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