Listenings: The Way of the Heart

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.

About jstevenharper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
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One Response to Listenings: The Way of the Heart

  1. Margot R Thompson says:

    Good Morning Pastor Steve –

    These are rich delights you offer up in Following the Movements of the Spirit! I am concurrently reading an old devotional by ESJ. He points out once more this morning the
    wonderful “stethoscope” (also microscope and telescope) of Romans 8:16. I imagine the constitution of the blood that flows through the heart has inherited molecules and elements that have been serving life for eons. The assertions of Ecclesiastes concerning newness notwithstanding, we have a faithful, ancient, nourishing provision that inherits from the very beginning. The Creator said “Let there be…” — meaning all that which flows through the river of life in Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and Jesus — and so to all of us who follow. And -boom- it wam.

    If Wesley were taking morning tea with us, would he possibly ask, “How is it with your lubb-dubb?” 🙂

    Thanks for your reflections, Steve!

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