In this deeply moving short, Henri Nouwen displays pastoral sensibility’s at its best. Wounds are real and painful but worthy of contemplative scrutiny. In fact, contemplative scrutiny exposes wounds — possibly deepens and intensifies them — but it also starts their healing: wounds are healed through knowing the wounds, feeling the wounds, and sharing the wounds. The sharpest felt-wound that plagues and terrorizes the modern person is loneliness. Profound loneliness leaves a chasm that begs its filling, so we seek “the one” solution: the one spouse, the one job, the one community, and so on. But Nouwen thinks this solution as a dead-end. Instead, Nouwen prescribes what seems at first counter-intuitive, and repulsive: treasure loneliness as a gift. Loneliness, perhaps more than any other dismay, forces us to consider something Beyond — it strangely stirs hope and yearning. Placing this brooding wound under contemplative scrutiny does not glory it — as if loneliness is greater than it is — but honors it as something worthy of care. To honor loneliness is, in my opinion, to identify it as it is, which is also to keep it in check — neither blowing it out of proportion nor diminishing it into nothingness. This crucial step opens the scrutinizer to be hospitable — a good host is a host who is comfortable in his or her own home. Indeed, the par excellence of a wounded healer is Jesus himself. To be hospitable with — not despite — our wounds is to model the Great Doctor and to embody the gospel:
Thus ministry can indeed be a witness to the living truth that the wound, which causes us to suffer now, will be revealed to us later as the place where God intimated a new creation.
Nouwen is clear and precise. As it befits the title — The Wounded Healer — Nouwen structures each chapter with a diagnosis and a prescription. The four chapters are as follows, with each successive chapter being a smaller concentric circle inside the previous: society at large, current generation, archetypal patient, and archetypal minister/healer. Below is a short outline.
Society at large
diagnosis (3 symptoms): historical dislocation, fragmented ideology, and a search for new immortality
prescription (3 options): mystical way, revolutionary way, and Christian way
diagnosis (3 symptoms): inward generation, generation without “fathers” (or authority figures), and convulsive generation
prescription (3 components): clear articulation of crisis, compassion, and contemplative critic
diagnosis (3 symptoms): impersonal milieu, fear of death, fear of life
prescription (3 components): personal concern, faith in the value of life, and hope
prescription: hospitality with two components — concentration (contemplation) and community
If any of these sound appealing, then pick up the book and read.