On Spritual Mentors: Henri Nouwen

Throughout my spiritual journey, books have been constant companions. They challenge me. They infuriate me. They encourage me not to give up. Many books too have had an impact on me. To Kill A Mockingbird gave me a role model for fatherhood. Carl Rogers’ On Becoming a Person gave me a doorway for trying to sit with others in pain. But only one book changed my life — The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen.

I first read this book in 1980. I thought that the concept of drawing on my wounds in trying to help others was a great thought — one I believed. Then I put it away. But it wouldn’t go away. I picked up Nouwen’s book again in 1983. As I read it, I knew where it was leading me. I resisted but finally on June 2, I faced my deepest wound. Nouwen helped me to finally face my addiction.

Since then, I have read many of Henri Nouwen’s books and am always amazed as to how he speaks to me heart. I suppose more than anything, Henri gives me hope. His belief in a loving God, his certainty of the depth of God’s compassion, his reiteration of the power of forgiveness, and most especially his own journey through doubt and darkness have been a beacon amidst my own stumbling.

A little over a year after Henri died, I read a biography of Henri written by Michael Ford titled Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J.M. Nouwen. In this book Ford revealed that Henri was gay and had struggled throughout his life to be at peace with his sexual identity. Some have said Henri should have outted himself while he was alive. All that I know is that when I learned of his struggle, I loved Henri even more. His own woundedness became more real to me and his journey was more tangible.

Here is just a sample I read last night, yet another passage that spoke to me : “The more I try to disentangle myself from the darkness, the darker it becomes. I need light, but that light has to conquer my darkness and that I cannot bring about myself. I cannot forgive myself. I cannot make myself feel loved….I must be found and brought home by the shepherd who goes out to me.” (Return of the Prodigal Son)

In 1992 I wrote a book called Encounters with Angels. I sent a copy to Henri as nothing more than an expression of gratitude. A few weeks later, I received in the mail a copy of Life of the Beloved. Inside the cover was the treasure: “To Richard Patterson/With many thanks for ‘Encounters with Angels’/ Peace and Joy/Henri J.M. Nouwen.” This treasure sits on my bookshelf next to my copy of The Wounded Healer.

Thank you, Henri!

Further Reading

Take your pick. Two very good collections of Henri’s writings are The Essential Henri Nouwen edited by Robert A. Jonas and Seeds of Hope: A Henri Nouwen Reader by Henri Nouwen and Robert Durbach

About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
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5 Responses to On Spritual Mentors: Henri Nouwen

  1. Thank you for writing this. I have not read Nouwen…one of the writers I have always read about…and I think it’s coming time I sit down with him. The wounded healer attracts me as well, something I want to do with art and writing in community, perhaps through my church (Episcopal). Starting with parents where I teach. And I do believe Nouwen might be a wonderful guide. Your post fits in with some themes of today that have been in my mind and heart.

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  2. mulchmantrc@aol.com says:

    i have to get and read encounters with angels — it is a special grace indeed to be able to forgive oneself — but at least we can be comforted in the knowledge that the good shepherd will not rest until he once again embraces us — the hound of heaven

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  3. Susan says:

    I was fortunate to have several spiritual mentors. One was a nursing instructor who believed in me when no one else did. She told me, “You will be a very good nurse”. It may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy but whenever I got the message that I was not good enough, I always remembered what she said. She had a lot of street credibility because she was the real thing: A nun who had spent over 20 years in nursing before she met me. She practiced nursing at Mercy Hospital in New Orleans, 7 days per week without keeping her pay. Yep, you could trust what she said. Another spiritual mentor was a household servant who raised me while my parents were deployed, working, etc. She suffered all kinds of hardships but I never saw her angry in 24 years. Every night she prayed though she never told anyone else to do it. I saw her bring about miracles through her prayers and that is when I realized that some people with the least worldly power have the greatest spiritual power. There is also Dr. Patterson who was more of a psychological mentor, but then it is difficult to separate the psychological from the spiritual at times.

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  4. Eileen P. Williams says:

    Oh no Dr. P, is this like my experience with the Serenity Prayer? :) I have Henri Nouwen’s books–they are waiting for me when the time is right, which may be now. You know your advice, encouragement and wisdom has always been on target. Blessings to you!Eileen

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  5. Eileen P. Williams says:

    Have not has……:)

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