Review: “The Way of the Heart”

Nouwen, Henri J.M. The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry. New York: Seabury, 1981.

Rating: ★★★
Availability: Amazon (CA), Amazon (US)CBD

Drawing from the Desert Fathers, Nouwen begins by demonstrating the fruitfulness of practicing solitude.  He names the enemies of spirituality as anger and greed, arguing that as we allow ourselves to encounter and be transformed by Christ, these two hold less and less of a grip on our lives.  The compulsive, self-centred life that we tend to live is replaced in the light of Christ by a life of compassion for others.

Next, he posits a beautiful thesis: silence may involve a refrain from speech, but more importantly, we can bring the heart of silence into our speech.  But in warning against the dangers of sinning that arise from speech (cf. James 3:1-6), Nouwen unnecessarily borders on vilifying it.  The strength of his argument for silence lies in his description of it as “teaching us to speak.”  Silence ingrains in us the holiness of words, when they are used rightly.  The goal is not silence itself, but our stewardship of God’s charity, which is born out of it.

Finally, Nouwen’s call to prayer is the culmination of solitude and silence; it is truly The Way of the Heart.  He describes it in terms of a threefold discipline.  First: short, simple prayers allow us to focus on dwelling with God, and eliminate the distractedness of restless silence (however, his proposition lacks the recognition that longer prayers, too, can be beneficial).  Second: prayer is about a constant yearning towards God; the prayer of the heart becomes unceasing when we allow it to penetrate us at all times.  Third: prayer that is all-inclusive allows nothing of ourselves to be left out of our being with him.

Cite this post
Author: Grottenberg, Samuel P.
Date published: October 16, 2015
Last modified: March 8, 2017
Review: “The Way of the Heart”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *