The richness of Nouwen’s book for me lies in part in the difficulty of getting beyond the Preface and into the actual chapters. I hope you’ll bear with me, because I think there are things here that are very important.
The “simple way” we spoke of last week is traditionally referred to as “the way of the heart.” Nouwen wrote an entire book on the subject with that exact title. It is a description used to speak of spiritual formation that has its beginnings in Scripture and tradition. It is the way of Jesus and the early Christians, as well as many others afterwards.
It is the way the editors of our book have chosen to describe what is laid out in the rest of the text. As they rightly show, “the way of the heart” is not about stages of development (as if we leave one and go on to the next); rather it is about movements–a kind of spiritual “lubb-dubb” that reflects an ongoing heartbeat with identifiable dimensions.
Taken as-a-whole, the way of the heart is “the way to descend from the mind into the heart and there be shaped by the Spirit of God within” (p. vii). For some of us, this presents some immediate problems.
For one thing, it calls us to agree with our predecessors in the faith that the intellect is not the supreme dimension of life. The deeper dimension is “heart.” We do not leave our minds behind in spiritual formation, but we don’t equate formation with information.
Secondly, it means that spiritual formation is inevitably personal, not in the sense of being selfish, but in the sense of being unique to who we are as human beings and as Christians, living both individually and in community. We are not ultimately formed generically or in ways that make us like others (e.g. a director, friend or spiritual hero), but rather in ways that correlate to life as each of us is actually living it.
The way of the heart means there is no “one size fits all” approach. We are on the brink of embarking on a journey that has a soul print that’s as unique as our finger prints. This may be a bit scary, but it is also immensely exciting.