Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The wounded healer

I finished Henri Nouwen's book The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society today. As with all of his books that I've read, it has left me feeling very contemplative, warm, unsure, yet hopeful. I was a little disappointed to find out that I was reading the 2010 edition by the Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust. It says, "Second Edition: Text complete, Updated, and Unabridged." It was first published in 1972, and apparently someone decided it needed updating. At any rate, it was an excellent read. I think it should be required reading for anyone that thinks they want to go headlong into ministry.

At first I thought it funny that the subtitle was "Ministry in Contemporary Society"... since it was from '72. But it really is timeless. Anytime ministry becomes separated from dealing with human beings and the human condition I think it ceases to be ministry. Perhaps that is what riles me so much about so many "church" books today... They seem to be more about the organization than they are about the people.

This is not a complete review (or even partial)... but just some thoughts. Firstly, reading Henri's work always slows me down. And I mean that in the very best way. It makes me think; it makes me ponder; it fills me with awe and wonder; it almost makes time stand still.

Otherwise, I think I will just jot down some highlights. These are not all - I wrote all over this book - but some, mostly from the last part of the book.

  • p. 45 - "Compassion is born when we discover in the center of our own existence, not only that God is God and humans are humans, but also that our neighbor really is our fellow human being."
  • p. 46 - "...the authority of compassion is the possibility for each of us to forgive our brothers and sisters, because forgiveness is only real for those who have discovered the weakness of their friends and the sins of their enemies in their own hearts, and are willing to call each human being their sister and brother."
  • p. 72 - "One compassionate gaze or one affectionate handshake can substitute for years of friendship when a person is in agony. Not only does love last forever, it needs only a second to be born."
  • p. 76 - "The basic principles of Christian leadership: first, personal concern, which asks people to give their lives for others; second, a deep-rooted faith in the value and meaning of life, even when the days look dark; and third, an out-going hope that always looks for tomorrow, even beyond the moment of death. And all these principles are based on the one and only conviction that, since God has become human, it is human beings who have the power to lead their fellows to freedom."
  • p. 77 - "It is a paradox indeed that those who want to be fore 'everyone' often find themselves unable to be close to anyone."
  • p. 82 - "Leadership therefore is not called Christian because it is permeated with optimism against all the odds of life, but because it is grounded in the historic Christ-event, which is understood as a definitive breach in the deterministic chain of human trial and error, and as a dramatic affirmation that there is light on the other side of darkness... Every attempt to attach this hope to visible symptoms in our surroundings becomes a temptation when it prevents us from the realization that promises, not concrete successes, are the basis of Christian leadership. Many ministers, priest, and Christian laity have become disillusioned, bitter, and even hostile when years of hard work bear no fruit, when little change is accomplished. Building on the expectations of concrete results, however conceived, is like building a house on sand instead of on solid rock, and even takes away the ability to accept successes as free gifts." (wow... powerful stuff)
  • p. 90 - "But the more I think about loneliness, the more I think that the wound of loneliness is actually like the Grand Canyon - a deep incision in the surface of our existence that has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding. Therefore I would like to voice loudly and clearly what might seem unpopular and maybe even disturbing: the Christian way of life does not take away our loneliness; it protects and cherishes it as a precious gift... The awareness of loneliness might be a gift we must protect and guard, because our loneliness reveals to us an inner emptiness that can be destructive when misunderstood, but filled with promise for those who can tolerate its sweet pain."
  • p. 92 - "Many churches decorated with words announcing salvation and new life are often little more than parlors for those who feel quite comfortable in the old life, and who are not likely to let the minister's words change their stone hearts into furnaces where swords can be cast into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks."
  • p. 95 - "How does healing take place? Many words, such as 'care' and 'compassion,' 'understanding' and 'forgiveness,' 'fellowship' and 'community,' have been used for the healing task of the Christian minister. I like to use the word 'hospitality'...
  • p. 98 - "The paradox indeed is that hospitality asks for the creation of an empty space, where the guests can find their own souls."
  • p. 99 - "Ministers are not doctors whose primary task is to take away pain. Rather, they deepen the pain to a level where it can be shared. When people come with their loneliness to ministers, they can only expect that their loneliness will be understood and felt, so that they no longer have to run away from it but can accept it as an expression of the basic human condition."
  • p. 99 - "Perhaps the main task of the minister is to prevent people from suffering for the wrong reasons."
  • p. 100 - "A Christian community is therefore a healing community, not because wounds are cured and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains become openings or occasions for a new vision. Mutual confession then becomes a mutual deepening of hope, and shared weakness becomes a reminder to one and all of the coming strength."
  • p. 105 - "When imitating Christ does not mean living a life like Christ, but rather living your own life as authentically as Christ lived his, then there are many ways in which someone can be a Christian."

Well, that was kind of a lot. There are so many more gems in this book. It was good; and it taught me that I have much to learn. Much.

Peace out, my friends; and in.