Here is a modern classic in spiritual formation literature. Although this book was written in 1981, its message is as timely today as it was 28 years ago. The author, Henri J.M. Nouwen, takes the teachings of the fifth-century Egyptian Desert Fathers (and Mothers), and applies them to the both the need and quest for biblically sound spiritual formation. I found these 96 pages to be amazingly relevant to what we are experiencing today in the postmodern quest for spirituality. This is one of those rare books that transcend theological and denominational boundaries by focusing on the “heart” of what it means to seek to know God, to know self, and to understand the active presence of God in our lives.
Through the disciplines of silence and solitude, we discover a way to enter into “the loving silence of God” and to wait there for His healing Word. Recently I used this book as a guide for a personal prayer retreat, and found it to be an invaluable tool. Until I read this book, I thought I knew what Psalms 46:10 meant, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Now, I realize I have just begun the journey into the “furnace of transformation.” Having begun, I know I’ll never settle for the pseudo-spirituality that imitates genuine biblical solitude – a place where God’s Word creates an “inner space,” where we learn to listen to the loving, caring, gentle presence of God.
I like what Henri Nouwen says to ministers and leaders of congregations. “Our task is to help people concentrate on the real but often hidden event of God’s active presence in their lives. Hence, the question that must guide all organizing activity in a parish (or church) is not how to keep people busy, but how to keep them from being so busy they can no longer hear the voice of God who speaks in silence.”(p. 63). I don’t know about you, but this hits me right between the eyes. I’m afraid too much of our time is spent trying to keep people busy – either “off the streets” or “on the streets” in the name of Jesus.
I urge every pastor and leader to take time to read this book, and allow its message to challenge you about how much time you spend alone with God. It is vitally important that we escape the “musts” and “oughts” of our daily routine, and allow God’s Spirit to set us free from our dependency on “doing” and discover what it really means to “be.”