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On Retreat with Henri Nouwen, by Chris Pritchett and Marjorie Thompson

24 September 2021

Take your time over this ‘retreat’ inspired by him, says Peter McGeary

IT IS not too popular to say this in some circles these days, but the years immediately before and after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s seem to have produced a flowering of very fine spiritual and theological writing in the Roman Catholic Church. One of the most famous and influential, Henri Nouwen, was born in 1932, and this book, marking the 25th anniversary of his death, is the product of two Presbyterian ministers who have been deeply influenced by his thought.

Nouwen was born in the Netherlands, but spent much of his life in the United States teaching pastoral theology and spirituality. After experiences living among the poor of Peru, and being introduced to the work of the L’Arche community in France, Nouwen spent the last decade of his life as the pastor of the L’Arche Daybreak community outside Toronto, living with and ministering to deeply afflicted people.

Out of this has come a large body of writing that endures, and this present volume could be seen as an introduction to it. The book adopts the structure of a kind of “retreat”: over six chapters, the reader is guided through various strands of Nouwen’s thought, at the end of which various questions are posed. The keeping of a journal is encouraged as well.

There is almost too much material here, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. The reader needs to be aware that if this book is to be taken seriously, it will take time — perhaps six mini retreats of one chapter each rather than one retreat of all six chapters?

And at the heart of it all? Nouwen’s conviction that God loves us and calls us, no matter who we are, no matter how “useless” we are in the eyes of the world. Nouwen did not invent the term “wounded healer”, but he hugely developed it. As the authors put it here, “If we live our lives either avoiding our brokenness or claiming it as our deepest identity, thereby forgetting that we are first chosen and blessed by God, our lives will be tossed about by the waves of insecurity, anger, and discontent.”

Reading about the writing and thought of a great author can never replace experiencing the original, of course, but if readers of this book are encouraged to go on to read Nouwen himself, then it will have done its job.

The Revd Peter McGeary is the Vicar of St Mary’s, Cable Street, in east London, and a Priest-Vicar of Westminster Abbey.


On Retreat with Henri Nouwen: Engaging life’s big questions
Chris Pritchett and Marjorie Thompson
Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £10.40

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