21 May 2010

Henri Nouwen's "The Living Reminder"

This past weekend, I was rearranging all of my books, deciding which to keep, which to donate, and which to keep at the front of the bookcase for quick and easy reference! As it turns out, I have kept many of my books from my college years. I majored in Religious Studies and thoroughly enjoyed it. I also knew that someday I may want to go back and reference these books and my marginal notes. Interestingly enough, though, many of my "Christian" religion courses found us reading books that left me uneasy. Though I didn't possess enough discernment at the time to understand why, God did protect me so that I felt enough uncertainty so as to question my professors and also to completely stay away from some of the books that I was instructed to read. For example, one of my first reading assignments was Richard Foster's Streams of Living Water. My disdain for flowery, touchy-feely, emotional appeal caused me to loathe reading that book and I couldn't wait to sell it back at the end of the semester. Other books, though, were treated as though they were essentials to the Christian faith and I was made to feel as though I would be an idiot if I didn't find them to be inspiring and crucial to my walk with God. One of those books was Henri Nouwen's The Living Reminder. It's a very small book, but now I can see how full it is of mystical ideas! I praise God for His glorious protection, as I opened this book today and found it filled with my underlines and asterisks. Thank you, Lord, that I did not further investigate Nouwen's ideas of meditation and prayer and "spiritual formation." It really is true that sometimes we do not see God's hand in our situation until years later. Yet He has so intricately woven together the details! I see now that 4 years in a liberal "Christian" college were preparing me for the heart for discernment that He has given me today. Oh, God is so good!

The sad thing is, I believe I can safely say that Nouwen's books are sitting on the shelves of the majority of our pastors today. Yes, even the more conservative pastors will recommend the works of Nouwen, Foster, and the like. This is why we cannot blindly accept everything that our church leaders tell us. We must test everything against Scripture!

Some words from Nouwen on the pastor as the "guiding reminder." My comments are interspersed in blue:
How then can we be spiritual people through whom God's divine counselor and guide can become manifest? If we really want to be living memories, offering guidance to a new land, the word of God must be engraved in our hearts; it must become our flesh and blood. That means much more than intellectual reflection. It means meditating and ruminating on God's word--chewing it or, as the Psalmist puts it, "murmuring" it day and night. In this way the word of God can slowly descend from our mind into our heart and so fill us with the life-giving Spirit. This "total" meditation on the Word of God lies deeply embedded in the rabbinic as well as the Christian tradition. Jean Leclercq, the Benedictine medieval scholar, writes:
 "...to meditate is to read a text and to learn it "by heart" in the fullest sense of this expression, that is, with one's whole being: with the body since the mouth pronounced it, with the memory which fixes it, with the intelligence which understands its meaning and with the will which desires to put it in practice."
This meditation on God's Word is indispensable if we want to be reminders of God and not of ourselves, if we want to radiate hope and not despair, joy and not sadness, life and not death. [...]
While any specific prayer technique is secondary to our obligation to meditate, and although every individual has to find his own way, a disregard for techniques in prayer is just as unwise as a disregard for techniques and skill in pastoral care. The history of Jewish and Christian spirituality shows that our most precious relationship, our relationship with God, cannot simply be left to our spontaneous outpourings (the "history of Jewish and Christian spirituality? What about the Bible?). Precisely because God is central to our lives, our relationship with him calls for formation and training, including skills and methods. [...] 
Perhaps the 1970s offer us a unique chance to reclaim the rich tradition of schooling in prayer. All spiritual writers, from the desert fathers to Teresa of Avila, Evelyn Underhill, and Thomas Merton, have stressed the great power and central importance of prayer in our lives. (All of these writers practice mystical, New-Age, eastern meditation techniques. They do not teach Biblical prayer. Teresa of Avila was so demon-possessed that she eventually could not control when or where she would go into her "trances.") Theophan the Recluse expresses this forcefully when he says: 
"Prayer is the test of everything; prayer is also the source of everything; prayer is the driving force of everything; prayer is also the director of everything. If prayer is right, everything is right. For prayer will not allow anything to go wrong." (What about God? Does He direct anything?)
If this is true, then it is obvious that prayer requires supervision and direction. Just as verbatim reports of our conversations with patients can help us to deepen our interpersonal sensitivities, so a continuing evaluation of our spiritual life can lead us closer to God. [...] The fact that many of the spiritual movements of our day seem to be irresponsible, manipulative, and even downright dangerous for the mental and physical health of the people involved, makes it urgent that the spiritual life of ministers and future ministers not be left to their own uninformed experimentations. [...]
Thus the spiritual life of the minster, formed and trained in a school of prayer, is the core of spiritual leadership. When we have lost the vision, we have nothing to show; when we have forgotten the word of God, we have nothing to remember; when we have buried the blueprint of our life, we have nothing to build. But when we keep in touch with the life-giving spirit within us (notice this is a small "s" and is not referring to the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is a New Age idea of getting in touch with the god inside of each one of us), we can lead people out of their captivity and become hope-giving guides. (Page 68-73, bold emphasis mine).
So there you have it. An appeal for meditation as a required, necessary act in order to have a successful ministry and spiritual life. This is what a Christian university fed me in my supposedly Christian courses. Parents, make sure your children are grounded before they venture into the world! And make sure you know what your pastor is reading. Ask questions. A solid, grounded church and pastor should be elated to have an inquiring congregation rather than pews filled with mindless lemmings. And pray. Pray for your own discernment and the discernment of your church leaders. And pray for protection because our churches are only going to be less and less feeding the Word of God and more and more offering the "doctrines of demons."


  1. I, too, can look back and see that what I thought was just my own personal "aversion" to books, movies, and celebrated individuals was actually the Loving, guiding hand of the Lord! Thank you for sharing this article!

  2. Hi, my professor is having me read this book and I immidietly knew something was off, but I initially bipassed that feeling. After reading the book the next two days one of my friends told me that one Nouwen was catholic and a homosexual. I then realized that pretty much the stuff I thought has a little importance (cause most of the stuff didn't really do it for me)is just in their to confuse and allow the seducing spirits of Catholocism and New Agism to pull someone away from the trth of the Gospel. If anyone has any more thoughts on the book and any quotes from it besides the one above I would like to hear from you. I have to write a reflection about the book, and in case I have missed some things I would appreciate some others perspectives on deception in the material


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