Thoughts of Henri Nouwen on the International Day of Peace

Henri nouwen

Henri Nouwen

16 years ago, Henri Nouwen passed away. 

Don't know who Henri Nouwen was?

Many people didn't 16 years ago. Many people don't now. Many people are just beginning to discover the wisdom and character of his remarkable life. Today, the International Day of Peace, is a good day to remember his life dedicated to the pursuit of shalom, Christ's kingdom, and the love of God.

The word mystic doesn't often receive a positive embrace from many churches. Sometimes it's a denominational thing, other times it's a science v. faith thing, and other times it's a philosophical thing.

My thought?

It's a fear thing.

Many believers are afraid of mysticism. Forgetting that Christianity is birthed as an eastern form of spirituality (and that greco-roman westernism is a hallmark of modernity), many churches have been entirely stripped of ritual and practice; we are being taught it is filled with heresy, legalism, paganism, and other evils, so we thus have successfully drained ourselves of comtemplative life altogether. But we still insist on decrying mystery, claiming it perhaps will lead to demonic affiliation or idolatry; a focus off of Christ, or some heinous thing that will spoil the Gospel. My point is: it is fear-based, rather than Word based — the Word here being Jesus-The-Logos. Sometimes, we have replaced mysticism and mystery so completely with the Bible alone that we pound on other people for seeking intimacy with God by seeking the Scriptures, but also through meditation and the wisdom found the journeys of other people. It offends some. Nouwen faced such criticism.

Drained as many of people are of the mystic's life, some of us are parched for it, dying for it, sprawled out in the desert needing it. Are we pursuing idols? No. Are we throwing out Scripture? No. Are we abandoning Jesus? No, no and no. 

Nouwen was a beautiful, poetic voice speaking out on behalf of the marginalized. Why? He learned the Way of Jesus Christ from those with conditions such as Down's Syndrome. Without their lives, he could not have known Christ as intimately within himself. He championed Christians to welcome strangers without agendas. Why? He discovered within himself a brokenness that was filled with ignorance, pride, arrogance, rudeness and other evils that allowed him to welcome the stranger and orphan on his own terms (not Christ's). Yet these very people exposed his woundedness for what it was. He really didn't love the stranger, but rather only the thought of obeying God with the intent that "the Other" would change his or her ways. 


Recognizing this terrible state, a believer though he was, Nouwen began to see himself as a "wounded healer" — someone fully called by God to assist others, but fully broken within himself, needing those around him to expose fully that woundedness in order that true communion with other people in Christ could be realized. 

Nouwen called for shalom… true peace… everlasting peace… community… deep from within for the dividing walls between us were the very things keeping us all blinded to what was really keeping us from God. Sometimes we get it into our heads that we know our sins, our woundedness, our brokenness.

We repent.


Yet we have not actually engaged the community of Christ… that being the poor, outcast, imprisoned, downtrodden, burdened, maligned, or forgotten (not necessarily those people who have declared a similar faith to our own meeting religiously on Sundays)… so while there is true sincerity between us and God, it can be twisted or remain incomplete when we believe we know the person next to us through eyes of doctrine or other judgments, rather than eyes of Christ. In not really meeting the stranger, we cannot truly know the depth of our woundedness as believers, as human beings. To know the stranger, we must enter into their lives as humbly as possible. 

One of my favourite quotations from Nouwen is found in his work A Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey:

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” 

What will it take for me to lay down my judgments?

What will it take for me to swallow humility, bitter as it is, yet become strengthened?

What will it take for me to love without an agenda?

What will it take for me to be loved without an agenda?

Peace to all this day.

May chains be broken.

May divisions be healed.

May walls crumble down.

May our hands turn to the work of peace,  moved by the Spirit of Love and Grace.

And may we seek God as He calls us to seek Him… in all the ways He created, designed, and will be found in.

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