Henri Nouwen: Seeking a Spiritual Life on Earth

Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen (Nouen), (Nijkerk, January 24, 1932 – Hilversum, September 21, 1996) was a Dutch-born Catholic priest and writer who authored 40 books about spirituality.

Nouwen’s books are still being read today. His books include The Wounded Healer, In the Name of Jesus, Clowning in Rome, The Life of the Beloved and The Way of the Heart. After nearly two decades of teaching at the Menninger Foundation Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, and at the University of Notre Dame, Yale University and Harvard University, he went to work with mentally challenged people at the L’Arche community of Daybreak in Toronto, Canada.

While visiting the community, he saw a photograph of Rembrandt‘s “The return of the prodigal son”, that made a deep impression on him. He decided to see the painting personally and traveled to Saint Petersburg (Leningrad at that time) to visit the Hermitage Museum where it is kept. This resulted in a several day contemplation of the painting, and the book of the same name, probably his most famous.

After a long period of declining energy, which he chronicled in his final book, Sabbatical Journey, he died in September 1996 from a sudden heart attack.

His spirituality was influenced notably by his friendship with Jean Vanier. At the invitation of Vanier, Nouwen visited L’Arche in France, the first of over 130 communities around the world where people with developmental disabilities live with those who care for them. In 1986 Nouwen accepted the position of pastor for a L’Arche community called “Daybreak” in Canada, near Toronto. Nouwen wrote about his relationship with Adam, a core member at L’Arche Daybreak with profound developmental disabilities, in a book titled Adam: God’s Beloved. Father Nouwen was a good friend of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

The results of a Christian Century magazine survey conducted in 2003 indicate that Nouwen’s work was a first choice of authors for Catholic and mainline Protestant clergy.[1]

One of his most famous works is Inner Voice of Love, his diary from December 1987 to June 1988 during one of his most serious bouts with clinical depression.

Prior to his death in 1996, Nouwen entrusted Sue Mosteller with his estate, making her the literary executrix of his works.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Nouwen

Henri Nouwen is a man many people can relate to. He spent most of his adult life seeking a better relationship with God.

I am certain if we met Henri today, before too long he would tell us that he is a “Wounded Healer.” He believed that having an honest confrontation with our own vulnerabilty and weaknesses is essential in any Christian living, but especially in leadership.

He traveled to Russia to spend days contemplating  Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son (below) — then he wrote his contemplations into a book of the same name.

“Terugkeer van de Verloren Zoon” by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. Nouwen wrote a short book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, based on his contemplation of Rembrandt’s painting of the same name.

The Return of the Prodigal Son : A Story of Homecoming

The Henri Nouwen Society:

http://www.henrinouwen.org/

Henri Nouwen bibliography includes all books by Henri Nouwen:

http://www.ranker.com/list/henri-nouwen-b
ooks-and-stories-and-written-works/reference#XaZ77bjfePGvSweY.99

Here are some of Henri Nouwen’s most famous messages:

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey

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is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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 “Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain filled with judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations. We will remain addicted to putting people and things in their “right” place.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“You don’t think your way into a new kind of living. You live your way into a new kind of thinking.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“Dear God,
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life
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“There is a twilight zone in our hearts that we ourselves cannot see. Even when we know quite a lot about ourselves-our gifts and weaknesses, our ambitions and aspirations, our motives and our drives-large parts of ourselves remain in the shadow of consciousness. This is a very good thing. We will always remain partially hidden to ourselves. Other people, especially those who love us, can often see our twilight zones better than we ourselves can. The way we are seen and understood by others is different from the way we see and understand ourselves. We will never fully know the significance of our presence in the lives of our friends. That’s a grace, a grace that calls us not only to humility, but to a deep trust in those who love us. It is the twilight zones of our hearts where true friendships are born.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“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 immediatel;y shut ou all our iner doubts, anxieities, 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
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“A friend is more than a therapist or confessor, even though a friend can sometimes heal us and offer us God’s forgiveness. A friend is that other person with whom we can share our solitude, our silence, and our prayer. A friend is that other person with whom we can look at a tree and say, “Isn’t that beautiful,” or sit on the beach and silently watch the sun disappear under the horizon. With a friend we don’t have to say or do something special. With a friend we can be still and know that God is there with both of us.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“We need to be angels for each other, to give each other strength and consolation. Because only when we fully realize that the cup of life is not only a cup of sorrow but also a cup of joy will we be able to drink it.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart.
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Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“I have found it very important in my own life to try to let go of my wishes and instead to live in hope. I am finding that when I choose to let go of my sometimes petty and superficial wishes and trust that my life is precious and meaningful in the eyes of God something really new, something beyond my own expectations begins to happen for me. (Finding My Way Home)”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“Distance never seperates two hearts that really care, for our memories span the miles and in seconds we are there. But whenever I start feeling sad cuz I miss you I remind myself how lucky I am to have someone so special to miss.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“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
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“When suddenly you seem to lose all you thought you had gained, do not despair. You must expect setbacks and regressions. Don’t say to yourself “All is lost. I have to start all over again.” This is not true. What you have gained you have gained….When you return to the the road, you return to the place where you left it, not to where you started.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love
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“Our life is a short time in expectation, a time in which sadness and joy kiss each other at every moment. There is a quality of sadness that pervades all the moments of our lives. It seems that there is no such thing as a clear-cut pure joy, but that even in the most happy moments of our existence we sense a tinge of sadness. In every satisfaction, there is an awareness of limitations. In every success, there is the fear of jealousy. Behind every smile, there is a tear. In every embrace, there is loneliness. In every friendship, distance. And in all forms of light, there is the knowledge of surrounding darkness . . . But this intimate experience in which every bit of life is touched by a bit of death can point us beyond the limits of our existence. It can do so by making us look forward in expectation to the day when our hearts will be filled with perfect joy, a joy that no one shall take away from us.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life
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“Dare to love and to be a real friend. The love you give and receive is a reality that will lead you closer and closer to God as well as those whom God has given you to love.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit,l from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out
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“the real “work” of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me.To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear the voice of blessing– that demands real effort. ”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World
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“People who read your ideas tend to think that your writings reflect your life.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“At issue here is the question: “To whom do I belong? God or to the world?” Many of my daily preoccupations suggest that I belong more to the world than to God. A little criticism makes me angry, and a little rejection makes me depressed. A little praise raises my spirits, and a little success excites me. It takes very little to raise me up or thrust me down. Often I am like a small boat on the ocean, completely at the mercy of its waves. All the time and energy I spend in keeping some kind of balance and preventing myself from being tipped over and drowning shows that my life is mostly a struggle for survival: not a holy struggle, but an anxious struggle resulting from the mistaken idea that it is the world that defines me.As long as I keep running about asking: “Do you love me? Do you really love me?” I give all power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with “ifs.” The world says: “Yes, I love you if you are good-looking, intelligent, and wealthy. I love you if you have a good education, a good job, and good connections. I love you if you produce much, sell much, and buy much.” There are endless “ifs” hidden in the world’s love. These “ifs” enslave me, since it is impossible to respond adequately to all of them. The world’s love is and always will be conditional. As long as I keep looking for my true self in the world of conditional love, I will remain “hooked” to the world-trying, failing,and trying again. It is a world that fosters addictions because what it offers cannot satisfy the deepest craving of my heart.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“solitude begins with a time and a place for God, and God alone. If we really believe not only that God exists but also that God is actively present in our lives– healing, teaching and guiding– we need to set aside a time and space to give God our undivided attention. (Matt 6:6)”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New and Other Classics
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“We have probably wondered in our many lonesome moments if there is one corner in this competitive, demanding world where it is safe to be relaxed, to expose ourselves to someone else, and to give unconditionally. It might be very small and hidden, but if this corner exists, it calls for a search through the complexities of our human relationships in order to find it.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“The soul of the artist cannot remain hidden.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“Becoming the beloved is pulling the truth revealed to me from above down into the ordinariness of what I am, in fact, thinking of, talking about and doing from hour to hour.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“when the imitation of Christ does not mean to live a life like Christ, but to live your life as authentically as Christ lived his, then there are many ways and forms in which a man can be a Christian.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer
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“Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“Emit gratitude as though it was done”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“Peace is first of all the art of being.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“Christian life is not a life divided between times for action and times for contemplation. No. Real social action is a way of contemplation, and real contemplation is the core of social action.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“While my friend always spoke about the sun, I kept speaking about the clouds, until one day I realized that it was the sun that allowed me to see the clouds.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“I kept running around it in large or small circles, always looking for someone or something able to convince me of my Belovedness.Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved”. Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World
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“When people show you their boundaries (“I can’t do this for you”) you feel rejected…part of your struggle is to set boundaries to your own love. Only when you are able to set your own boundaries will you be able to acknowledge, respect and even be grateful for the boundaries of others.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love
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“I know that I have to move from speaking about Jesus to letting him speak within me, from thinking about Jesus to letting him think within me, from acting for and with Jesus to letting him act through me. I know the only way for me to see the world is to see it through his eyes.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“You are the heir to the Kingdom. Prosperity is your birth right and you hold the key to more abundance in every area of your life then you can possibly imagine.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“Christians should put survival of the planet ahead of national security…Here is the mystery of our global responsibility: that we are in communion with Christ- and we are in communion with all people…The fact that the people of Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Russia, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia are our brothers and sisters is not obvious. People kill each other by the thousands and do not see themselves as brothers and sisters. If we want to be real peace-makers, national security cannot be our primary concern. Our primary concern should be survival of humanity, the survival of the planet, and the health of all people. Whether we are Russians, Iraqis, Ethiopians, or North Americans, we belong to the same human family that God loves. And we have to start taking some risks- not just individually, but risks of a more global quality, risks to let other people develop their own independence, risks to share our wealth with others and invite refugees to our country, risks to offer sanctuary- because we are people of God”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation…”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus
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“Addiction” might be the best word to explain the lostness that so deeply permeates society. Our addiction make us cling to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink, and sexual gratification without distinguishing between lust and love. These addictions create expectations that cannot but fail to satisfy our deepest needs. As long as we live within the world’s delusions, our addictions condemn us to futile quests in “the distant country,” leaving us to face an endless series of disillusionments while our sense of self remains unfulfilled. In these days of increasing addictions, we have wandered far away from our Father’s home. The addicted life can aptly be designated a life lived in “a distant country.” It is from there that our cry for deliverance rises up.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming
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“We enter into solitude first of all to meet our Lord and to be with Him and Him alone. Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature. Solitude is a place where Christ remodels us in his own image and frees us from the victimizing compulsions of the world.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry
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Praying] demands that you take to the road again and again, leaving your house and looking forward to a new land for yourself and your [fellow human]. This is why praying demands poverty, that is, the readiness to live a life in which you have nothing to lose so that you always begin afresh.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“Waiting is a dry desert between where we are and where we want to be. (Finding My Way Home)”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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“His (Christ’s) appearance in our midst has made it undeniably clear that changing the human heart and changing human society are not separate tasks, but are as interconnected as the two beams of the cross.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
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