4 MAT Review - Nouwen
Author: Henri J. M. Nouwen
In his book, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, Nouwen (1975) challenges the reader to move from spiritual dryness to spiritual vitality. He first discusses the movement from loneliness to solitude. Our fear of loneliness drives us to an unending quest of activities, education, and entertainment. Our quest generally does not lead us out of our loneliness, but rather distracts us so as to pretend that loneliness does not have any impact on us. Nouwen encourages us to stop running from our loneliness and actually embrace it. In so doing, the reader can expect to find ...view middle of the document...
Nouwen notes the “paradox of prayer is that we have to learn how to pray” (p. 123) and “it asks for a serious effort” (p. 126), yet it can only be properly understood as a gift given to the believer from God. This dichotomy of prayer reinforces the difficulties we may have in truly understanding this movement in our spiritual life. We are warned not to fall into the trap of pursuing prayer as simply an intellectual enterprise or one concentrated solely on feelings. Prayer should not be thought of as an activity, but rather the manner in which we enter and remain in the “glory of him we are waiting for” (p. 151). As prayer is rightly understood as an intensely intimate union between the One who creates and the created one, Nouwen urges us not to limit prayer to the confines of the individual, but rather explains that prayer should also be a constant emphasis in the community of faith. The interdependence of solitude, hospitality, and prayer are summed in the following: “Without community, the individual prayer easily degenerates into egocentric and eccentric behavior, but without individual prayer, the prayer of the community quickly becomes a meaningless routine” (p. 158).
As I was teaching a bible study in church one Sunday, I glanced back down toward my computer screen with the notes and outline that I had prepared to share with the class. It was only about 15 minutes into the lesson and I had this overwhelming feeling that God was telling me to stop talking. The weight of the feeling was so heavy that I could not ignore it. The uncertainty of how the next 30 minutes would unfold made the next few words that came out of my mouth difficult to speak and difficult to hear for the class coordinators. “I am done talking for the day; God has just told me that it is time for me to stop.” The look on the faces in the class was that of hesitation and confusion. As I quietly closed my computer and went to sit with my wife, I’m fairly certain my face mirrored that of the class.
I had an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach as the class of 20 people sat there in silence. My demeanor slowly changed from anxiousness to brokenness. It was within the silence that God spoke, confronting me with the hard truth that I had not given Him the reverence He deserves. I was a teacher in desperate need of being taught. I began to weep in my seat while God transformed my heart. I had been so focused on the busyness of life and doing things for Him that I lost sight of the One I sought to serve. As the class time drew to an end, I slowly walked to the front of the class to close our time in prayer. Words and tears flowed simultaneously as I poured out my heart and soul to my God and begged His forgiveness. In that moment, I found the solitude for which I so desperately searched. In the midst of the community of believers, we experienced a safe place to be vulnerable...