Father Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) ON PRAYER

[This is the eleventh  of a series of posts featuring a saint, mystic, or writer to include some of their thoughts on prayer as well as a prayer written by or ascribed to him or her.  Henri Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest and writer who wrote numerous books on the spiritual life.]

We must pray not first of all because it feels good or helps, but because God loves us and wants our attention.

Prayer is not a pious decoration of life but the breath of human existence.
(The Wounded Healer)

Solitude begins with a time and a place for God, and God alone.
If we really believe not only that God exists but also that
God is actively present in our lives– healing, teaching and guiding–
we need to set aside a time and space to give God our undivided attention.       (Making All Things New and Other Classics)

To pray means to open your hands before God.
It means slowly relaxing the tension which squeezes your hands together
and accepting your existence  with an increasing readiness,
not as a possession to defend, but as a gift to receive.
Above all, prayer is a way of life which allows you to find
a stillness in the midst of the world where you open your hands
to God’s promises and find hope for yourself, your neighbor and your world.
In prayer, you encounter God not only in the small voice and the soft breeze,
but also in the midst of the turmoil of the world, in the distress and joy
of your neighbor and in the loneliness of your own heart.

A Prayer by Henri Nouwen
Dear God,
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.
And what you want to give me is love,
unconditional, everlasting love. Amen.
(The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life)

Henri Nouwen books

Official Website


About Paul Wharton

I am a cradle Catholic, a native West Virginian, and a priest since April 24, 1982. Spiritual Direction has made a tremendous difference in my life and I encourage people to try it out. My motto is "Progress not perfection." I am grateful that God has done for me what I could not do for myself.
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