The editors have wisely given us the overview of Nouwen’s understanding of spiritual formation before they take us into the particulars. And they have done this with one of Henri’s favorite concepts—and one that’s rooted in classical Christianity—“the way of the heart.” Before we turn to the movements which shape this heart, we must spend some time examining it in a more general way.
We begin by allowing Nouwen to eliminate (right at the start) the notion that spiritual formation is based upon a performance orientation (p. xv). We have grown up in a culture where we either can turn something into a plan or program, or we pretty much think it’s not for us. We don’t deal well with mystery, ambiguity, and unhurried journeying.
But this is the essence of the Christian spiritual life and its accompanying formation. Nouwen’s preference for the term “way of the heart” is an attempt to eliminate all notions of predictability, performance, and productivity.
When Jesus said, “Follow me,” that’s all the disciples knew they were supposed to do. “Follow” told them what to do; “me” told them whom to follow. Everything else—everything else was unknown.
This is simply to say that spiritual formation is rooted in trust. God has created us with hearts that act like compasses. In the Christian faith, Jesus is our “true North,” and we are drawn in his direction. But between here and there, nothing else is fully described or completely mapped out.
And so we read, “In the heart of God the Spirit dwells, and there the great encounter takes place. There, heart speaks to heart as we stand before the face of the Lord, ever present, all seeing, within us. And there, in the place of the heart, spiritual formation takes place” (p. xvi).