Posted October 30, 2003
Book: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life: Reaching Out
Author: Henri J. M. Nouwen
Doubleday, New York, pp. 165
Excerpt from Jacket:
With the clarity and spiritual depth characteristic of the great spiritual classics, this religious bestseller lays out for today’s Christian a perceptive and insightful plan for living the spiritual life and achieving the ultimate goal of that life: union with God.
Nouwen views our spiritual “ascent” as evolving in three movements. The first, from loneliness to solitude, focuses on the spiritual life as it relates to the experience of our own selves.
The second, from hostility to hospitality, deals with our spiritual life as a life for others.
The third and final movement, from illusion to prayer, offers penetrating thoughts on the most mysterious relationship of all: our inner struggles, pains, and hostilities, the more fully and sensitively will we be able to embrace a prayerful, genuine spiritual life that is open as well to the needs of others.
Critically acclaimed in hardcover, and long awaited in paperback, Reaching Out is rich in psychological insights and will be welcomed by Christians everywhere as a thought-provoking spiritual guide. In sum, it is a book to read, reread, ponder, and share with others. It does not offer answers or solutions,” Nouwen cautions, “but is written in the conviction that the quest for an authentic Christian spirituality is worth the effort and the pain, since in the midst of this quest we can find signs offering hope, courage, and confidence.
Excerpt from Book:
Between Competition and Togetherness
It is far from easy to enter into the painful experience of loneliness. You like to stay away from it. Still it is an experience that enters into everyone’s life at some point. You might have felt it as a little child when your classmates laughed at you because you were cross-eyed or as a teen-ager when you were the last one chosen on the baseball team. You might have felt it when you were homesick in a boarding school or angry about non-sense rules which you could not change. You might have felt it as a young adult in a university where everyone talked about grades but where a good friend was hard to find, or in an action group where nobody paid any attention to your suggestions. You might have felt it as a teacher when students did not respond to your carefully prepared lectures or as a preacher when people were dozing during your well-intentioned sermons. And you still might feel it day after day during staff meetings, conferences, counseling sessions, during long office hours or monotonous manual labor, or just when you are by yourself staring away from a book that cannot keep your attention.
. . . Loneliness is one of the most universal sources of human suffering today. Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists speak about it as the most frequently expressed complaint and the root not only of an increasing number of suicides but also of alcoholism, drug use, different psychosomatic symptoms – such as, headaches, stomach and low-back pains — and of a large number of traffic accidents.
. . . Why is it, that many parties and friendly get-togethers leave us so empty and sad? Maybe even there the deep-seated and often unconscious competition between people prevents them from revealing themselves to each other and from establishing relationships that last longer than the party itself. Where we are always welcome, our absence won’t matter that much either and when everyone can come, nobody will be particularly missed. Usually there is food enough an people enough willing to eat it, but often it seems that the food has lost the power to create community and not seldom do we leave the party more aware of our loneliness that when we came.
. . .The roots of loneliness are very deep and cannot be touched by optimistic advertisements, substitute love images or social togetherness. They find their food in the suspicion that there is no one who cares and offers love without conditions, and no place where we can be vulnerable without being used. The many small rejections of everyday — a sarcastic smile, a flippant remark, a brisk denial or a bitter silence — may all be quite innocent and hardly worth our attention if they did not constantly arouse our basic fear of being left totally alone with ‘darkness . . .[as our] one companion left” (Psalm 88).
. . . A young student reflecting on his own experience wrote recently:
When loneliness is haunting me with its possibility of being a threshold instead of a dead end, a new creation instead of a grave, a meeting place instead of an abyss, then time loses its desperate clutch on me. Then I no longer have to live in a frenzy of activity, overwhelmed and afraid for the missed opportunity.
It is far from easy to believe that this is true. Often we go to good men and women with our problems in the secret hope that they will take our burden away from us and free us from our loneliness. Frequently the temporary relief they offer only leads to a stronger recurrence of the same pains when we are again by ourselves. But sometimes we meet and hear that exceptional person who says: ‘Do not run, but be quiet and silent. Listen attentively to your own struggle. The answer to your question is hidden in your own heart.”
In the beautiful book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones we find the story of such an encounger.
Daiju visited the master Baso in China. Baso asked:
“What do you seek?”
“Enlightenment,” replied Daiju.
“You have your own treasure house. Why do you search outside?” Baso asked.
Daiju inquired: “Where is my treasure house?”
Baso answered, “What you are asking “is” your treasure house.”
Daiju was enlightened! Even after he urged his friends: “Open your own treasure house and use those treasures.”
The real spiritual guide is the one who, instead of advising us what to do or to whom to go, offers us a chance to stay alone and take the risk of entering into our own experience. He makes ussee that pouring little bits of water on our dry land does not help, but that we will find a living well if we reach deep enough under this surface of our complaints.
. . . The few times, however, that we do obey our severe masters and listen carefully to our restless hearts, we may start to sense that in the midst of our sadness there is joy, that in the midst of our fears there is peace, that in the midst of our greediness there is the possibility of compassion and that indeed in the midst of our irking loneliness we can find the beginnings of a quiet solitude.
Table of Contents;
Reaching out to our innermost self
1. A suffocating loneliness
2. A receptive solitude
3. A creative response
Reaching out to our fellow human beings
4. Creating space for strangers
5. Forms of hospitality
6. Hospitality and the host
Reaching out to our God
7. Prayer and mortality
8. The prayer of the heart
9. Community and prayer