by...Fr. Jim Waters, FBS, PhD, Chancellor, and Others
Readings In Pastoral Care and Counseling, an E-Book
A NEW WAY OF BELIEVING AND SEEING !
Henri Nouwen's Contribution to Spirituality
"The parable of the prodigal son is a story that speaks
about a love that existed before any rejection was possible
and that will still be there after all rejections have taken place."
Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son
Like many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people, I believe I had a personal friendship with Henri Nouwen. At a special family happening, Henri sent a present, with a letter enclosed, stating: "I am sending you my latest book (The Return of the Prodigal Son) as a gift. Be sure of my love and prayers." As much as this remembrance will be treasured, I know Henri treated many people in a similar fashion.
On another significant occasion, Henri prayed with me and a few intimates concerning a profound struggle with which I was contending. His personal appeal to readers through his forty-plus volumes and those he attended to one-on-one or addressed in small or large groups made him a very popular pastor and spiritual master.
Yet, this man of many contacts and friends suffered often from bouts of extreme loneliness and depression. Robert A. Jonas, a psychotherapist, spiritual director, and close associate, says that Nouwen had a neurotic desire for affirmation and a great need to be needed. He lived a prolonged, co-dependent relationship with his mother and repressed considerable anger at his strong-willed, distant father. He felt that neither of his parents acknowledged or understood his rich emotional life. As a result, much of his writing was an attempt to work through significant feelings of rejection. He often felt freer to share openly with his readers than with his own family. He struggled with his sexuality. Only gradually, in later years, did he become more comfortable with his own body. His habits were sometimes eccentric and his behaviour frenetic.
How could this afflicted soul simultaneously become a major influence for good in the lives of so many? Deeply embedded in him was the personally discovered truth that every Christian's journey is a process. It is necessary to "leave home" and to develop one's own spiritual life. It is also frequently necessary to "come home again," a changed person, to share communally the fruitfulness and fecundity that was gained.
Here briefly are the key contributions Nouwen shares with those in ministry. He learned them through intense engagement with his own Christian vocation.
From Pastoral Psychology to Spiritual Theology
Nouwen began his career as one extensively trained in the field of psychology. He studied with some of the great pastoral psychologists on both sides of the Atlantic. Early on he left his Dutch homeland and established himself in North America. He discovered that much ministry training of clergy and lay persons alike followed professional models developed in the social sciences. He grew convinced that a major gift the Church could offer the world were "wounded healers" spiritually reformed by the truths of their faith and the life of Jesus. Therapy could evolve into a healing ministry open to all in Christ's family.
From Elitist Individualism to Spiritual Community
Nouwen spent long periods of his career teaching about spirituality in famous academic institutions such as Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard. Many of his early books grew out of lectures, sermons, and presentations made to students in highly competitive environments. Over time, he became dissatisfied with what was happening to him spiritually. He believed that many of our institutions, including the church, were reflecting values of upwardly- mobile, self-centred people. Nouwen left the academy, eventually finding his family with mentally dysfunctional adults in L'Arche. In community, Nouwen truly blossomed.
From Protected Ministry to a Vocation of Risk
Nouwen discovered that, when he was willing to let go of the securities of profession, status, and former influence, he grew better able to find a certain solace for his conflicted heart. He discovered a solitude through which he could experience intimacy and acceptance from others. While he would never discount the importance of professional development for the young, he grew to find healing in his own life by gradually giving up his need for assurance in terms of this world's career protection and allowing the irony of "downward mobility" to give meaning and purpose to his maturing ministry.
After years of struggling with a gnawing sense of being disowned, Nouwen's search for a spiritual home and the answer to rejection led him, during the last decade of his life, to find a peace and a vocational congruency that had evaded him previously. His spirituality was always a work- in-progress, but his legacy is nonetheless a rich one.
Henri Nouwen taught us to honour our wounds and to look more intently to the spiritual resources of our Christian faith for healing; to move beyond our society's focus on individualism to places where spiritual community might release newfound gifts and energies; and to venture a leap of faith, a vocational risk that prevents us from trying to be safe or to protect what we think we possess.
"The more I think about the human suffering in our world and my desire to offer a healing response, the more I realize how crucial it is not to allow myself to become paralyzed by feelings of impotence and guilt. More important than ever is to be very faithful to my vocation to do well the few things I am called to do and hold on to the joy and peace they bring me. I must resist the temptation to let the forces of darkness pull me into despair and make me one more of their many victims. I have to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and on those who followed him and trust that I will know." -- Henri Nouwen
THEOLOGY OF PASTORAL CARE
In the totality of her being, the church Is a corporate apostle, and an apostle, by definition. Is one who is Sent. The church is God's living outreach to the World.
The definitive sending that focused on church, and constituted apostolate, came after Christ's resurrection. It started In fear, behind locked doors, when the risen Lord showed his disciples his hands and his side, and spoke that exciting sentence, "As the Father sent me, I also send you." (John 20:21)
The church Is people. We, all of us, we in community are the church. We are sent. Sent when? On the day of our baptism. Sent why? To live the Christian life in obedience to the Gospel. Sent where? Like Christ, we have been sent into the world to every living being.
The church is mission, and the mission Is service, and the service Is redemption. Illness and human misery call for the church's service, not simply because care and concern and compassion are so human, but because the church Is church - an "Apostle" with an Inescapable mission. In sickness we touch not a man with a melanoma, not a woman with a scarred uterus. We offer ourselves to a whole person, one man, one woman. He is sick, not his chest; and she is sick, not her womb. Our apostolate is "church" because what we touch is man. man-in-the-process-of-redemption. In sickness and ignorance, in all the human bondage that cries out for help and comfort, we rarely, if ever, touch only the body or only the spirit. We touch a living person working out his or her redemption.
The church is the people of God. The basic condition of this people is equality - equality because each possesses. Is possessed by, the same Holy Spirit. Similarly, Pastoral Care is, a community of, all who have committed themselves to God in His crucified children. The basic condition of this community Is equality - equality because each is "church", each is an "Apostle", is genuinely "sent", is on mission from the church to man working out his salvation in anguish and agony. This community, servants of the people of God, has an unparalleled witness value, in that it trumpets with one glad voice the gospel tidings that human sickness is not waste and need not be frustration, that disease and death are redeemable and redeeming.
Our mission of service must, with all else, be deeply spiritual. Pastoral Care will prove sterile without spiritual people. Our commitment to the redemption of the whole person will be vital and effective only if we believe not merely In man, but also in God; only if we pray as well as work; only if, in everything we do, we preach not man's death but the Lord's death for man - until He comes.
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