The Rembrandt of the Spiritual Life: Henri Nouwen

Posted by Aaron Lewendon  ·  Be the first to comment

How did Rembrandt’s masterpiece, the brokenness of a Catholic priest and a community of the lonely and disabled inspire the first choice works on the spiritual life?

The Great Trap is not Success, but Self Rejection

Born in Nijkerk, Holland, in 1932, Henri Nouwen - Catholic priest, lecturer at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard, lived and worked with Trappist monks in the Abbey of the Genesee, the poor in Peru and, for twenty years, made his home in a community of the lonely and disabled at L’Arche 'Daybreak' Community in Toronto.

At Issue is the Question: To Whom Do I Belong?

Writer of more the 40 books on the spiritual life, Nouwen’s personal journey begins in 1983 at the end of a punishing six week lecture tour calling Christians to stand against escalating violence in Central America.

Exhausted, anxious, lonely and needy he accepted an invitation from his close friend, Canadian Catholic philosopher, Jean Vanier, to visit his L’Arche Community - sharing the lives and caring for people with developmental disabilities, in Trosly, France.

From Lonliness to the Garden of Solitude

Amid this world of pain and loneliness, which mirrored his own, he chanced upon a poster copy of Rembrandt’s biblical masterpiece, The Return of the Prodigal Son.

In this picture he saw: “Everything I desired at that moment. I was, indeed, the son; exhausted from long travels; I wanted to be embraced; I wanted looking for a home where I could feel safe.”

The Soul of the Artist Cannot Remain Hidden

In The Return of the Prodigal Son, Nouwen relates his pilgrimage to The Hermitage, St Petersburg: home to the original artwork. Absorbing its meaning for him, day after day and for many hours, the curators even allowed him a chair – with gold legs – to sit in front of the painting.

In 1986 Henri Nouwen resigned his prestigious teaching career to live and work as pastor at the L’Arche community in Toronto. “I was convinced,” he wrote, “that after more than 20 years in the classroom, the time had come to trust that God loves the poor in spirit in a very special way and that – even though I may have had little to offer them – they had a lot to offer me.”

Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen had found his spiritual home.

At L’Arche, he would write his best loved books on the spiritual life: Beloved, The Inner Voice of Love, and his reflections on Rembrandts painting and Jesus’ parable: The Return of the Prodigal Son and Home Tonight before his death in 1996.

Named in Chrsitian Century Magazine as 'first choice' for spiritual writing by Catholic and Protestant clergy, demand for his work is reflected in a new collection, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life.

Nouwen's thoughts on discernment begin to answer one of the biggest questions we all face: "What should I do with my life?"

A Ministry of Brokenness, Honesty...

The art of Nouwen’s spirituality is in his own experience of pain, anxiety, loneliness and sadness that is not denied, disguised or hidden under a false triumphalism.

Instead, he acknowledges those feelings as proof of our fallen human condition: always seeking acceptance, welcome, appreciation and recognition… and always in the wrong place.

And the Path to God's Embrace

Henri Nouwen's books and collections of his writings don’t offer you routes to success, influence, power, popularity or even fulfilment.

Instead they lead you along the quiet paths of solitude, prayer, silence, hope and the assurance that you are loved just as you are – because these are the paths that lead you home.

28th August

August 28th, 2013 - Posted & Written by Aaron Lewendon

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