The unflagging inspiration of Henri Nouwen was his ability to share his faith and his love for Jesus even during the lowest points of his life.
For many of us, that such a spiritual leader could feel so depressed is a remarkable realization because that means, in so many important ways, he was just like you and me.
But few of us have Nouwen’s ability to share that journey in such a global sense, reaching Christians and non-Christians by expressing compassion and exposing his vulnerability.
During one of the Dutch-born Catholic priest’s most depressed points of his life, he yet found it within him to give a series of lectures about how important it was to follow Jesus in times of great anxiety.
Nouwen’s estate has now assembled those lectures into a new release, and this book, “Following Jesus: Finding Our Way home in an Age of Anxiety” (Convergent Books) is the result.
As with most of the priest’s writing, here Nouwen is the opposite of portraying the preacher.
Indeed, he begins by aligning himself with his readers. “Are you following Jesus,” he asks. “Am I,” he asks. … “Often, we are more wanderers than followers. I am speaking of myself as much as you.”
And within just a few pages he offers an identification by which many will recognize themselves: “Some people finally stop and give it all up. … They sit there and do nothing. Nothing excites them anymore. They have no real interest in life. They just watch TV, read comic books, and sleep all the time. There is no rhythm, no movement, no tension. Sometimes there is escape through alcohol, drugs, or sex, but nothing fascinates them. Nothing energizes them.”
Readers who see even a bit of themselves, or others they may be trying to help, in this description will devour the rest of this book to find out how Nouwen — and by association, we — can come to the belief that, “It is in this deeply tired world of ours that God sends Jesus to speak the voice of love. Jesus says, ‘Follow me. Don’t keep running around. Follow me. Don’t just sit there. Follow me.’ ... The voice of love is the voice that can completely reshape our life.”
While “Following Jesus” is perhaps a bit more erudite than some of Nouwen’s other works — “The Return of the Prodigal Son” and “The Road to Daybreak” are among his 30-plus classics — the book is worth the effort. That’s especially true if you’re one of those wondering, as so many of us are, and in need of a shepherdly voice.
Nouwen died in 1996, but “Following Jesus” is a final gift for the millions around the world who have found comfort and hope in his words.