Nouwen, The Wounded Healer


Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. Image Publishers, 1979.

Referenced in: Summary

This classic from the late Nenri Nouwen presents a hopeful model of ministry that compassionately identifies with the woundedness of human nature. This refers not only to the fallenness of those one serves, but also to the inherent frailty of the servant. These frailties are not cause for feelings of inadequacy and guilt, but are the conditions in which we experience God’s healing grace. We are thus “made strong in our weakness” to be a source of healing for others. While he warns against inappropriate, weak-boundaried levels of identification, he says ministers make their deepest connections with God and others through the shared experience of suffering – a suffering world, a suffering generation, a suffering person, and a suffering minister. In fact, he argues that outside of this sharing one cannot be a transformative influence. Ministers must think of themselves as fellow sufferers, not as professionals. Using case studies of ministers from a variety of faith traditions, he helps ministers look at their own and others’ woundedness through the lens of theology, psychology, and culture.

This book is dense in sections, and his cultural analysis is outdated. Its continued use after thirty years, however, attests to its enduring value in helping ministers derive hope and vision for their work.

From the Publisher

The Wounded Healer is a hope-filled and profoundly simple book that speaks directly to those men and women who want to be of service in their church or community, but have found the traditional ways often threatening and ineffective. In this book, Henri Nouwen combines creative case studies of ministry with stories from diverse cultures and religious traditions in preparing a new model for ministry. Weaving keen cultural analysis with his psychological and religious insights, Nouwen has come up with a balanced and creative theology of service that begins with the realization of fundamental woundedness in human nature. Emphasizing that which is in humanity common to both minister and believer, this woundedness can serve as a source of strength and healing when counseling others. Nouwen proceeds to develop his approach to ministry with an analysis of sufferings — a suffering world, a suffering generation, a suffering person, and a suffering minister. It is his contention that ministers are called to recognize the sufferings of their time in their own hearts and make that recognition the starting point of their service. For Nouwen, ministers must be willing to go beyond their professional role and leave themselves open as fellow human beings with the same wounds and suffering — in the image of Christ. In other words, we heal from our own wounds. Filled with examples from everyday experience, The Wounded Healer is a thoughtful and insightful guide that will be welcomed by anyone engaged in the service of others.

About the Author

HENRI J. M. NOUWEN (1932-1996) was a Catholic priest who taught at several theological institutions and universities in the United States. He spent the final years of his life teaching and ministering to the mentally and physically disabled at L’Arche Daybreak community in Toronto, Canada.

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