Living in the U.S., wherever I turn I am inundated by pleas to do more, be more, acquire more. This is not the path I want to follow, and I actively seek companions with whom I can resist those messages. In this light, I am very grateful that Orbis Books has reprinted The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward mobility and the spiritual life. This slender volume is extraordinarily relevant. In less that 100 pages, the late prolific spiritual writer Henri Nouwen shares powerful and challenging advice that gets to the heart of living as a disciple of Jesus. The illustrations, more than a dozen drawings by Vincent Van Gogh, are lovely and are themselves opportunities for further meditation.
Nouwen structures his book around the themes of vocation, temptation, and formation. To what vocation does he refer? The world we live in typically promotes a vocation where success has visible, material attributes. In Nouwen’s description, “Our whole way of living is structured around climbing the ladder of success and making it to the top.” However, the life of Jesus inverted this model. he called for humility and servanthood. The true vocation to which God calls us is to be transformed, to walk this spiritual path.
Jesus was tempted in the Gospels, and likewise we are tempted by worldliness throughout our lives. We become preoccupied with being productive, successful; we hunger for praise, popularity; we crave financial security, control. But we do not need these trappings of worldly power. As Nouwen brilliantly indicates, “we are called to serve not with our power, but with our powerlessness. It is through powerlessness that we can enter into solidarity with our fellow human beings, form a community with the weak, and thus reveal the healing, guiding, and sustaining mercy of God.”
Where can a seeker find support for resisting temptation and staying on the path that Jesus walked? Through spiritual formation—and a willingness to be transformed. Nouwen identifies the church (in the shape of community and liturgical rhythm), regular Bible reading, and personal prayer as the key disciplines. He recognizes that they require a daily and lifelong commitment.
This volume provides both challenge and encouragement and makes a worthwhile read. It would be a beneficial addition to home and church libraries.
A complimentary copy of this book was provided by Orbis Books for review purposes. No fee was received for this review.