Learning Prayer With Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen is one of my favorite spiritual writers. Although he was Catholic, not Orthodox, virtually all of his writings apply to the Orthodox faith. (I secretly think of him an “honorary” Orthodox Christian!) Since I’ve read all my library novels, I perused my bookshelves last night and pulled down Nouwen’s book The Only Necessary Thing and over the past 24 hours I’ve read (well, re-read) over half the book.

The book is a collection of his writings about prayer. Strangely (or providentially?), some of the passages in the book spoke directly to my time issues in my recent (and slightly whiny) post. Here’s a taste:

It is very important that once in a while we have an hour to be useless. Prayer is not being busy with God instead of being busy with other things. Prayer is primarily a useless hour . . . Prayer is primarily to do nothing in the presence of God. It is to be not useful and so to remind myself that if anything important in life happens, it is God who does it. So when I go into the day, I go with the conviction that God is the one who brings fruits to my work, and I do not have to act as though I am in control of things. I have to work hard; I have to do my task. And at the end of the day I have to keep saying that if something good happens, let us praise the Lord for it. 

Nouwen also addresses the human struggle to find that silent space and time for God:

As soon as we are alone, without people to talk with, books to read, TV to watch, or phone calls to make, (and my additions: Facebook statuses to check, Tweets to post, blogs to write, texts to send) and inner chaos opens up in us. This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again . . . . Silence is the discipline that helps us go beyond the entertainment quality of our lives. 

Nouwen cautions us, though, to push through the distractions to find that silence:

Without silence the Spirit will die in us and the creative energy of our life will float away and leave us alone, cold, and tired. 

Thus the Spirit nurtures all aspects of my life: my writing, my teaching, my mothering, my wifehood. If I neglect it, I lose the imagination and beauty of all those things.

Blessings and challenges abound. I keep reading. Keep listening. Keep trying to pray.


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