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University of St. Michael's College, John M. Kelly Library, Special Collections
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Wisdom of emptiness

This item is a half-page article by Henri Nouwen entitled, ‘Wisdom in Emptiness’ published in the National Catholic Reporter, October 4, 1974, p. 11. Nouwen begins the article by stating that most people need constant occupation and without it are restless and feel useless. He says ‘Being busy, active and on the move has nearly become part of our constitution’. Nouwen goes on to state ‘this is why silence is such a difficult task’. He suggests that occupation and preoccupation are our ’fearful ways to keep things the same’…’we hold on to the familiar life items which we have collected in the past’. Nouwen uses as an example of this a story by Carlos Castaneda and the story of Jesus’ exhortation that we should ‘not worry …your heavenly father knows what you need’. Nouwen concludes by saying, ‘ Conversion is an inner event that cannot be planned or organized, but needs to develop from within. Just as you cannot force a plant to grow, but can take away the weeds and stones which prevent its development, so you can… offer the space where such a conversion can take place’.

Compassion: solidarity, consolation and comfort

This item is a 5 and a half page article by Henri Nouwen, entitled, ‘Compassion: Solidarity, Consolation and Comfort, published in America magazine, America Press Inc., New York, March 13, 1976, pp. 195 – 200. In this article Nouwen uses the letters to his brother Theo and the paintings of the Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh to write of the expression of compassion in a human life. Nouwen states as the aspects of compassion he wishes to look at in the following way: ‘When we read Vincent’s letters and contemplate his paintings and drawings, three aspects of compassion come into focus: solidarity, consolation and comfort’. He then goes on with regard to these aspects to say, ‘When we say, “Blessed are the compassionate,” we do so because the compassionate manifest their human solidarity by crying out with those who suffer. They console by feeling deeply the wounds of life, and they offer comfort by pointing beyond the human pains to glimpses of strength and hope. 1) Solidarity: Nouwen suggests that although a sense of human solidarity might seem obvious that capacity has receded in our society. But he describes Vincent’s sense of it: ‘He realized that the road to human solidarity is painful and lined by weeping willows, but once Vincent found his aim in life, nothing, absolutely nothing, could hold him back’. 2) Consolation: Nouwen begins this aspect ‘when we have given up our desire to be different and have recognized our intimate solidarity with the human condition, then consolation can manifest itself. In Vincent Van Gogh, Nouwen sees consolation growing out of the artists desire to ‘come in touch with the heart of life as he saw it in the poor of spirit… for him, to draw meant to draw out of his fellow human beings that which binds them together’. Nouwen concludes this section by stating, ‘Consolation indeed asks for the sincere struggle to reach into the center of human brokenness; out of its common depths compassion can be expressed’. 3) Comfort: ‘Comfort…is the great human gift that creates community. Those who come together in mutual vulnerability are bound together by a new strength that makes them into one body’. Nouwen goes on to describe how Van Gogh especially in his later life tried to comfort by ‘drawing out of the dirtiest corners of life a ray of light’. Van Gogh’s own suffering of loneliness, obscurity and mental anguish, did not obscure the reality that ‘it is the sun that has made Vincent famous’.

Does the news destroy compassion?

This item is a 3 page article by Henri Nouwen entitled, ‘Does the News Destroy Compassion?, published in The Sign, September, 1976, pp.25 -27. Nouwen begins this article by making reference to the monk, Thomas Merton who read no newspapers, nor watched television, nor listened to the radio but who had a strong sense of solidarity with humanity. Nouwen quotes Merton ‘ My first duty is to start to live as a member of a human race that is no more and no less ridiculous than I am myself’. This, Nouwen suggests, lead Merton to compassion. ‘It was because of this compassionate solidarity that Merton was able to speak out and to offer criticism…to distinguish illusions from reality’. Nouwen then speaks about our modern exposure daily to images and descriptions of deep human suffering that we can do nothing about. He says, ‘ I am wondering, more and more, if day-to-day confrontation with human suffering with which identification is impossible does not, in fact, create more anger than love and more disgust than compassion’. He then asks, ‘How can I become a compassionate person?. Nouwen indicates that most of Merton’s information came from personal sources, letters, from individuals rather than collectivities. “In these letters Merton saw the world with its pains and joys; these letters brought him in contact with a living community of people who had real faces, real tears, and real smiles’. Nouwen concludes the article ‘A compassionate person has an eye for small things and is able to trust in the simple response. The great temptation is to make things so complex that any response seems inadequate and meaningless’.

The minister as the wounded healer: pastoral care and counseling

This item is a 6 page article by Henri Nouwen entitled, ‘ The Minister as the Wounded Healer’ published in Pulpit Digest, November-December 1976. Nouwen’ s first heading in this article is ‘The Wounded Minister’ and he opens by stating, ‘ This means that he who wants to announce the liberation is not just called to care for his own wounds but even to make them into the main source of his healing power’. Nouwen asks which wounds these might be and suggests the words alienation, separation, isolation and loneliness. He finds the word ‘loneliness is closest to our immediate experience and therefore most fit to make us aware of our broken condition’. Nouwen finds loneliness to be one of modern humanity’s deepest wounds, one which we make painful attempts to break through. However, he goes on to say ‘the Christian way of life is not to take away our loneliness but to protect and to cherish it as a precious gift’. Nouwen believes that the minister’s gift is to embrace this loneliness in his own life and use it to share his own broken humanity with those he serves. The next heading entitled, ‘The Healing Minister” asks the question, ‘how does healing take place?’ Nouwen speaks here of care and compassion but develops the theme of hospitality. ‘Hospitality is the virtue which allows man to speak through the narrowness of his own fears and to open his house for the stranger with the intuition that salvation comes to us in the form of a tired traveler’. In this way the minister who has come to terms with his own loneliness can offer a healing hospitality. Nouwen concludes by stating ‘No minister can save anyone. He can only offer himself as a guide to fearful people…because a shared pain is no longer paralyzing but mobilizing when it is understood as a way to liberation’.

Compassion: the core of spiritual leadership

This item is a 6 page article by Henri Nouwen entitled ‘Compassion, The Core of Spiritual Leadership’, published in Occasional Papers by the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, Collegeville, Minnesota, March 1977, No. 2. Nouwen begins the article by stating that his discussion of compassion as the core of spiritual leadership can be looked at in three areas: 1) The phenomenology of compassion. How does compassion manifest itself? Answer: In solidarity.2) The ascesis of compassion. How is compassion disciplined? By voluntary displacement. 3) The theology of compassion. How is compassion lived out in the light of the gospel? In discipleship. Nouwen then goes on to discuss each of these areas. 1) Solidarity. ‘Solidarity, as the manifestation of compassion, does not mean resignation to the sad fact that we are about the same as other human beings, but it means desire to participate in our human sameness as fully and deeply as possible’. Nouwen discusses the implications of solidarity for the spiritual leader and states ‘ Not critical observation, but compassionate participation; that is the vital source of all authority.’ He suggests Jesus as the divine manifestation of compassionate authority. 2) Displacement. Nouwen identifies compassion as a gift rather than something that can be learned. Nouwen suggests that displacement is the discipline of compassion and uses a dictionary definition to define it: ‘to move or to shift from the ordinary or proper place’. In the concrete this means, according to Nouwen, moving away from ‘what is ordinary and proper’ and getting in touch with our own ‘inner brokenness as well as with the brokenness of our fellow human beings’. He concludes the section by stating, ‘ And so, the discipline of displacement is the mysterious way by which the expression of compassionate solidarity becomes possible. 3) Discipleship. Nouwen’s principle point here is described by him, ‘Every human attempt to be compassionate independent of Christ is doomed to failure. The discipline of compassion only makes sense as an expression of discipleship’. He further clarifies, ‘ In Christ we can do a little thing while doing much, we can show care without being crushed and we can face the pains of the world without becoming gloomy, depressed or doomsday prophets’. Nouwen concludes the article by stating that the school in which all this is taught is the school of prayer.

Coping with the seven o'clock news: compassion in a callous world

This item is a 2 page article by Henri Nouwen entitled, ‘Coping with the Seven O’Clock News: Compassion in a callous world’, published in Sojourners, September 1977, Vol. 6, No. 10, pp. 15 & 18. Within the article is a separate article by Henri Nouwen called, ‘Portrait of Compassion” about his friend Joel Filartiga, which includes a full page illustration by Dr Filartiga, pp 16 & 17. In the first article Nouwen describes how hard it is for most people to feel a sense of compassion when inundated nightly by ‘pictures of starving babies, dying soldiers, burning houses, flooded villages and wrecked cars’. He attributes this difficulty in feeling compassion to the sense of being overwhelmed by the massiveness of it and our inability to feel we can do anything. Nouwen then says ‘When information about human suffering comes to us through a person who can be embraced, it is humanized’. He uses Thomas Merton as an example of one who received letters from all over the world speaking about human suffering and says, ‘ In these letters Merton saw the world with its pains and joys; they drew him into a real community of living people with real faces, real tears and real smiles’. Nouwen uses this as an example to suggest that compassion must be rooted in solidarity and community. Nouwen suggests that in our world which tends to value difference, uniqueness, it is our sense of community and our common humanity which will bring about compassion.
In the article about Paraguayan Doctor Joel Filartiga Nouwen speaks of the doctor’s life serving the very poor of his area, of his defense of the poor and his sharp criticism of the regime. He suggests that because the government could not hurt Joel, they kidnapped, tortured and killed his 17 year old son. Nouwen believes that through the father’s suffering for his people and his son, came very powerful drawings which Nouwen and his fellow authors wanted to use in their writings on compassion.

Not without confrontation

This item is a one page article by Henri Nouwen entitled, ‘Not Without Confrontation’, published in Sojourners, October 1977, Vol. 6, No. 10, p. 9. This is identified as the second in a series on compassion. Nouwen begins the article by stating that ‘compassion does not exclude confrontation’. Nouwen points to the prophets and to Jesus to make this point and suggests as an example that ‘we cannot suffer with the poor when we are not willing to confront those who cause poverty’. He goes on to state that the confrontation must be a humble one or in risks being self-righteous or self-serving. Nouwen then goes on to discuss the place of anger in confrontation and suggests that, for instance, anger is an appropriate response to injustice. Nouwen concludes the article by stating that ‘confrontation always includes self-confrontation. This self- confrontation prevents us from becoming alienated from the world which we must confront’.

Solitude and community

This item is a 15 page article by Henri Nouwen entitled, Solitude and Community, published in the UISG Bulletin (International Union of Superiors General), Rome, 1978. The article is described as a conference given by Henri Nouwen as part of the program of monthly meetings arranged by the English-speaking councilors of generalates in Rome. Nouwen begins by describing a number of world events occurring in the weeks before, which he concludes leaves our world in ‘a state of emergency’. He goes on to say, ‘while we approach the end of the second millennium of the Christian era, our world is clouded with an all-pervading fear, a growing sense of despair and the paralyzing awareness that indeed humanity has come on the verge of suicide’. Nouwen then asks how or if, the christian (sic) community can or will respond and says he wishes ‘to try to explain how the emergency situation …in which we live can open for us a new understanding of the indispensability of solitude in the life of the christian community’. Nouwen writes under three major headings: 1) Solitude and Intimacy, 2) Solitude and Ministry and 3) Solitude and Prayer, as they relate to communities of religious. 1) After an introduction in which Nouwen states, ‘ a community in which no real intimacy can be experienced cannot be a creative witness for very long in our fearful and angry world’. Nouwen then moves to discuss further under two major headings. The first,’ solitude: grounds for community growth’ suggests solitude is necessary for the growth of a loving community and for increasing fruitful intimacy among the members. The second sub-heading is ‘solitude: where we learn dependence upon God’. Nouwen says here, ‘with solitude, we learn to depend on God by whom we are called together in love, in whom we can rest, and through whom we can enjoy and trust one another…’ 2) Under the heading Solitude and Ministry Nouwen speaks of the new varieties of ministry available but also of the loss of communal character and therefore, common witness. Under the sub-heading ‘solitude: place where common vocation becomes visible’ Nouwen states, ‘We should never forget that God calls us as a people, and that our individual religious vocation should always be seen as a part of the larger vocation of the community. A further heading in this section is, ‘solitude: a place of communal obedience’. 3) In this section headed Solitude and Prayer, Nouwen begins by stating ‘It is very simplistic to say that emergencies make people pay more attention to God and re-awaken religious feelings’. He wonders if in fact, the opposite is not true. He goes on to remind religious to be aware of how much secularism has permeated religious life and how prayer is ‘has lost its central place’. There are two sub-headings:’ solitude: the place of the great encounter and conversion’ in which Nouwen says,’ In solitude we leave behind us our many activities, concerns, plans and projects, opinions and convictions, and enter into the presence of our loving God , totally naked, totally vulnerable, totally open, totally receptive’. In the second sub-heading entitled, ‘solitude: unlimited space for others’ Nouwen says ‘…through prayer and especially through intercessory prayer, the religious community stands open to the whole world. By their prayers, the members of a religious community form an open square in which there is space for any and everyone’. Nouwen concludes by saying ‘I hope that I have been able to convince you to some degree of the indispensability of solitude in the life of the religious community’.

Contemplation and ministry: making the clouded clear

This item is a 3 page article by Henri Nouwen entitled ‘Contemplation and Ministry’ published in Sojourners, June 1978, pp. 9,11-12. Nouwen begins the article by asking what is the relationship between contemplation and ministry?. He answers by stating ‘The contemplative life is a life with a vision and life of ministry is the life in which this vision is revealed to others’. He speaks then of a spiritual discipline which leads to movement in life from opacity to transparency. Nouwen uses three examples to discuss this: Nature, Time and People. With regard to Nature Nouwen believes that we are no longer able to let nature minister to us; rather we use and abuse it. With regard to Time, Nouwen suggests that time has become almost an enemy rather than a present moment full of God; a kairos. He suggests that ‘the contemplative life is the life in which time slowly loses its opaqueness and becomes transparent’. With regard to People, Nouwen states ‘ contemplation as seeing what is really there has a very significant meaning in the context of interpersonal relationships…here we can begin to see the intimate connection between contemplation and ministry’. Nouwen concludes by discussing briefly two other important aspects of contemplative prayer for ministry: simplicity and obedience.

The hell of mercy: confronting Merton's spirituality

This item is a 1 page article by Henri Nouwen entitled ‘The Hell of Mercy’, published in the journal, Sojourners, December 1978, p.19. Nouwen writes of his interpretation of Thomas Merton's "small, but very penetrating book," 'Contemplative Prayer'. Nouwen discusses how, rather than Merton leading us into morbidity, Merton is actually illustrating how entirely dependent we are on God's mercy.

The desert counsel to flee the world

This item is a 5 page article by Henri Nouwen entitled, ‘The Desert Counsel to Flee the World’ which is part one of a 3 part series published in Sojourners, pp. 14, 15 – 18, June 1980. Nouwen introduces the article by speaking of the desert fathers and mothers, in particular he writes briefly of the life of St. Anthony ‘the father of monks’. Nouwen identifies in the life of Anthony the profound importance of solitude and states, ‘When he emerged from his solitude, people recognized in him the real “healthy” man, whole in body, mind and soul’. Under the heading ‘The compulsive minister’ Nouwen expresses concern that the lives of many ministers are ‘horrendously secular’ busy with meetings, people, agendas, services. He suggests the very busyness of this life can be a way to avoid solitude, being alone with God. In the next section entitled, ‘The furnace of transformation’ Nouwen identifies solitude as the furnace of transformation. ‘Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter’. Here, the minister encounters himself or herself in the struggle to die to the false self, to meet God and ‘to be with him and him alone’. In the final heading entitled ‘A Compassionate Ministry’ Nouwen suggests that the life of prayer in solitude is the source of the quality of compassion for the minister. He concludes by stating, ‘In a world that victimizes us by its compulsions, we are called to solitude where we can struggle against our anger and greed and let our new self be born in the loving encounter with Jesus Christ. It is in this solitude that we become compassionate people…’

Reflections on compassion: convention keynote address

This item is a 6 page article by Henri Nouwen entitled,’ Reflections on Compassion’ which was the Keynote address at the annual assembly of the Catholic Health Association of Canada, published in the C.H.A.C. Review, July/August, 1980. Nouwen opens his talk with a quotation from the Letter to the Philippians 2: 1 – 11. In his introduction he begins by asking the people if they think they are compassionate which he suggests means ‘ to enter, with other people, where it hurts; to enter places of pain; to be there where people are suffering’. He suggests that we do not of our own accord do this and that it is God only who is compassionate. Nouwen suggests that one reason we are not compassionate is that we are too competitive. He goes on to state that God who is in no way in competition with us nevertheless became like us but not to take ’our pains away but to share them, to enter them and to become fully part of them. Nouwen asks his audience to think of those people who are most meaningful to us. Are they not the people who remain alongside us in our need? Nouwen speaks of Jesus’ powerful response of caring as described in the scriptures; a caring that comes from his ‘gut’. ‘Jesus felt the pain so deeply, he trembled so deeply that he trembled people to new life. He was moved, and out of that inner divine movement new health, cure and change came about’. Nouwen then speaks of the distinction between cure and care. Cure without care can be harmful, even violent. ‘Care broadens your vision; care makes you see around you; care makes you aware of possibilities’. Finally, Nouwen speaks of the possibility of being compassionate both in presence and absence.

Descend with the mind into the heart: the call to unceasing prayer

This item is a five page article by Henri Nouwen entitled, ‘Descend with the Mind into the Heart; the call to unceasing prayer’, published in Sojourners, August 20, 1980, pp: 20 – 24. This is the third part of a series which included articles on solitude and silence. Nouwen begins by stating ‘solitude and silence can never be separated from the call to unceasing prayer’. He also, once again uses stories from the desert fathers beginning with Arsenius to point to the importance of prayer. Nouwen, in his first part of this article headed, Prayer of the Mind, suggests that most ministers would say that prayer is of the utmost importance but that in fact, they don’t do it. ‘The contrast between the great support for the idea of prayer and the lack of support for the practice of it is so blatantly visible that it becomes quite easy to believe in the ruses of the evil one which Amma Theodora describes with such vivid detail. These ruses are identified as: 1) to make us think of prayer as an activity of the mind 2) a viewpoint that restricts the meaning of prayer to thinking about God. Nouwen states that ‘both these views of prayer are the products of a culture in which high value is place on mastering the world through the intellect’. Nouwen then goes on to discuss what he identifies as the prayer of the heart ‘which leads to that rest where the soul can dwell with God’. Nouwen identifies in his concluding section entitled ‘Prayer and Ministry’ three disciplines of prayer: 1) Nurtured by short prayers 2) unceasing and 3) all-inclusive. Nouwen concludes this third article by stating: ‘When we have been remodeled into living witnesses of Christ through solitude, silence and prayer, we will no longer have to worry about whether we are saying the right thing or making the right gesture, because then Christ will make his presence known even when we are not aware of it’.

Encounter in solitude

This item is a 6 page article by Henri Nouwen entitled, ‘Encounter in Solitude’ and is an excerpt from his book ‘The Way of the Heart’ published in The Sign, February, 1981, pp. 12 - 17. Nouwen introduces the article by speaking of the desert fathers and mothers, in particular he writes of the life of St. Anthony ‘the father of monks’. Nouwen identifies in the life of Anthony the profound importance of solitude and states, ‘When he emerged from his solitude, people recognized in him the real “healthy” man, whole in body, mind and soul’. Nouwen expresses concern that the lives of many people are ‘horrendously secular’. Nouwen identifies ‘the two main enemies of the spiritual life: anger and greed. He also suggests that the very busyness of life can be a way to avoid solitude, being alone with God. Nouwen describes solitude as ‘the furnace of transformation’. ‘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’. Nouwen speaks then of the fruit of solitude, ‘ it is compassion’. He concludes by stating, ‘In a world that victimizes us by its compulsions, we are called to solitude where we can struggle against our anger and greed and let our new self be born in the loving encounter with Jesus Christ. It is in this solitude that we become compassionate people…’

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