Helen Copeland reviews a new book, published posthumously, by Henri Nouwen.

[New City Magazine]

Henri Nouwen’s Words of Hope and Healing may or may not ‘do what it says on the tin’. They might give hope where it is lacking, or heal where there is pain. I would be surprised if they did not. However, I must admit that in my position as a reviewer, I felt I did not lack either of these gifts offered. It may sound arrogant but that’s where I was coming from!

What this compact work did give me was a fascinating insight into a soul. Nouwen is obviously a complex individual, struggling to embrace the simplicity of God’s love for him and for all of humanity. He is a man who has thrown himself into the paradoxes of Christianity with courage. Facing his inner demons with the conviction that we are ‘Beloved’, allows Nouwen a new experience of prayer and of life.

Opinion is divided about how much biographical detail should influence our reading, but it is perhaps important to know that Nouwen is a highly acclaimed lecturer and mentor who for some time lived as a member of a L’Arche community, accompanying a man with severe disabilities. This experience inspires many of his thoughts about what it is to be a community. He writes a lot about the difference between loneliness and solitude, and how these can be renewed as sources of strength.

Some of the sayings could be the work of a hermit, when he writes of the purification of solitude, away from the distractions and busyness of the world, but then we are sent back to our neighbour. To partially quote one thought:

Through the discipline of solitude we discover space for God in our innermost being. Through the discipline of community we discover a place for God in our life together…

A spiritual journey is surely more adventurous if the traveller is generous enough to share their insights along the way. This deep and humble book offers, in fact, some very rich thoughts which would be gifts for anyone wish­ing to draw closer to God within themselves and beyond.

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