Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 27, 2000
Disturbing revelations about Nouwen
Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J. Nouwen, by Michael Ford. New York: Doubleday, 1999, 215 pp.
Review by DEAN SARNECKI
Special to the WCR
I began this book with great expectations and excitement; Nouwen has been one of my strongest spiritual influences over the past three or four years.
I first encountered Nouwen through his book Can You Drink the Cup? which continues to challenge and support me in my faith journey. It was followed by Wounded Healer, Letters to Marc about Jesus, and a number of other books.
Michael Ford, in Wounded Prophet, reveals for me some very disturbing aspects of the character of Henri Nouwen. His craving for affection, his personal woundedness, his maniac tendencies, and his ultimate discovery of his homosexual yearnings.
Nouwen, a Catholic priest from Holland who lived in the United States from the mid 1960s to his death at the age of 64 in 1996, is considered by many as one of the leading spiritual writers of the last quarter of the 20th century. He is often compared favourably with Thomas Merton; both wrote beautifully, very personally and profusely.
It turns out however that Nouwen was fighting many demons throughout his life. His inability to live up to the expectations of his father, his loneliness, lack of self worth and his feeling of inadequacy all haunted him.
Ford believes this brokenness within Nouwen was the key to his ability to reach out to those in need, those who are suffering and wounded. Ford writes, "He discovered that it was from the wounded places in himself that he could reach the wounded places in others."
Unlike a traditional biography, the book is divided into three sections, much like Nouwen's own works. Ford uses the titles "Heart," "Mind" and "Body" to identify and organize the writings of his subject. The book does include some of Nouwen's theology and biographical information, but not in chronological order.
What you find upon completing the book is like you have viewed snapshots of Nouwen's life. You come away understanding much more behind Nouwen's writing and frame of reference. Many of the books by Nouwen that I had read became much more vivid and alive upon reading what went into them physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I found this book unsettling. I actually started this review three months ago but was unable to complete it. It is not that this book disappointed me; it was a bit of a bombshell to discover the troubled soul behind the pen and that he was deeply and intimately involved with his own spiritual struggles and depression.
Nouwen was able to express clearly his need for God in these struggles and I guess that is why I can identify with him.
Ford's Wounded Prophet will be a challenging book for many. Those who find comfort and a confident spirituality in Nouwen will be shaken by some of the revelations presented in the book. I found myself having to return to the book and some of Nouwen's writings to discern their meanings in my life.
(Dean Sarnecki is a religious studies teacher in Sherwood Park.)