When Nouwen is hot, he is hot, and in this book he is hot. Nouwen copies from John of the Cross when he insists that the value of a contemplative life is character transformation.
His first section on solitude is right on. Too many of our church leaders are so action oriented they shy away from solitude. The resulting religion is as cold and pragmatic as any profit driven corporation. Your pastor needs to read this chapter.
Nouwen's second section on silence picks up where the discussion on solitude ends, and goes a bit deeper. Here, he offers a call for measured speech. All speech must have purpose and come from a quiet center. This is a good section for any person who wishes to grow deeper in the Christian faith. However, those who are too quick to act or ADD to accept it may lay the book aside about this time.
The final section deals with hesychasm. Nouwen describes this as prayer of the heart (entire being) as opposed to usual prayer of the mind. Prayer of the mind usually asks things of God, or tries to understand God. These ways of praying are not bad, but limited. Nouwen opts for a style of prayer that offers constant communion with God.
However, it is as this point that I feel the book breaks down. Nouwen does a good job of stating the need for such prayer, and refers to it with illustrations and theology, but he doesn't quite teach the reader how to go about practicing this form of inner prayer.
Someone well versed in contemplative prayer may feel affirmed by this book and get a lot out of it.
Someone who wishes to break the yoke of busy, busy Christianity will find a seductive light of hope within the pages of these books.
But the novice who wishes to dig deep, must use the book as a springboard to other readings. Fortunately there are many other good sources out there to continue feasting upon.
This book is what one comes to expect from Henri Nouwen: simple, winsome, deep, and compassionate. I serve as a pastor and find his comments still contemporary, though they are the product of Nouwen's contemplation of twenty years ago.
Nouwen borrows not only the content, but the habit of desert wisdom in providing commentary that is brief and compelling. His invitation to follow in the practice of Abba Arsenius by embracing three movements (to flee, to keep silence, and to pray) is simply organized and powerfully presented.
Nouwen's description of the 'compulsive minister' is accurate in every detail and served to draw me into the lessons as if this book were written for me in particular.
"The Way of the Heart" is directed at those who are engaged in the practice of ministry - but it's lessons are easily applied to life outside the practice of ministry. I heartily recommend it to one and all.