Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life by Henri J Nouwen

Reaching OutNouwen takes the reader on a journey through three spiritual “movements,” each one dealing with a different aspect of our relationships: to ourselves, to others, and to God. The first movement involves our relationship with ourselves, moving us from a place of loneliness to discovering the joys found in solitude. The second movement joins us to our fellow human beings, moving us from hearts bound in hostility to hearts equipped for hospitality. The third and final movement encompasses our relationship with God, moving us from our illusion of Him, to understanding Who He truly is through prayer. Nouwen then intertwines the movements, weaving the act of waiting, our need for community, and intimacy with the Father into a beautify symphony of prayer and expectation.

  • To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude.
  • Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you to write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all – ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write?
  • …because in our world we are constantly pulled away from our innermost self and encouraged to look for answers instead of listening to the questions.
  • “It is the Christ in you, who recognizes the Christ in me.” “Yes,” he said, “He indeed is in our midsts,”
  • But slowly we can become aware of the possibility of making our human encounters into moments by which our solitude grows and expands itself to embrace more and more people into the community of our life.
  • …but in our innermost self the place can be formed where they (friendship and community) can be received as gifts.
  • In solitude we can pay careful attention to the world and search for an honest response.
  • When hostility is converted into hospitality then fearful strangers can become guests revealing to their hosts the promise they are carrying with them. Then, in fact, the distinction between host and guest proves to be artificial and evaporates in the recognition of the new found unity.
  • When we have seen and acknowledge our own hostilities and fears without hesitation, it is more likely that we also will be able to sense from within the other a pull toward which we want to lead not only ourselves but our neighbors as well.
  • Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.
  • We are so afraid of open spaces and empty places that we occupy them with our minds even before we are there.
  • …how we ever can expect something really new to happen to us if our hearts and minds are so full of our own concerns that we do not even listen to the sounds announcing a new reality.
  • …we cannot force anyone to such a personal and intimate change of heart, but we can offer the space where such a change can take place.
  • Looking at hospitality as the creation of a free and friendly space where we can reach out to strangers and invite them to become our friends, it is clear that this can take place on many levels and in many relationships.
  • Healers are hosts who patiently and carefully listen to the story of the suffering strangers. Patients are guests who rediscover their selves by telling their story to the one who offers them a place to stay.
  • Real honest receptivity means inviting the stranger into our world on his or her terms, not on ours.
  • Real receptivity asks for confrontation because space can only be a welcoming space when there are clear boundaries, and boundaries are limits between which we define our own position.
  • When we want to be really hospitable we not only have to receive strangers but also to confront them by an unambiguous presence, not hiding ourselves behind neutrality but showing our ideas, options, and life style clearly and distinctly.
  • …it belongs to the core of Christian spirituality to reach out to the other with good news and to speak without embarrassment about what we “have heard and… seen with our own eyes… watched and touched with our hands.” (1 John 1:1)
  • Receptivity without confrontation leads to a bland neutrality that serves nobody. Confrontation without receptivity leads to an oppressive aggression which hurts everybody.
  • Only in a free space can re-creation take place and a new life be found.
  • Poverty of mind as a spiritual attitude is a growing willingness to recognize the incomprehensibility of the mystery of life.
  • …learned ignorance makes one able to receive the word from others and the Other with great attention.
  • With poverty of heart we can receive the experience of others as a gift to us.
  • When our unfulfilled needs lead us to demand from our fellow human beings what they cannot give, we make them into idols and ourselves into devils.
  • When we move from illusion to prayer, we move from the human shelter to the house of God.
  • So, the paradox of prayer is that it asks for a serious effort while it can only received as a gift.
  • The movement from illusion to prayer is hard to make since it leads us from false certainties to true uncertainties, from an easy support system to a risky surrender, and from the many “safe” gods to the God whose love has no limits.
  • When our heart belongs to God, the world and its powers cannot steal it from us.
  • Prayer, therefore is far from sweet and easy. Being the expression of our greatest love, it does not keep pain away from us. Instead, it makes us suffer more since our love for God is a love for a suffering God and our entering into God’s intimacy is an entering into the intimacy where all of human suffering is embraced in divine compassion.
  • Just because prayer is so personal and arises from the center of our life, it is to be shared with others. Just because prayer is the most precious expression of being human, it needs the constant support and protection of the community to grow and flower.
  • In the community of faith… we can affirm each other in our waiting and also in the realization that in the center of our waiting the first intimacy with God is found.
  • Since our desire to break the chains of our alienation is very strong today, it is of special importance to remind each other that, as members of the Christian community, we are not primarily for each other but for God. Our eyes should not remain fixed on each other but be directed forward to what is dawning on the horizon of our existence.
  • Therefore, the Christian community is not a closed circle of people embracing each other, but a forward-moving group of companions bound together by the same voice asking for their attention.
  • While living between the first and second coming of the Lord, the Christian community finds its meaning in a patient waiting in expectation for the time in which God will be all in all. The community of faith always points beyond itself and speaks its own unique language, which is the language of prayer.
  • But when prayer is no longer its primary concern, and when its many activities are no longer seen and experienced as part of prayer itself, the community quickly degenerates into a club with a common cause but no common vocation.
  • Without community, individual prayer easily degenerates into egocentric and eccentric behavior, but without individual prayer, the prayer of the community quickly becomes a meaningless routine.
  • When we reach out to God individually as well as in community, constantly casting off the illusions that keep us captive, we can enter into the intimate union with him while still waiting for the day of his final return.
  • We do not have to deny or avoid our loneliness, our hostilities, and illusions. To the contrary: When we have the courage to let these realities come to our full attention, understand them and confess them, then they can slowly be converted into solitude, hospitality and prayer.
  • …invite all who share our life to wait with us during this short time for the day of complete joy.

About Jill English Johnston

God writes His story on every heart, if we only pause to read it. My heart has lived in a fantasy world since early childhood and am delighted that God has finally brought me to the place where I can bring the fantasies to life through story. I am currently working on a fantasy trilogy (of course) but I also post thoughts, reflections and (hopefully) inspiration to my website: I am a follower of the Rabbi Jesus, married to my best friend and inspiration, and the mother of three incredible children, one daughter and two sons, a son-in-love, a daughter-in-love and two adorable granddaughters. When not writing, I passionately pursue prayer, reading (never enough time to read them all!), and the outdoors. My husband and I both served in the US Navy and have lived/travelled through many states and all over Asia. We both still enjoy travelling, but we really love our home in New Braunfels, located at the Texas Hill Country.
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