04 September 2015

Book Review: The Way of the Heart

Flee, be silent, pray always, for these are the sources of sinlessness.-Abba Arsenius

The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers (1981) by Henri Nouwen is a short book with deep impact. At just 96 short pages, Nouwen provides much to think about. In essence, Nouwen examined the importance of solitude, silence, and prayer through the lenses of the desert fathers, Christians who lived in the Egyptian desert during the 4th and 5th centuries.

Flee--In the first section, where Nouwen addressed the importance of solitude, he began by telling of St. Anthony who apparently lived in complete solitude in the desert for 20 years. Nouwen uses Anthony's experience as a call to solitude for the modern Christian. He contends that solitude is a direct key to developing compassion.

Be silent--Silence often goes hand in hand with solitude. Living in the 21st century, we are bombarded with noise, and sounds, and words. In our loquaciousness, words have been drained of their power. The person who practices silence guards his tongue and also learns to speak with meaning. Nouwen writes, "It is a good discipline in each new situation if people wouldn't be better served by our silence than by our words" (p. 65).

Pray always--In the final section, Nouwen addresses the pray of the heart, which he differentiates from prayers of the mind that dominate many of our prayer lives. Learning to enter the presence of God, to pray with our whole lives, flows from solitude and silence.

On the whole, I liked this book. I think there is a lot of wisdom to glean from this book. However, though I agree that there is much benefit to the practice of solitude, I do not believe that living in complete isolation, such as St. Anthony did for decades, is as God intended. We were created to relate, so seeking long term isolation seems contrary to God's Word.  With that modest caution, reading this book is definitely worthwhile. 

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