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***Reaching Out

The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life

by Henri J. M. Nouwen

Reviewed October 1, 2004.
Image Books (Doubleday), Boston, 1986.  First published in 1975.  165 pages.

Thanks to my sister Becky for giving me this book.

The purpose of Reaching Out is best described in its foreword.  “This book is a response to the question:  ‘What does it mean to live a life in the Spirit of Jesus Christ?’”  Henri Nouwen believed that “the spiritual life is a reaching out to our innermost self, to our fellow human beings and to our God.”  He talks about three movements of the spiritual life:  From loneliness to solitude, from hostility to hospitality, and from illusion to prayer.

I wasn’t too impressed by the section from loneliness to solitude.  Although I have experienced some loneliness in my life, I simply do not need to learn to enjoy solitude.  As with most strong introverts (I had just begun reading The Introvert Advantage), this comes naturally.  Although I love my children, you should have seen my dance of joy when they went off to school for the start of the year, and I had the house to myself!

However, as an introvert, I do need to work on the next movement:  from hostility to hospitality.  Speaking of enjoying my children going to school, he reminds us that “our children are our most important guests, who enter into our home, ask for careful attention, stay for a while and then leave to follow their own way.”

He continues, “The difficult task of parenthood is to help children grow to the freedom that permits them to stand on their own feet, physically, mentally and spiritually and to allow them to move away in their own direction.  The temptation is, and always remains, to cling to our children, to use them for our own unfulfilled needs and to hold on to them, suggesting in many direct and indirect ways that they owe us so much.  It is indeed hard to see our children leave after many years of much love and much work to bring them to maturity, but when we keep reminding ourselves that they are just guests who have their own destination, which we do not know or dictate, we might be more able to let them go in peace and with our blessing.  A good host is not only able to receive his guests with honor and offer them all the care they need but also to let them go when their time to leave has come.”

The final movement, reaching out to God by moving from illusion to prayer, contains food for thought that anyone desiring to reach out to God may benefit from.

Copyright © 2004 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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