Friday, June 11, 2010


by Henri J M Nouwen

Nouwen introduces two personas in this book: Firstly, the concept of the Nuclear Man in the first chapter, 'Ministry in a Dislocated World', described as one who is 'confronted not only with incredible ingenuity that can build dams, change riverbeds and create fertile new lands, but also with earthquakes, floods and tornadoes that can ruin in one hour more than man can build in a generation. A man confronted with all this and tring to make sense of it cannot possibly decieve himself with one idea, concept, or thought system which could bring these contrasting images together into one consistent outlook on life.' The Nuclear Man does not apply Scriptures as philosophy to extenuate the complex issues of the world outside and within himself, yet his life is not alienated from the world and people around him. He offers reconciliation to reality that eludes many believers who live contentiously with the world around them. 

Secondly, Nouwen introduces the persona of the Wounded Healer in the last chapter, 'Ministry by a Lonely Minister'. He writes as one who is a familiar friend to loneliness - a word often regarded as taboo even in Christian circles. 'Perhaps the painful awareness of loneliness is an invitation to trasncend our limitations and look beyond the boundaries of our existence. The awareness of loneliness might be a gift we must protect and guard, because our loneliness reveals to us an inner emptiness that can be destructive when misunderstood, but filled with promise for him who can tolerate its sweet pain. When we are impatient, when we want to give up our loneliness and try to overcome the separation and incompleteness we feel, too soon, we easily relate to our human world with devastating expectations. We ignore what we already know with a deep-seated, intuitive knowledge - that no love or friendship, no inTimate embrace or tender kiss, no community, commune or collective, no man or woman, will ever be able to satisfy our desire to be released from our lonely condition. This truth is so disconcerting and painful that we are more prone to play games with our fantasies than to face the truth of our existence. Thus we keep hoping that one day we will find the man who really understands our expreiences, the woman who will bring peace to our restless life, the job where we can fulfill our potentials, the book which will explain everything, and the place where we can feel at home. Such false hope leads us to make exhausting demands and prepares us for bitterness and dangerous hostility when we start discovering that nobody, and nothing, can live up to our absolutistic expectations.'

I picked the companionship of this book at a time I'm beginning to see that people around me deal with loneliness in as different and bizarre ways as they deal with hunger pangs. Loneliness, like hunger, is a neutral stimuli and its onset can be shocking to one unfamiliar with it at first. To me, loneliness may be something painful to acknowledge but it is not a disease nor necesassarily an indication of a deficiency. Like pregnancy and childbirth that makes me a stranger in my own body, loneliness is but a course in the journey of my life to be experienced in all its fullness, with the potential to bring forth new life.

Level of impact: Helps me find not the foe, but the friend in loneliness, and helps me recognise those who flee from it and those who find God through it.

by Henri J M Nouwen

Having recently gone through gut lavage for another round of colonoscopy, I am strangely drawn to books that challenge pre-existing limitations in my outlook. Perhaps the lavage cleared hindsights! Maturity has a way of setting its own authority on what you will accept and what not, but Nouwen challenged this condition in maturing leaders through John 21:18:

"In all truth I tell you
When you were young
you put on your belt
and walked where you liked;
but when you grow old
you will stretch out your hands
and somebody else will put a belt around you
and take you where you would rather not go."

He wrote: 'Jesus has a different vision of maturity: It is the ability and willingness to be led where you would rather not go. Immediately after Peter has been commissioned to be a leader of His sheep, Jesus confronts him with the hard truth that the servant-leader is the leader who is being led to unknown, undesireable, and painful places.' yet '...the downward-moving way of Jesus is the way to the joy and peace of God, a joy and peace that is not of this world.'

This is, of course, written by a man qualified through the process of being called by God, plucked out from raising leaders among the intellectuals in Harvard and plunged into a community of intellectually-challenged residents at L'Arche where thrown off himself, Nouwen had to throw out all learned skills in ministry, life and relationships to find much more in a place of severe limitations!

This little book is divided into three segments:
From Relevance to Prayer
     Deals with the temptation to be purely relevant, the question of 'Do you love Me?', and the discipline of contemplative prayer.
From Popularity to Ministry
     Deals with the tempation to be spectacular, the task to 'Feed My Sheep', and the discipline of confession and forgiveness.
From Leading to Being Led
     Deals with the temptation to be powerful, the challenge that 'Somebody Else Will Take You', and the discipline of theological reflection.

Where you can get these books: S$5-10 SKS Books [Indian print]
Level of impact: I like the reminder to set aside my personality, opinions, experience and preferences to effectuate what is important to God in the simple moments as well as complex situations of life.