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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"A Spirituality of Living" (Henri Nouwen)

TITLE: A Spirituality of Living: The Henri Nouwen Spirituality Series
AUTHOR: Henri J. M. Nouwen
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 2011.

What makes Henri Nouwen's books compelling is its clarity, simplicity, and profound teachings. A friend of mine once told me that Nouwen spends countless hours re-writing his thoughts to make it more teachable and meaningful for readers. This book is a tribute to Nouwen's legacy of teaching and educating laypersons. His calling has been aptly described as follows:

"Helping us recognize this God in the very fabric of our lives was the enduring passion of Henri's life and ministry." (iv)

Combing Nouwen's collection of writings, the editors manage to distill and draw out helpful parts pertaining to five areas of spirituality.

  1. Discipline and Discipleship 
  2. Solitude
  3. Community
  4. Ministry
  5. The River (on Fruitfulness)

Beginning with the reflection on the common strand of 'discipline' and 'discipleship,' Nouwen reminds us about our unnatural state of restlessness that keeps us occupied with doing things, and a constant preoccupation to be always on the move. He laments how we fail to discipline ourselves to be focused on the necessary things. Discipline is that attitude of creating space for us to listen to God.

He places the order very clearly as SOLITUDE - COMMUNITY - MINISTRY. Far too often, we have reversed and mixed all of them up. The logic is simple. Without proper solitary time with God, how can we build community? Without a sense of community, ministry will not be effective and will drain out even the most pious and dedicated servant of God.

Solitude lends itself through the four aspects: Communion, Listening, Forgiveness and Celebration. Again, there is a visible pattern where true communion involves a lot of listening to one another. After forgiveness comes celebration. This pattern of Nouwen's teaching continues to keep readers in the flow of learning.

Community is not an organization but a way of living, insists Nouwen. In solitude, we become more aware of our status as sons and daughters of God. When that happens, true community occurs out of this truth, that we learn to cherish and to love one another as children of God.

Ministry is not about doing stuff. It is about trusting. This key idea is perhaps the main reason to buy this book. Gratitude and compassion are the twin figures in authentic ministry. Writes Nouwen:

"Ministry means we have to trust that. We have to trust that if we are the son or daughter of God, power will go out from us and people will be healed." (44)

Indeed, that is so applicable. Ministry is not a matter of saying that we can do this or that. Ministry is learning to say that God can do it, and if necessary, through us.

I have one word in three letters to say about this book: WOW!

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Upper Room Books and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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