Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Way of the Heart

I just finished reading "The Way of the Heart" by Henri Nouwen. In my ongoing effort to learn to abide (John 15), I found this book to be really helpful. Nouwen builds his book around 3 primary practices that are far too often missing from our modern lives: solitude, silence and prayer. This is a short book, but contains remarkable insight into the reality of our (Christians) distraction, and the way that we can step outside of the frantic pace and enter into a lifestyle of abiding as Jesus did.

The section on solitude was a great reminder for me of the importance of being alone with God regularly. Who among us would argue that we are better people for stopping to be with God on a daily basis? In solitude we become aware of our sinfulness and develop a compassion for others who sin and are in need of grace.

The section on silence was also a great reminder. The book of Proverbs is full of wise sayings that are intended to help us learn to keep our mouths shut. As my friends know, I'm still learning this. When words are many, sin is not absent. Silence keeps us from sin, it teaches us to listen, and when we submit our will to God's, it teaches us to speak only what Jesus would speak.

Finally, the section on prayer taught me that prayer is not merely an intellectual effort where I try to find the right words to say to God. Prayer is much more than words. Of particular benefit to me was Nouwen's insight into the Apostle Paul's meaning in his charge to "Pray without ceasing." I think I understand this now, although it will take awhile for me to develop this habit. I'm intentionally not revealing Nouwen's thoughts on this here, in the hope that you'll take the bait and get the book.

While I don't intend for this to be an exhaustive book review, I will offer one criticism...a word of caution to anybody else who picks this book up per my recommendation (and I really hope you will!). While Nouwen is clearly in touch with reality, he does tend to drift into concepts of connecting with God in your heart / mind / soul that are abstract and ethereal. At least, that's how it feels to me. Perhaps a more experienced and gifted person of prayer would be able to follow, but I confess that Nouwen lost me a few times. But, I'm the kind of reader who can digest the good and discard the (for me) undigestables. All in all, this was an excellent book...and a nice bite-sized read (only 95 pages) for anyone and everyone trying to learn to stay connected to the Source.


Anonymous said...

Henri Nouwen also wrote a beautiful booked called "The Return of the Prodigal Son. It is based on the painting of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt. Really beautiful insight into redemption and reconciliation. I'm looking forward to reading The Way of the Heart.
Laura W.

pwdrd donuts said...

I do love reading your blog Ryan. I'm confused by your comment about connecting with God in this "ethereal" way (mind, heart, soul.) I think that's perhaps one of the best ways I connect -not to challenge you; just to be honest that this comment sort of surprised me. "Hope" is my biggest way to pray. The words have never flowed naturally for me -at least not in the way most prayer seems to go. Sometimes (almost always) I appreciate the silence in a gathering prayer time much more than the spoken time. Anyway. I've read a few of his. Anxious to pick this one up.

Ryan S. Poe said...

Hey was good to see you today. Thanks for your reply here. Nouwen is a true mystic and I think (just my opinion) that it takes a special person to connect with God in the ways the mystics do. I think I'm too much "in my head" when I pray...although I was challenged by this book to set my intellectual, goal-oriented prayers aside and simply be with God. Perhaps if I can learn to do this better, I'll relate to God in a new way and understand Nouwen's writing a little better. Since I know you well enough, I think I can safely say that I am not surprised that you identify with the "ethereal" (not the right word, but not sure what I'm looking for here) path to God. I admire that about you.

pwdrd donuts said...

awwwww Ryan. What a sweet man. So good to see you as well. Let's not wait too long to get together. Love talking today.

pwdrd donuts said...

...I always love toaking to you.

pwdrd donuts said...

woopsie. Toking is something altogether different than talking.