Henri Nouwen was perhaps the most popular spiritual writer of the late 20th century and his popularity endures today. More than seven million of his books have been sold world-wide and they have been translated into 30 languages. Fifteen years after his death, all but one of his books remain in print, writes Ron Rolheiser.
Many things account for his popularity, beyond the depth and learning he brought to his writings. He was very instrumental in helping dispel the suspicion that had long existed in Protestant and Evangelical circles towards spirituality, which was identified in the popular mind as something more exclusively Roman Catholic and as something on the fringes of ordinary life.
Both his teaching and his writing, helped make spirituality something mainstream within Roman Catholicism, within Christianity in general, and within secular society itself. For example, US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, has stated that his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, is the book that has had the largest impact on her life.
He wrote as a psychologist and a priest, but his writings also flowed from who he was as a man. And he was complex man, torn always between the saint inside of him who had given his life to God and the man inside of him who, chronically obsessed with human love and its earthy yearnings, wanted to take his life back.
He was fond of quoting Soren Kierkegaard who said that a saint is someone who can "will the one thing", even as he admitted how much he struggled to do that. He did will to be a saint, but he willed other things as well: "I want to be a saint," he once wrote, "but I also want to experience all the sensations that sinners experience."
He confessed in his writings how much restlessness this brought into his life and how sometimes he was incapable of being fully in control of his own life.
In the end, he was a saint, but always one-in-progress. He never fit the pious profile of a saint, even as he was always recognized as a man from God bringing us more than ordinary grace and insight.
FULL STORY The gift that was Henri Nouwen (Ron Rolheiser)