Hostility Vs. Hospitality: Excepts from Henri Nouwen’s “Reaching Out”

In preparation for a weekend visit to a local monastery I have been reading Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out, a book which is mostly concerned with insights into how one might create a better union with self, others, and God. The book is reflective guide to relational Shalom in a sense.

Before I leave for my little trip, I thought it would be worth posting a few excerpts from Reaching Out where Nouwen discusses a “movement from hostility to hospitality.” For Henri, this movement is for the betterment of all interpersonal relationships; however these quotes in particular have a certain piratical element to them which seemed worth further consideration. Essentially my questions are 1) if taken seriously, where would Nouwen’s words lead Christians in their effort to be God’s witnesses, even to the ends of the earth? And 2) if taken seriously, where would Nouwen’s words lead us in our efforts to relate peacefully with the person right across from us?

Hospitality & Creating Free Space

Hospitality…means primarily the creation of a free space where the strangers can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them a space where change can take place. P. 71

The hospitable teacher has to reveal to the students that they have something to offer…we can never leave the task of healing to [only] the specialist. P. 87,93.

In the eyes and feelings of many who suffer, church buildings are perceived more as houses of power than houses of hospitality. P. 92

Receptivity and Confrontation

Reaching out to others without being receptive to them is more harmful than helpful and easily leads to manipulation and even to violence, violence in thoughts, words and actions. Really honest receptivity means inviting the stranger into our world and his or her terms, not on ours. When we say, ‘you can be my guest if you believe what I believe, think the way I think and behave as I do,’ we offer love under a condition or for a price.

…[I]t belongs to the essence of a Christian spirituality to receive our fellow human beings into our world without imposing our religious viewpoint, ideology or way of doing things on them as a condition for love, friendship and care. P. 97-98.

Learned Ignorance

To prepare ourselves for service we have to prepare ourselves for an articulate not knowing, a docta ignorantia, a learned ignorance…well-educated ministers are not individuals who can tell you exactly who God is, where good and evil are and how to travel from this world into the next, but people whose articulate not-knowing makes them free to listen to the voice of God in the words of the people, in the events of the day and in the books containing the life experiences of men and women from other places and other times.

In short, learned ignorance makes one able to receive the world from others and the Other with great attention. That is the poverty of the mind. It demands the continuing refusal to identify God with any concept, theory, document or event, thus preventing man or women from becoming a fanatic sectarian or enthusiast, while allowing for an ongoing growth in gentleness and receptivity. P. 104-105.

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