This top-drawer volume is the second in a series which started with Spiritual Direction (2006) by J. M. Nouwen. Michael Christensen, one of Nouwen's longtime students, and Rebecca Laird have taken his famous course in Spiritual Formation and enriched it with his unpublished writings to create a primer on the "way of the heart."
Nouwen, the author of 40-plus books on Christian spirituality wrote: "Spiritual formation presents opportunities to enter into the center of our heart and become familiar with the complexities of our own inner life." The rich lode of material in this book will appeal to individuals on a spiritual journey as well as to those who want to share their experiences of descending from the mind to the heart where all true wisdom resides. It also makes clear the important role of prayer in the lives of believers. Nouwen reminds us:
"Spiritual formation prepares us for life in which we move away from our fears, compulsions, resentments, and sorrows, to serve with joy and courage in the world, even when this leads us to places we would rather not go. Spiritual formation helps us to see the face of God in the midst of a hardened world and in our own heart."
Nouwen believes that the spiritual life consists of a journey that is both a journey inward to the heart and a journey outward in community and mission. The first requires the disciplines of solitude, silence, prayer, meditation, contemplation, and attention to the signals of the heart. The second journey calls for the disciplines of care, compassion, witness, outreach, healing, accountability and attentiveness to the movements of other people's hearts.
The book is divided into sections on the "Early Movements" from opaqueness to transparency and from illusion to prayer. The "Midlife Movements" entail the shift from sorrow to joy, from resentment to gratitude, and from fear to love. The "Mature Movements" chart the advance from exclusion to inclusion and from denying death to befriending death. These movements comprise the path of the heart and the way to freedom for Christians. Michael Christensen ends the book with an essay on Nouwen's place in spiritual formation theory.