The Way of the Heart – Henri Nouwen

The Way of the Heart focuses on the spirituality of the Desert Fathers & Mothers – Christians who lived in the Egyptian desert in the 4th and 5th centuries. Once the persecutions had ceased, these witnesses to Christ saw that “the end of the persecutions did not mean that the world had accepted the ideals of Christ and altered its ways; the world continued to prefer the darkness to the light (John 3:19). But if the world was no longer the enemy of the Christian, then the Christian had to become the enemy of the dark world.

The 3 ways to prevent the world from shaping us in its image & thus the 3 ways to life in the Spirit.

1. FLEE/SOLITUDE –  To flee is to find solitude – solitude is the furnace of transformation – without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self. Jesus himself entered this solitude in the desert to fight the devil against the 3 temptations of the world: to be relevant, to be spectacular, and to be powerful. Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter – the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers Himself as the substance of the new self. Solitude is not a private therapeutic place, but rather a place where the old self dies and the new is born. In solitude you must deal with nothingness, no phones or books or friends. We must surrender ourselves totally and unconditionally to the Lord Jesus Christ – only Christ can overcome the powers of evil. Solitude is not simply a means to an end. Solitude is its own end. It is the place where Christ remodels us in his own image & frees us from the victimizing compulsions of the world. Solitude gives birth to compassion b/c it makes us die to our neighbour. To die to our neighbours means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and thus to become free to be compassionate.


2. SILENCE – Silence completes & intensifies solitude. Silence protects the inner fire. Silence guards the inner heat of religious emotions. This inner heat is the life of the Holy Spirit within us. Thus, silence is the discipline by which the inner fire of God is tended and kept alive. Silence of the heart is much more important than silence of the mouth. Silence is primarily a quality of the heart that leads to ever-growing charity.


3. PRAYER – When prayer is reduced to only speaking to God, it’s not so strange that a dialogue with God will turn into a what feels like a monologue. Real prayer comes from the heart. “To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all-seeing, within you.” To pray with the heart does not mean to fill prayers with feeling, but that you should strive to let your prayer remodel your whole being. Entering into the heart is entering into the kingdom of God. The way to God is through the heart. The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart – such a simple, easily repeated prayer can slowly empty out our crowded interior life and create the quiet space where we can dwell with God.


“Society was seen as a shipwreck from which each single individual man had to swim for his life… These were men who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster” – Thomas Merton.

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