Henri Nouwen Our columnist recalls the life and insights of a peripatetic Christian

Garvey, John

OF SEVERAL MINDS JOHN GARVEY HENRI NOUWEN Restless no more Henri Nouwen died recently while visiting his father in Holland-I met him when he was a visiting professor of psychology at Notre Dame in...

...And he believed that any theology that dealt honestly with justice and liberation must also provide a spirituality which could deal with the defeat of the hopes of the poor, and the failure of justice...
...OF SEVERAL MINDS JOHN GARVEY HENRI NOUWEN Restless no more Henri Nouwen died recently while visiting his father in Holland-I met him when he was a visiting professor of psychology at Notre Dame in 1967...
...A few years ago he was terribly injured when he was hit by a truck as he walked through the rain to help one of the members of the community to begin his day...
...L'Arche is made up of disabled and nondisabled people who live in community...
...He was a deeply compassionate man who understood the relationship between suffering and love...
...but he had some very difficult and unhappy times before coming to that final and welcome place...
...He saw that it understood the psychology of spirituality at that incarnate level, without needing the jargon of contemporary psychology, and at the same time it was capable (unlike any psychology) of looking at the cross and the hope of resurrection...
...He told me that the accident was a blessing in disguise (prompting me to remember the old line, "I sure can see the disguise") because it forced him to slow down, something that didn't come naturally to him...
...He finally settled at Jean Vanier's L'Arche community in Ontario, where he served as chaplain...
...she had expected wisdom and serenity...
...I remember a conversation in which he insisted that psychological jargon should be resisted when we talk about spirituality...
...The cross was very much at the center of his faith...
...It occurred to me that unlike a monk, a married person, or most diocesan priests, Henri did not have a way of life that demanded stability, and I believe he suffered from that...
...In In Memor-iatn, a book written after the death of his mother, he wrote, "Why do we think that Christian death is an easy death...
...During the first year of our marriage, Regina and I lived in South Bend and were close to friends at Notre Dame...
...He was restless for much of his life...
...Henri was deeply attracted to monastic lifeómy favorite of his books is Genesee Diary, an account of his time at that monasteryóbut he understood that he was not called to be a monk...
...He was a restless man who formed strong attachments...
...When I became Orthodox I received a letter from Henri that both revealed his sorrow at my decision, and at the same time his understanding and support...
...A compassionate life is a life in which the suffering of others is deeply felt, and such a life may also make one's death an act of dying with others...
...He had come there from the Menninger Clinic in Kansas, and after he left Notre Dame he was to go on to complete a doctorate in theology, and then to Yale and Harvard, with other important times spent in Latin America, a Trappist monastery, as well as travels all over the United States and Europe...
...who is our joy...
...he was interested in the Latin American political scene when liberation theology was in the air...
...It revealed the fact that the spiritual life involves precisely this sort of wrestling with our most minor irritants and irrational responses...
...Some people accused Henri of a kind of trendiness...
...He was interested in youth culture when that was fashionable, for example (I can remember a Mass he celebrated one night during the sixties in a coffee house following the appearance of the group Stone Pony, whose lead singer was Linda Ronstadt...
...Henri wrote movingly of his experience with mentally retarded people and of the holiness he found there...
...One friend of mine who read many of his books was shocked when she read Genesee Diary, because he confessed to the most petty annoyances, melancholy, impatience, frustrations...
...His life, work, and travels generated many books...
...Why do we believe that the hope for a life with Christ will make our death a gentle passage...
...This was one of the reasons he was attracted to Orthodox spirituality...
...he seemed both to need to put down roots, and to move on...
...He worried that this sense was being lost in contemporary Catholicism, and was unhappy with many of the changes he saw in the Catholic church in Holland...
...It isn't dramatic, most of the time...
...It was Henri's last year there, and he was conscious of the pain of leaving friends...
...I remember a sermon he preached once at Notre Dame...
...Henri spoke of the mystery of suffering, and ended by saying, "When we look deeply into our suffering, we see at the depths of suffering the suffering face of Jesus Christó who is our joy...
...He had (and has) a lot of Orthodox fans...
...During the last ten years of his life Henri served L'Arche, a nondenomi-national community founded by Jean Vanier, a Canadian Catholic layman...
...But then she realized that this was precisely what made his work valuable...
...the language traditionally used by the Fathers and Mothers of the Desert (whose work he loved) was perfectly adequate...
...Henri tried to see the work of the Holy Spirit everywhere, but he was keenly aware of the limits of psychology and psychological language, and the dangers in liberation theology...
...He found the home he needed at L'Arche, I think...
...But this is unfair...

Vol. 123 • November 1996 • No. 19


 
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