Spirituality that challenges values

Published September 1, 1999

JEAN VANIER and Henri Nouwen, names that fascinate many moderns, are linked to a particular spirituality that challenges personal and social values. Both men identified with the communities of L’Arche, which centre on the mentally dysfunctional and basic Christian teachings. Becoming Human (Vanier) and Wounded Prophet (Ford), though very different books, provide summary and illumination.[pullquote]Becoming Human is essentially the text of the talks Vanier gave in the prestigious 1998 CBC Massey Lecture series. His message challenges the secular penchant for personal and societal renewal through pragmatic, rational restructuring rather than by means of a profound spiritual change in the human heart. “A changed person can change society” is an underlying theme. He also makes it radically clear that “society must change its basic priorities to include and integrate the individual in all his other variety and difference.” Vanier’s insights are as poignant for people outside organized religion as they are for those within it. Wounded Prophet is a convincing, much needed biographical appraisal in process of Henri Nouwen. When he died in 1996, the Christian church lost a compassionate priest and an influential spiritual mentor. Michael Ford, a religious affairs producer with the BBC, reveals the hidden side of this popular modern mystic.Nouwen was a paradox and a wounded bundle of complexities whose private life differed dramatically from his public persona. He appealed to many through his ability to speak and write about intimate, hidden things from his own experience. Many considered themselves in his special circle when it was not so. Nouwen did not want to bring discredit to his vocation and spent much of his adult life coming to terms with his homosexuality. While Ford suggests that the conflict between his sexual orientation and his pastoral commitment was the primary reason for his lifelong anguish, the issue runs deeper than that. His full humanity, rather than only his sexuality, was always involved in the quest he shared as best he knew how. This is a believable, but preliminary, assessment of a highly enigmatic and incredibly gifted person who touched and continues to influence many lives. Rev. Dr. Wayne A. Holst is a lecturer at the University of Calgary. He was a pastor, missionary and church executive for 25 years. .


  • Wayne Holst

    Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for twenty-five years; he taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and, for 15 years, he has coordinated adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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