Monday, March 31, 2014

BookPastor >> "Intimacy" (Henri Nouwen)

TITLE: Intimacy
AUTHOR: Henri Nouwen
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1969, (160 pages).

What is the deepest need for a human being? What are most people struggling with? Is there a unifying theme in the questions posed to him from students, teachers, ministers, priests, or fellow believers in general? For Nouwen, this is summed up in one basic question: "How can I find a creative and fulfilling intimacy in my relationship with God and my fellow human beings?"

It is interesting how Nouwen describes the problem first and then connects the need for intimacy with sexuality, prayer, community, and the ministry. Key to the understanding of intimacy is to locate our phases of life in what Nouwen calls, "From Magic to Faith." For the first five years of life, one learns the frustration that life is more than just the subjective self, that we can never have everything we want. Fantasy and illusions are often seen as reality. Going to school between ages 5-12 is a starting point toward a more scientific mindset instead of a religious mindset. At adolescence (12-18), one wonders how the conflicts in life can be explained by religion. The young adult years expose one to the highs and lows of life, with pain and frustration accompanying the lows and joy and ecstasy following the highs. It is hoped that at the adult years, faith will be formed not with creating new realities, but adding new perspectives to the realities we cannot change. In other words, what Nouwen is saying is that intimacy is more about faith rather than magic. For love is about faith, about trusting not manipulating, about forgiving not forsaking, about redemption not revenge. For the essence of intimacy is bathing in a warm pool of safety and security. Nouwen writes:

"It is safe to embrace in vulnerability because we both find ourselves in loving hands. It is safe to be available because someone told us that we stand on solid ground. It is safe to surrender because we will not fall into a dark pit but enter a welcoming home. It is safe to be weak because we are surrounded by a creative strength. To say and live this is a new way of knowing. We are not surrounded by darkness but by light..... If there is a need for a new morality it is the morality which teaches us the fellowship of the weak as a human possibility." (36)

I like the way Nouwen puts it as the "fellowship of the weak." This will facilitate one's entry into intimacy and prayer. Intimacy with God allows one to escape the prison of self-doubt and explore the freedom of God's grace. Nouwen shows us prayers that look to God as:

  • "The clarifying God"
  • "The banned God"
  • "The big buddy God"
  • "The compassionate God"
  • "The beautiful God"
  • "The giving God"
  • "The coming God."

There is a movement of one's perception of who God is as one's faith takes shape. Nouwen also looks at the Pentecostal movement, charting its historical formation, evaluating it from a psychological perspective, and measuring it theologically. While cautious about the link between Pentecostal experiences with true spiritual movements, he urges readers to remain open about the possibility that God can work through religious experiences to bring us to a deeper level of intimacy. Intimacy also requires community. Without community, it is hard to establish dialogue to help deal with any depression. It is hard to share one's life and to carry one another's burdens. With fatigue and discouragement, one plunges into identity crisis. This has special implications for seminarians or people entering into the ministry. Nouwen looks at healthy timing, healthy spacing, and healthy self-understanding as ways in which one can sustain a constructive ministry of faith.

Intimacy is more needed that we think. It is that one chance to establish love with God and with fellow people. Without it, we are left to fend for ourselves as we spiral out of control. The world around us is a dangerous place to be in and we will find it hard to survive on our own. We need God. We need one another. We need spiritual guidance. This book is one more resource to help us gather the importance of prayer, community, faith, and love so that we can enter into intimacy with people who care and to develop in ourselves a capacity to care for others as well. Toward the end of the book, it seems like Nouwen is increasingly disturbed by depression in a seminary setting as well as the declining trust in church and institutions as sources of human support and spiritual guidance. Perhaps, we ought to give the Church more leeway and ourselves more opportunities to be open to God and to the church that God loves. Let me close with the following:

"The churches, in many ways entangled in their own structural problems, often seem hardly ready to respond to this growing need to live a spiritual life. The tragedy is that many find the church more in the way to God than the way to God, and are looking for religious experiences far away from the ecclesiastical institutions. But if we read the signs well, we are on the threshold of a new area of spiritual life, the nature and ramifications of which we can hardly foresee. Hopefully, we will not be distracted by the trivia of churchy family quarrels and overlook the great questions which really matter. Hopefully, we will be sensitive enough to feel the gentle breeze by which God makes his presence known. (1 Kings 19:13)." (150)

Great reminder.


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