Henri Nouwen is a man in whom opposites seem to dwell side by side. A Catholic priest, author of dozens of widely acclaimed books on spirituality and ministry, Nouwen writes often of Christians' desperate need for reflection and solitude. Yet his gangly, slightly stooped frame moves with nervous, almost frenetic energy. People are in and out of his home and office at all hours, usually beginning around 7:30 A.M. and often until late at night. Every day he is involved with at least one Eucharist service, gives spiritual direction, attends to personnel issues, and offers care to many at Daybreak, the community for the mentally and physically handicapped where he ministers just north of Toronto.
And this eloquent exponent of prayerful silence loves to talk. In one interview I managed to pose only three or four questions to Nouwen in as many hours. Each question triggered an unstoppable flow of observations, stories, biblical references. Sometimes he sheepishly apologizes: "Sorry I talk so long." But his talk is more than words. He brims with insights about the spiritual life. Once he told a gathering of Baptist ministers, "Ministry is the least important thing. You cannot not minister if you are in communion with God and live in community. A lot of people are always concerned about: 'How can
I help people? Or help the youth to come to Christ? Or preach well? But these are all basically nonissues. If you are burning with the love of Jesus, don't worry: everyone will know. They will say, 'I want to get close to this person who is so full of God.'"
Perhaps the greatest irony concerns Nouwen's present work. This former professor at Notre Dame, Yale, and Hazard now devotes his energies to those whose IQs and disabilities place them ...1