People of the Books, March 2016: The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen


Talk about the book in person: Saturday, March 20, 2016, 10AM at Kaldi’s in Kirkwood

Talk about the book online in our People of the Books Facebook group

Buy the book at Amazon:

Check it out from a local library:

Lent is a very timely part of the church year to examine our spiritual lives, to look within, embrace, surrender to, or just plain go through the challenges life presents at us, rather than trying to move around them. While Lent has often been seen as a time of giving something up for 40 days, in my experience I have sometimes found that I am led to what is known spiritually as the desert, or desert spirituality. Toward that end, our book for this month is The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen. Lent calls us toward an examination of our spirits, perhaps not unlike how Jesus was tested in the wilderness. Sometimes such testing may feel punitive – but what if we take the shame out of being tried and investigated to see these times as learning and growth experiences? Even if others try to shame us for what end up being learning experiences, we don’t necessarily have to accept the emotional weight of their shame as ours. We may try to avoid pain, discomfort, or “blahs,” but there are times in which it becomes impossible to avoid them – and the only thing one can do is go through them. I have found concepts from desert spirituality to be infinitely helpful in terms of going through that which I consider less desirable. Some things that feel painful may be opportunities for growth and learning, if we can frame them in that way.

The Way of the Heart encourages such growth and learning through its use of the desert mothers and fathers’ ideas about silence, solitude, and prayer. The result is short text that encourages us to seek God in our hearts. In honor of Lent and the desert, I lift up Nouwen’s classic of desert spirituality as a resource to help us cope with and appreciate the gifts of spiritual deserts as we experience Lent.


Discussion questions:

This book is written to clergy, but I think that the whole people of God may find worthwhile wisdom in it. How do the spiritual practices discussed in the book help you to live out God’s call in your life?

From a Missional Faith Thinking perspective, this work presents some challenges:

How do we integrate these learnings back into an involved community of faith?

What is the right amount of time to withdraw from the community, and when is it right to come back in?

Must spirituality be quiet and retiring, away from the noise of the world in order to be authentic?

What gifts does desert spirituality hold for missional faith thinkers?

What does this book have to say to those of us who seek God’s justice in community?


Additional reading:

Borgman, Dean. “The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry.” Accessed March 9, 2016.

Robinson, Natasha Sistrunk. “A Desperate Need: The Way of Heart.” A SISTA’S JOURNEY, June 23, 2015.

Suttle, Tim. “The Way of the Heart – by Henri Nouwen.” Patheos: Paperback Theology, March 28, 2008.

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Rebecca is a theological librarian (M.Div., Eden Theological Seminary; M.A., I.S.L.T., University of Missouri - Columbia) from St. Louis, MO with an interest in the intersection of theological and religious literacies and metaliteracy in the lives of all people, especially those of faith. Some of her Big Life Questions are "How do people of faith explore their faith questions; how can I support that exploration with proven and emerging educational strategies, research processes, and quality resources; and so informed, decisively act as disciples of Jesus in the real world in which we live?"