Henri Nouwen

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Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen (Nouen), (1932–1996) was a Dutch-born Catholic priest and writer who authored 40 books about spirituality. (Nouwen was educated by the Jesuits at the Aloysius Gymnasium at The Hague. He decided that he would not become a Jesuit priest because it required too much study. http://www.henrinouwen.org/About_Henri/His_Life/Formation.aspx)

His spirituality was influenced notably by his friendship with Jean Vanier. At the invitation of Vanier, Nouwen visited L'Arche in France, the first of over 130 communities around the world where people with developmental disabilities live with those who care for them. In 1986 Nouwen accepted the position of pastor for a L'Arche community called "Daybreak" in Canada, near Toronto. Nouwen wrote about his relationship with Adam, a core member at L'Arche Daybreak with profound developmental disabilities, in a book titled Adam: God's Beloved. Father Nouwen was a good friend of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

The results of a Christian Century magazine survey conducted in 2003 indicate that Nouwen's work was a first choice of authors for Catholic and mainline Protestant clergy.

One of his most famous works is Inner Voice of Love, his diary from December 1987 to June 1988 during one of his most serious bouts with clinical depression.


Nouwen is thought to have struggled with his sexuality. Although his homosexuality was known by those close to him, he never publicly claimed a homosexual identity.


  • "Resisting the Forces of Death” & “'No' to the Vietnam War” in Liberating Faith: Religious Voices for Justice, Peace, and Ecological Wisdom. Ed. Roger S. Gottlieb.
  • Here and Now, Living in the Spirit. (1994)
  • (Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World. (2002)
  • The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom. (1999)
  • A Restless Soul: Meditations from the Road. (2008)
  • Eternal Seasons. Michael Ford (ed.) (February 2004)
  • In Memoriam. (2005)
  • Heart Speaks to Heart: Three Gospel Meditations on Jesus. (2007)
  • Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life. (2004)
  • The Dance of Life: Weaving Sorrows and Blessings into One Joyful Step. (2006)
  • Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying With Icons. (2007)
  • With Open Hands. (2006)
  • Can You Drink the Cup? (2006)
  • Pray to live: Thomas Merton: a contemplative critic (1972)
  • Aging: The Fulfillment of Life. Walter J. Gaffney (1976)
  • Clowning in Rome: Reflections on Solitude, Celibacy, Prayer, and Contemplation. (1979)
  • The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. (1979)
  • The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery. (1981)
  • Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life. Donald P. McNeill and Douglas A. Morrison (2005
  • Gracias! A Latin American Journal. (1983)
  • Love in a Fearful Land: A Guatemalan Story (1985)
  • Creative Ministry (1991)
  • A Cry For Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee (1983).
  • Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. (1986)
  • Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective (1989)
  • The Road To Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey. (1990)
  • The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Meditation on Fathers, Brothers, and Sons. (1992)
  • Seeds of Hope: A Henri Nouwen Reader (1997)
  • Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation: Following the movements of the Spirit (2010)
  • Befriending Life: Encounters with Henri Nouwen. Porter, Beth (ed.); Susan M.S Brown and Philip Coulter (2001-06-26)

The second edition of With Open Hands has a foreword by Sue Monk Kidd. Her book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine was published in 1996. On p. 136: “... I felt myself embraced by Goddess, how I felt myself in touch with the deepest thing I am. It was the moment when ... ‘I found god in myself/ and I loved her/ I loved her fiercely’” and p. 181 “Over the altar in my study I hung a lovely mirror sculpted in the shape of a crescent moon. It reminded me to honor the Divine Feminine presence in myself, the wisdom in my own soul” Sue Monk Kidd’s journey from the traditional Baptist faith (as a Sunday School teacher in a Southern Baptist congregation) to goddess worship began when she started delving into Catholic contemplative spirituality, practicing centering prayer and attending Catholic retreats.



Henri Nouwen Society

The Society shares the spirituality of solitude, community, and compassion that was embodied in the life and ministry of Henri Nouwen. The Society seeks to gather people who have been influenced by Henri's spirituality, to introduce others to his rich legacy, and to provide the means for them to build community together. -Henri Nouwen

http://www.wayoflife.org/database/nouwen.html (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service):

Nouwen has had a vast influence within the emerging church and evangelicalism at large through his writings, and he has been an influential voice within the contemplative movement. A Christian Century magazine survey conducted in 2003 found that Nouwen’s writings were a first choice for Catholic and mainline Protestant clergy. Nouwen is promoted by Christian leaders as diverse as Robert Schuller and Rick Warren (who highly recommends Nouwen’s contemplative book In the Name of Jesus).

Nouwen did not instruct his readers that one must be born again through repentance and personal faith in Jesus Christ in 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. The book With Open Hands, for example, instructs readers to open themselves up to God and surrender to the flow of life, believing that God loves them unconditionally and is leading them. This is blind faith. Nouwen wrote:

    “When we pray, we are standing with our hands open to the world. We know that God will become known to us in the nature around us, in people we meet, and in situations we run into. We trust that the world holds God’s secret within and we expect that secret to be shown to us” (With Open Hands, 2006, p. 47).

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.”

Nouwen was deeply involved in contemplative mysticism. He was strongly influenced by Thomas Merton and wrote a book about him in 1972 (Pray to Live: Thomas Merton--Contemplative Critic).

Nouwen claimed that contemplative meditation is necessary for an intimacy with God:

    "I do not believe anyone can ever become a deep person without stillness and silence" (quoted by Chuck Swindoll, So You Want to Be Like Christ, p. 65).

He taught that the use of a mantra could take the practitioner into God’s presence.

    “The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart ... This way of simple prayer ... opens us to God’s active presence” (The Way of the Heart, p. 81).

He said that mysticism and contemplative prayer can create ecumenical unity because Christian leaders learn to hear “the voice of love”:

    “Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen to the voice of love. ... For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral to the mystical is required” (In the Name of Jesus, pp. 6, 31, 32).
    In fact, if Christians are listening to the voice of the true and living God, they will learn that love is obedience to the Scriptures. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3).

Nouwen, like Thomas Merton and many other Catholic contemplatives, combined the teaching of eastern gurus with ancient Catholic practices. In his book Pray to Live Nouwen relates approvingly Merton’s heavy involvement with Hindu monks (pp. 19-28).
In his foreword to Thomas Ryan’s book Disciplines for Christian Living, Nouwen says:

    “The author shows a wonderful openness to the gifts of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Moslem religion. He discovers their great wisdom for the spiritual life of the Christian and does not hesitate to bring that wisdom home” (Disciplines for Christian Living, p. 2).

Nouwen’s involvement with mysticism led him to a form of universalism and panentheism (God is in all things).

    “The God who dwells in our inner sanctuary is the same as the one who dwells in the inner sanctuary of each human being” (Here and Now, p. 22).
    “Prayer is ‘soul work’ because our souls are those sacred centers WHERE ALL IS ONE ... It is in the heart of God that we can come to the full realization of THE UNITY OF ALL THAT IS” (Bread for the Journey, 1997, Jan. 15 and Nov. 16).

In his final book Nouwen described his universalist doctrine as follows:

    “Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God” (Sabbatical Journey, New York: Crossroad, 1998, p. 51).

He claimed that every person who believes in a higher power and follows his or her vision of the future is of God and is building God’s kingdom:

    “We can see the visionary in the guerilla fighter, in the youth with the demonstration sign, in the quiet dreamer in the corner of a café, in the soft-spoken monk, in the meek student, in the mother who lets her son go his own way, in the father who reads to his child from a strange book, in the smile of a girl, in the indignation of a worker, and in every person who in one way or another dreams life from a vision which is seen shining ahead and which surpasses everything ever heard or seen before” (With Open Hands, p. 113).

    “Praying means breaking through the veil of existence and allowing yourself to be led by the vision which has become real to you. Whether we call that vision ‘the Unseen Reality,’ ‘the total Other,’ ‘the Spirit,’ or ‘the Father,’ we repeatedly assert that it is not we ourselves who possess the power to make the new creation come to pass. It is rather a spiritual power which has been given to us and which empowers us to be in the world without being of it” (p. 114).

Nouwen taught that God is only love, unconditional love.

    “Don’t be afraid to offer your hate, bitterness, and disappointment to the One who is love and only love. ... [Pray] ‘Dear God, ... what you want to give me is love--unconditional, everlasting love’” (With Open Hands, pp. 24, 27).

  • Henri Nouwen's teaching became part of something called the "Wider Mercy Doctrine" that has become very widely accepted in the world today, especially among missionaries. The Wider Mercy Doctrine is a teaching that has been the cornerstone of Universalist belief for centuries.  It teaches that people can be saved whether or not they know about Jesus.
  • Richard Rohr knew Henri Nouwen as a personal friend and once asked him, “Henri, how would you define what the Church called original sin?” And he said, “Richard, I think original sin is humanity’s endless capacity for self-loathing, or maybe self-doubt.”
  • Nouwen in Here and Now (1997), p. 22: "The God who dwells in our inner sanctuary is also the God who dwells in the inner sanctuary of each human being."
  • Nouwen in Sabbatical Journey, p. 51: Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God's house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God.
  • Nouwen in Reaching Out, p. 38: A man or woman who has developed this solitude of heart is no longer pulled apart by the most divergent stimuli of the surrounding world but is able to perceive and understand this world from a quiet inner center.
  • Nouwen in Bread for the Journey, A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith, August 29: As we grow older we have more and more people to remember, people who have died before us… They can become part of our spiritual communities and gently help us as we make decisions on our journeys. Parents, spouses, children, and friends can become true spiritual companions after they have died. Sometimes they can become even more intimate to us after death than when they were with us in life.
  • Henri Nouwen wrote on the back cover of Eknath Easwaran's Meditation: A Simple 8-Point Program for Translating Spiritual Ideals Into Daily Life (1978,1991 by the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation) “This book helped me a great deal.” On the same back cover the Author of The World's Religions, Huston Smith wrote: "Just a clear, insightful exposition of meditation, and an excellent guide to its practice."
  • Nouwen in The Way of the Heart, p. 80-81: The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart. This repetition has nothing to do with magic. It is not meant to throw a spell on God or force him into hearing us. On the contrary, a word or sentence repeated frequently can help us concentrate, to move to the center, to create an inner stillness and thus to listen to the voice of God.
  • Henri Nouwen in Bread for the Journey, page 15: Prayer is "soul work" because our souls are those sacred centers where all is one and where God is with us in the most intimate way.
  • Henri Nouwen in Bread for the Journey, page 16: Love unites all, whether created or uncreated. The heart of God, the heart of all creation, and our own hearts become one in love. That's what all the great mystics have been trying to tell us through the ages. Benedict, Francis, Hildegard of Bingen, Hadewijch of Brabant, Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Dag Hammarskjöld, Thomas Merton, and many others, all in their own ways and their own languages, have witnessed to the unifying power of the divine love. All of them, however, spoke with a knowledge that came to them not through intellectual arguments but through contemplative prayer.

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