I just finished up another book on my reading list: Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen. Spiritual Direction is a series of lectures based on Henri Nouwen’s classes and articles he wrote about…so in that sense it is not necessarily a Henri Nouwen book. Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith
But any chance to go through Nouwen’s wisdom on spiritualty is a good one.
This short book is definitely a book I would recommend to others to challenge them in the area of connecting with God and community. It is a book that is best read slowly and contemplatively with questions and reflections following each section to lead the reader toward application and not just information alone.
Nouwen states, “The goal of spiritual direction is spiritual formation-the ever increasing capacity to live a spiritual life from the heart. A spiritual life cannot be formed without discipline, practice and accountability”
The book focuses on three classic disciplines or spiritual practices that are useful in the spiritual direction relationship. They can help create space for God within us: 1. the discipline of the Heart, 2. the discipline of the Book, and 3. the discipline of the Church or community of faith. Together these spiritual practices help us overcome our resistances to contemplative listening and active obedience to God and free us to live an embodied and fulfilled spiritual life.
Part One: Look within to the Heart is comprised of four questions for the reader to contemplate:
- One: Who will answer my questions?
- Two: Where do I begin?
- Three: Who Am I?
- Four: Where have I been and where am I going?
Part Two: Look to God in the Book
- Five: What is Prayer?
- Six: Who is God for Me?
- Seven: How do I hear the Word?
Part Three: Look to Others in Community
- Eight: Where Do I Belong?
- Nine: How Can I Be of Service?
Chapters 6 & 9 includes a few of my favorite concepts, starting with the soul probing question..”Who is God for me?” in Chapter 6 and then moving into the concepts of “downward mobility” and “voluntary displacement” in Chapter 9.
A spiritual director is not a counselor or a therapist but a friend of our soul who accompanies us on our spiritual journey with wise counsel and the support that sustains us in times of doubt or difficulty. The quest for meaning is very important, Nouwen asserts, and it calls for us to discern God’s presence in the midst of our daily activities. He acknowledges that many of us have trouble with the spiritual practice of listening — especially in a culture with so many distractions and so much noise. That is why silence is “the royal road to spiritual formation.”
Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from the book:
If we do not know we are the beloved sons and daughters of God, we’re going to expect someone in the community to make us feel special and worthy. Ultimately they cannot. If we start with trying to create community, we’ll expect someone to give is that perfect, unconditional love.
We are called to God’s table together, not by ourselves. Spiritual formation therefore, always includes formation to life in community. We all have to find our way home to God in solitude and in community with others. (p.115)
The fruits of the spirit are not sadness, loneliness, and separation, but joy, solitude, community and ministry. (p.116)
As long as we want to be interesting, distinct, special, and worthy of special praise, we are pulled away from the deep realization that we are like other people, that we are part of the human race, and, in the final analysis, that we are not different but the same. (p.140)
It is not our career but our vocation that counts in the spiritual life. As soon as we begin to identify our career with our vocation, we are in danger of ending up in an ordinary and proper place unmindful of the fact that the wounds we still have are calling us to continue our search together with other fellow pilgrims
You cannot solve all the world’s problems, but you can be with people in their problems and questions with your simple presence, trusting that joy will be found there. As Mother Teresa was fond of saying, “Jesus does not call you to be successful, but to be faithful.”
The question in ministry is not “How do I bring all these people to Jesus?” or “How do I make these people believe?” or “How do I help all these people?” Ministry happens. You and I do very little.
“it helps to realize that the Bible is not primarily a book of information about God but of formation of the heart. it is not merely a book to be analyzed, scrutinized, & discussed, but a book to nurture, unify, & serve as a constant source of contemplation. we must struggle constantly against the temptation to read the Bible instrumentally as a book full of good stories & illustrations that can help us make our point in sermons, lectures, papers, & articles. the Bible does not speak to us as long as we want to use it. as long as we deal with the word of God as an item with which we can do many useful things, we don’t really read the Bible or let it read us. only when we are willing to hear the written word as a word for us can the Living Word disclose himself & penetrate into the center of our heart.”
Ministry is the fruit of finding your gifts and offering what you have. Ministry is not something that requires professional credentials. (p.131)