Book review - "The Way of the Heart: Connecting With God Through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence" by Henri Nouwen

The Way of the Heart” was given to me as a Christmas gift by one of my twenty-something children. I gather Nouwen has a following among young people – which is a significant achievement considering he died in 1996.

This book grew out of a seminary course Nouwen taught to a group of students from several Christian denominations. Nouwen says twentieth-century Christian ministers struggle with how to bring light and hope into today’s world, when the despair and darkness is so overwhelming. 

The solution, Nouwen argues, is found in the primitive wisdom of the Desert Fathers, who withdrew to the Egyptian desert in the 4th and 5th centuries to escape the corruption of society.

When Abba Arsenius asked God around 400 AD to show him the way of salvation, he heard a voice saying, “Flee from the world, be silent, and pray always.” Desert spirituality is summarized in the words given to Arsenius. “Flee from the world” is the discipline of solitude. “Be silent” is the discipline of silence. “Pray always” is the discipline of praying without ceasing. 

Nouwen is at his best when writing on the disciple of solitude. The busyness of life - television, social media, friends, meetings, compulsions - keeps us weak, sinful, and separated from Jesus. In solitude, we lay down the false sense of worth we use to function in society. We can meet Jesus face to face in solitude. Then Jesus can remodel us in his image and send us out in fullness and confidence. 

Nouwen is skilled at interweaving our modern world with the world of the Desert Fathers, making their isolated ways seem possible in our hectic world. 

The Way of the Heart” is the first book by Henri Nouwen I’ve read. I found it challenging to digest. Nouwen writes from a contemplative Catholic perspective, which doesn’t immediately resonate with my own Evangelical tradition. So his writing needs to be read and re-read. But this book is well worth the effort.