“As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain filled with judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations. We will remain addicted to putting people and things in their ‘right’ place.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen
Anyone who knows me well already knows that I really admire Henri Nouwen. So when I found this clip of him preaching on The Hour of Power back in the early 90s, I knew I would have to post it on the blog.
Nouwen was a Catholic priest who left his native Holland to study psychology in the US in 1964 (a narrative very uncommon for a 1960s Dutch Priest to say the least!). His brilliance was shown not in his originality, but his ability to communicate ancient ideas with new life by attaching deep insight to personal stories. While teaching at schools like Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard, Nouwen also spent time practicing the monastic life and authored 40 books on spirituality as well as countless articles on theology and psychology. Nouwen eventually left this hectic life and traded his fame in for another demanding role when he became the chaplain of the L’Arche community of Daybreak in Toronto, Canada. Nouwen would spend the last years of his life sharing his life and home with people of physical and mental disability.
One of the reasons why I enjoy this video so much is because it shows an aging Nouwen whose speech impediment (“faith” often sounds like “face”) and thick Dutch accent signal a hidden layer of Father Nouwen’s own story. This recording is also significant as it tells of Henri Nouwen’s deep conviction that every person has been first loved by God before they were even brought into this word. For Nouwen, this means it is impossible to question God’s unconditional love—because love was present before condition (1 John 4:19). While this thought was Nouwen’s most basic commitment in his writing, unconditional love was something Henri may never have truly believed was his to receive. This polarizing tension between what Nouwen believed and what he felt to be true most contributed significantly to his struggles with depression and possibly his early death in September 21, 1996.
p.s. I will be taking a course on Henri Nouwen this Fall at Fuller Seminary—so expect more where this came from!