Posted January 30, 2004
Book: Walking with Henri Nouwen: A Reflective Journey
Author: Robert Waldron
Paulist Press, New York, pp. 104
An excerpt from Preface:
. . .My favorite parable is the Prodical So, which I also see differently now; it illustrates the theme of brokenness transformed into beauty. The younger son takes his inheritance, squandering it in a life of dissipation until he is a homeless and broken man. While feeding the pigs, he realizes that his life is shattered. He decides to return home. His father sees him from a distance and runs to him. No questions asked. Forgiveness given unconditionally. His father orders his servants to clothe him in the finest robe, to adorn his hand with a ring, to shod his feet in sandals, and to kill the fatted calf for a feast to celebrate the return of his lost son. The father transforms his broken son by the beauty of love symbolized by the new, fine clothes, ring, and feast. What is lost is found again; what is broken is whole again.
We are all God’s prodigal children. We have the potential to transform our brokenness into something quite beautiful simply by returning home to the Father. No vociferous mea culpa is necessary. The father sped to his son before he heard one word of contrition.
And now I come to Henri Nouwen. Of all the spiritual writers I have read in my life, no one understands brokenness so acutely, compassionately, and wisely. He deeply delved into his own woundedness, so profoundly that he could subsequently refer to himself as a “wounded healer.” By walking with Nouwen, I’ve come to understand his wounding and how he transcended it. He is a model for all of us when he says that our wounds are our greatest gift. If we accept them in the right spirit, they break us into beauty.
An excerpt from Book:
Both Nouwen and Merton were attracted to Rainer Maria Rilke. Nouwen went to Rilke because he “will help me to see.” Nouwen especially admired Rilke’s letters to his wife Clara about Cezanne’s paintings. Cezanne was a painter, Nouwen says, who was “present to the present” — I love that phrase. I also want to deliberately live in the present so that, Thoreau, when I come to the end of my life, I won’t look back to find that I’ve sleep-walked through my life.
Merton went to Rilke because as a poet he was attracted to Rilke’s verse-making and his talent for losing himself in the contemplative experience.
When Rilke worked for Rodin, the great sculptor advised Rilke to visit the zoo and to watch the animals closely. Only then would he understand what sculpting was all about. Not until one achieves an “inseeing,” Rilke meant an intense identification with the object of our gazing to the point that our inseeing becomes an outseeing: the ego disappears.
The temporary disappearance of the ego seems to be the key not only of the aesthetic but also of the spiritual experience.
There is a tape by Merton teaching Rilke to the novices of Gethsemani. His joy about Rilke comes through. He reads to them one of his favorite Rilke poems, “The Panther”:
His gaze those bars keep passing is so misted
with tiredness, it can take in nothing more.
He feels as though a thousand bars existed,
and no more world beyond them than before.
Those supply-powerful paddings, turning there
in tiniest of circles, well might be
the dance of forces round a centre where
some mighty will stands paralyticly.
Just now and then the pupil’s noiseless shutter
is lifted — Then an image will indart,
down through the limb’s intensive stillness flutter,
and ends its being in the heart.
Merton believed along with his favorite English poet, William Blake, that the spiritual life is a matter of “cleansing the doors of perception” so that we can see. But seeing must penetrate through what is false in order to find the true. Perhaps our prayer shouldn’t be “Lord, help my unbelief” but “Lord help my unseeing.”
Table of Contents:
Walking with Henri Nouwen
Comments from Retreatants
A Letter to Henri Nouwen