift, to accept that the grace he points to is not a finger pointing in judgment. Nouwen's writing is so gentle and intimate that many of us have felt his companionship.

 

ADDITIONAL BOOKS BY HENRI J.M. NOUWEN

Aging: The Fulfillment of Life. With Walter J. Gaffney. Doubleday, 1976.

Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying With Icons. Ave Maria Press, 1987.

Clowning in Rome: Reflections on Solitude, Celibacy, Prayer, and Contemplation. Image/Doubleday, 1979.

Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life. With Donald P. McNeill and Douglas A. Morrison. Image/Doubleday, 1983.

Creative Ministry. Doubleday, 1991.

A Cry for Mercy: Prayers From the Genesee. Orbis Books, 1981.

The Genesee Diary: Report From a Trappist Monastery. Doubleday, 1976.

Heart Speaks to Heart: Three Prayers to Jesus. Ave Maria Press, 1989.

In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. Crossroad Publishing, 1995.

The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom. Doubleday, 1996.

Jesus and Mary: Finding Our Sacred Center. St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1993.

Letters to Marc About Jesus. HarperSanFrancisco, 1988.

Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World. Crossroad Publishing, 1992.

Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective. Image/Doubleday, 1990.

The Living Reminder: Service and Prayer in Memory of Jesus Christ. HarperSanFrancisco, 1984.

Making All Things New: An Invitation to Life in the Spirit. HarperSanFrancisco, 1981.

Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring. HarperSanFrancisco, 1994.

The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey. Doubleday, 1988.

Show Me the Way: Readings for Each Day of Lent. Crossroad Publishing, 1992.

Thomas Merton: Contemplative Critic. Liguori Publications, 1992.

Walk With Jesus: Stations of the Cross. Orbis Books, 1990.

The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry. HarperSanFrancisco, 1981.

The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. Doubleday, 1972.

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