The Wounded Healer: A book review

After hearing quite a few people mention Henri Nouwen’s book The Wounded Healer, I decided to read it.  Though I had only the title to go on I felt like it would be a good book for me in the “here and now” of my life.  Written to address the question “What does it mean t be a minister in our contemporary society?” the book is broken up into what Nouwen refers to as “different doors through which [he has] tried to enter into the problems of ministry in our modern world” with each of the four chapters representing a “door.”  

As the book was first printed in 1972, the first chapter seems to address issues that, while still existant, are somewhat on the periphery as I see it.  The remaining three chapters however, seemed much more applicable from where I stand.  In chapter two, Nouwen describes the “men and women of tomorrow share: inwardness, fatherlessness, and convulsiveness.”  He then goes on the describe what each of these things looks like and then discusses the “implications of [his] pronosis for the Christian ministry of the future.”  I gained much insight from his section on “The minister as the articulator of inner events.”  He says,

As soon as we feel at home in our own house, discover the dark corners as well as the light spots, the closed doors as well as the drafty rooms, our confusion will evaporate, our anxiety will diminish, and we will become capable of creative work.

If you have read any of my recent posts you will know this is something I really relate to.  He goes on to say,

The key word here is articulation.  The man who can articulate movements of his inner life, who can give names to his varied experiences, need no longer be a victim of himself, but is able slowly and consistently to remove the obstacles that precent the spirit from entering.

Beautiful wonderful.  I underlined and marked quite a bit in this chapter which for me is indicitive of though provoking and challenging ideas.  Chapter three is titled “Ministry to a Hopeless Man” and it includes a conversation between a seminary intern and a man about to have surgery that he may not make it through.  It is a very insightful look at the practical aspects of ministry.  Nouwen then uses this story to springboard into “Principles of Christian Leadership.”  One thought that jumped out at me was when he said, “The paradox indeed is that those who want to be for “everyone” find themselves often unable to be close to anyone.”  Another nugget is found shortly thereafter: “The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.”  There are so many great quotes in this book!  Here’s another: “Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory.”

I think the last chapter was my favorite.  It is titled “Ministry by a Lonely Minister.”  This is where he brings out the point of the title of the book.  I was absoltely astonished when I read: “The Christian way of life does not take away our loneliness; it protects and cherishes it as a precious gift.”  I have a long way to go if that’s the case.  He goes on to say:

Perhaps the main task of the minister is to prevent people from suffering for the wrong reasons.  Many people suffer becauses of the false supposition on which they have based their lives.  That supposition is that there should be nofear or loneliness, no confusion of doubt.  But these sufferings can only be dealt with creatively when they are understood as wounds integral to our human condition.  Therefore ministry is a very confronting service.  It does not allow people to live with illusions of immortality and wholeness.  It keeps reminding others that they are mortal and broken, but also that with the recognition of this conditon, liberation starts.

This is a great book and I recommendit for anyone entering ministry and perhaps those who have already begun.

(All quotes taken from The Wounded Healer by Henri J. M. Nouwen, published by Image Books, Double Day, Copyright 1972.)

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