Nouwen's The Wounded Healer

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“The Wounded Healer” is a book that I have come back to at least annually since discovering it the year after I finished seminary. I return to it often because it reminds me what it is I must become as well as what the church must become if we are to speak hope and life into the angst of modern life. Nouwen challenges those of us who choose to engage the world through ministry to strike a balance between a “mystical" way of being and a “revolutionary” way. In the mystical mode ministers “find a center from which they can embrace all other beings at once and experience meaningful connections with all that exists” (20). In the revolutionary mode, we see that only “a radical upheaval of the existing order, together with a drastic change of direction”…show more content…
He was also a mystic who did not use his intimate relationship with God to avoid the social evils of his time but shocked his milieu to the point of being executed as a rebel. In this sense he also remains for modern humanity the way to liberation and freedom. (25)

Nouwen outlines the need to do ministry for a “rootless” generation. Nouwen uses the term “rootless” to describe a generation that moved away from the authorities above them, whether they be spiritual authorities of religion or the earthly authorities of family, government, and other key institutions. Nouwen argues that the lack of this rootedness has lead to a generation that feels uncomfortable participating in the world the way that it is. I see this reflected in the growing number of people who have disassociated not only with church, but other civic organizations and are opting instead to forge their own way.

“Everywhere we see restless and nervous people, unable to concentrate and often suffering from a growing sense of depression. They know that what is shouldn’t be the way it is, but they see no workable alternative. Thus they are saddled with frustration, which often expresses itself in undirected, purposeless violence, or in suicidal withdrawal from the world, both of which are signs more of protest than of a new found ideal” (Nouwen,
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Nouwen blames this hopelessness that individuals feel in this life to a fear of death, a fear of life, and what he calls “the impersonal milieu”. Nouwen uses the story of a man who has fallen ill to describe the impersonal milieu:

Suddenly this tough man who had always maintained his own independence through hard manual labor found himself the passive victim of many people and operations that were totally alien to him… An anonymous group of “they” people had taken over (60).

As simple as it sounds, personal concern is the antidote that Nouwen provides for the impersonal milieu. It has amazed me at times in my ministry that the most significant things are often the simple gestures of asking “how are you?” “What’s going on with you?” “What’s wrong?” and then genuinely offering myself to listen to the response. This is a day to day act of giving ourselves for others. “Thinking about martyrdom can be an escape unless we realize that real martyrdom means a witness that starts with a willingness to cry with those who cry, laugh with those who laugh, and to make one’s own painful and joyful experiences available as sources of clarification and understanding” (Nouwen,
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