AUTHOR: Henri Nouwen
PUBLISHER: Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2004.
This is one of my favourite books on solitude and spirituality. First given as sermons at Yale University's United Church of Christ, it is a profound reflection on the need to find contentment in God alone. The deceptively simple book contains much solid food to chew on. In it, Nouwen urges us to:
- Be aware that our personal worth is simply being who we are, and not what we do;
- Trust God to show us our true selves, instead of seeking approval constantly from people around us.
- "A life without a quiet center easily becomes destructive." (25)
- Caring is more important than curing.
- In a lonely place, we not only find God, but ourselves.
Nouwen writes in such a simple manner that one can be forgiven for reading it too quickly. He first contrasts our modern world of action and busyness with quietness and solitude. He identifies us as victims of seeking value in terms of success, and our desire to be useful.
"In this success-oriented world, our lives become more and more dominated by superlatives. We brag about the highest tower, the fastest runner, the tallest man, the longest bridge, and the best student. (In Holland we brag in reverse: we have the smallest town, the narrowest street, the tiniest house, and the most uncomfortable shoes.) But underneath all our emphasis on successful action, many of us suffer from a deep-seated, low self-esteem and are walking around with the constant fear that someday someone will unmask the illusion and show that we are not as smart, as good, or as lovable as the world was made to believe." (23)
We need to disconnect any link between self-esteem and the accomplishments we do. Enters solitude. With solitude, we learn to:
- unmask any possessiveness in us;
- we recognize that without a quiet center in us, we can easily become destructive to others as well as self;
- Seek God more in earnestness;
- be able to grow old and go slow without constantly asking if we have been useful enough;
His second meditation draws a sharp contrast between curing and caring. We need to move away from a 'curing' mentality toward a 'caring' disposition. He makes this insightful observation about our modern life.
"How can we be or become a caring community, a community of people not trying to cover the pain or to avoid it by sophisticated bypasses, but rather to share it as the source of healing and new life?" (41)
"Although it is usually very meaningful to call on outside help, sometimes our referral to others is more a sign of fear to face the pain than a sign of care, and in that case we keep our greatest gift to heal hidden from each other." (42)Nouwen's third meditation covers expectation from God and community. We need to anticipate God in solitude and in community. It is centered in expecting God to do what He has promised to do. This expectation is lived out in patience, in joy, and in trusting upon God's timing.
"To wait patiently therefore means to allow our weeping and wailing to become the purifying preparation by which we are made ready to receive the joy that is promised to us." (55)
Personally, I find this section most powerful.
"That is the greatest conversion in our life: to recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions of our projects, but the way in which God molds our hearts and prepares us for his return. Our great temptations are boredom and bitterness." (56)Slow and steady reading of this book is most necessary. Do not rush. Do not read the book too quickly lest you miss the gems that are only visible through intentional, prayerful and thoughtful reading.