Monday

A Year with Henri Nouwen

I first heard of Henri Nouwen during my undergrad years at Point Loma Nazarene University. Some of his books were offered in our school bookstore. Back then I didn't buy the books. My money was wrapped up in sociology textbooks and in theology. Buying a small book for $6.95 was an extravagance reserved for a grilled cheese sandwich at Denny's. 

Nouwen, unbeknownst to me, was still alive at that time. Born in Holland January 24, 1932, Nouwen died in 1996 - about seven years after I first poked through his work at the bookstore. Little did I realize that his writings would later affect me in some very positive ways. In my master's course, we read "The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming," a wonderful exposition of Nouwen's thoughts that resulted from his study of Rembrandt's painting. From that point, I started buying Nouwen's books with the intention of reading them after my master's course. 

Three years after graduating from that program, I believe the Lord is leading me to spend a year reading and journaling about Nouwen's work. I am not sure how often I will write about this - I am hoping to do so at least once a month - but I am going to start with the books I have and try to tackle as many of his 40 books as I can. 

I'm starting with "The Genesee Diary." It is an account of a seven-month period that Nouwen spent with Trappist monks in the Abbey of the Genesee in upper New York state. 

Nouwen was the oldest of four children. According to the Henri Nouwen Society, he was called to the priesthood at a young age. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1957, and also studied psychology. He moved to the United States in 1964 to study at the Menninger Clinic.  He taught at the University of Notre Dame, Yale University and Harvard University at different points in his life. He was a lecturer and a prolific writer. He spent time with the poor in South America. The Henri Nouwen Society website notes that he dedicated his life to making his life transparent to others and to the "spiritual values of communion, community and ministry."

Not everyone agrees with Nouwen's approach to ministry. The Fundamental Baptist Information Service criticizes Nouwen for his devotion to contemplative prayer, stating that this practice leads to belief in eastern mysticism. They also state that Nouwen supports universalism, or the belief that all humans will eventually be saved (Merriam-Webster). 

Nouwen did not instruct his readers that one must be born again through repentance and personal faith in Jesus Christ in order to commune with God ... Nouwen did not instruct his readers to beware of false spirits and to test everything by the Scriptures. He taught them, rather, to trust that God is leading in and through all things and that they should “test” things by their own “vision.” He denied the biblical teaching that man is a fallen creature with a darkened heart that can only be enlightened through the new birth. (FBIS).

Well, we'll see whether this is true or not. Frankly, I wonder if some of Nouwen's remarks were taken out of context. Nonetheless, I am looking forward to this study and will write on "The Genesee Diary" soon.