Sunday, March 15, 2009

In Praise of Henri Nouwen

I've been enjoying Show Me the Way: Readings for Each Day of Lent. It's a devotional book that takes passages from Henri Nouwen's work and weaves them together.

Nouwen is one of the first theologians I really loved. And I have a special fondness for him, because he's one of the few subjects upon which my father and my adolescent self agreed. In 1985, my dad came with me to a Sojourners event because Nouwen was speaking.

For the life of me, I can't remember what Nouwen said that day. Neither can my dad. But we remember it as a bonding event.

I've gone on to read a lot of Nouwen. He wrote a lot, so I'm sure I've missed some books. I always loved reading his journals, and I return to them periodically. I'm heartened by the glimpse that these journals provide, this proof that even people who seem to have it all pulled together have issues too. Nouwen wrestled with wondering if he was using his talents and gifts in the ways God intended, in the ways that would glorify God best. Nouwen wrestled with not feeling loved by his friends, even as he knew that they loved him, but they might not be able to give him what he needed.

That human side is so important to me. I wrestle with similar issues, and I feel irritated with myself for not figuring this stuff out already. It's good to know that maybe I'm expecting too much of myself.

And how amazing that Nouwen can write passages such as these, even as he's working out his life and issues:

"God does not require a pure heart before embracing us. Even if we return only because following our desires has failed to bring happiness, God will take us back. Even if we return because being a Christian brings us more peace than being a pagan, God will receive us. Even if we return because our sins did not offer as much satisfaction as we had hoped, God will take us back. Even if we return because we could not make it on our own, God will receive us. God's love does not require any explanations about why we are returning. god is glad to see us home and wants to give us all we desire, just for being home."

This passage is from the readings for the Saturday of the Second Week in Lent (pages 58-59) in Show Me the Way (Crossroad Publishing Company 1992). The passage originally appeared in The Road to Daybreak published in 1988 by Doubleday.

The passage below gave me enormous comfort and hope at the end of this past tough week at work:

"For a Christian is only a Christian when he unceasingly asks critical questions of the society in which he lives and continuously stresses the necessity for conversion, not only of the individual but also of the world. A Christian is only a Christian when he refuses to allow himself or anyone else to settle into a comfortable rest. He remains dissatisfied with the status quo. And he believes that he has an essential role to play in the realization of the new world to come--even if he cannot say how that world will come about. . . . But he will not despair when he does not see the result he wanted to see. For in the midst of all his work he keeps hearing the words of the One sitting on the throne: 'I am making the whole of creation new.' (Revelations 21:5)"

The above passage is from Friday of the Second Week in Lent (page 56) in Show Me the Way (Crossroad Publishing Company 1992). The passage originally appeared in Creative Ministry, published in 1971 by Doubleday.

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