08/12/2006

Reaching Out (by Henri Nouwen)

'Reaching Out' is an excellent and thought-provoking Christian book by the late Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Roman Catholic priest. He explores three movements in spiritual growth: from loneliness to solitude, from hostility to hospitality, and from illusion to prayer. He looks at three ways in which people are often hurting - by being lonely, hostile or filled with illusions - and devotes a section of the book to each.

Nouwen looks at reasons why we tend to look inward and suffer, although his writing is gentle and there's no tone of condemnation. He then discusses ways of reaching beyond our pain to find contentment in being alone, and what it means by being truly hospitable and able to pray. I was particularly struck by his descriptions of hospitality, focusing as they did on welcoming both strangers and friends, particularly family, yet giving them the complete freedom to be themselves, not trying to manipulate or change them.

It wasn't a book to read at one sitting; although the concepts were not hard, and the language flowed well, there were a lot of thought-processes involved and I found a chapter at a time to be plenty. It's a book I shall return to frequently, I expect.

At the end of this edition of the book is a short piece, 'Beyond the Mirror', which describes in detail what happened when the author had an unexpected accident that almost killed him. Very moving and encouraging.

Highly recommended.

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