Deepening Our Conversation with God
On September 21, 1996, Henri Nouwen died of a heart attack in Hilversum,
The Netherlands. Nouwen was a Catholic priest and psychologist, best known
among Protestant pastors for his book The Wounded Healer.
One of Nouwen's themes was living our brokenness under God's blessing. In one interview, Nouwen said, "Many people … don't think they are loved, or held safe, and so when suffering comes they see it as an affirmation of their worthlessness. The great question of ministry and the spiritual life is to learn to live our brokenness under the blessing and not the curse."
In 1982, Leadership published an interview with Nouwen and Richard Foster on what it takes for church leaders to know God. Founder and chair of Renovare, Foster has written, among other books, Prayer and Celebration of Discipline. After hearing of Nouwen's death, we reread the interview and were moved by its timeless and timely wisdom on the spiritual life. We offer it again in memory of the wounded healer.
Where are you currently in your spiritual journey?
Henri Nouwen: I'm in one of the most difficult periods of my life.
At times I've felt my spiritual direction to be clear-cut; right now, however,
everything is uncertain. When I came from Holland to the United States, I
became a diocesan priest, a psychologist, and a fellow at the Menninger Clinic.
I joined the faculty at Notre Dame, taught in Holland, and came back to teach
at Yale Divinity School. People started to respond more and more to what
I had to say, and that led to an
increasing sense of "Yes, I obviously must have something to say." I should be happy.
But these past months I've come face to face with my own spiritual abyss. None of this success has made me a more saintly or holy person.
Last semester I traveled all over the world and spoke to large audiences. All this created a sense of having arrived. Yet my inner life was precisely the opposite of that. More and more I felt that if God has anything to say, he doesn't need me. I found myself experiencing two extremes at the same time: high affirmation and great darkness.
Richard Foster: Back in my earlier years of coming to God, I was very intense. I once spent three days fasting and praying. After doing so, I felt an urging to call a man I had confidence in for his spiritual guidance. He lived quite a distance, but I called and asked him if he would come and pray for me. He came, and I was all ready to place myself before him and let him minister to me.
Instead, he sat down in front of me and started confessing his sins. I thought, I'm supposed to do that to you. After he finished, and I had prayed forgiveness for him, he said, "Now, do you still want me to pray for you?"
All of a sudden I realized his discernment. He knew I had thought of him as a spiritual giant who was going to set me right. Only then did he place his hands on me and pray for me.
What made you believe so intensely that you needed to find God?