There are some outstanding things about Henri Nouwen I learned from Michael O’Laughlin’s book.
One was the decision made by Nouwen to identify himself with Jesus even if that meant being humiliated and scorned by those active in the academic world. Henri came out strongly advocating that Jesus was “the Son of God come down from heaven” and the central point in Christian spirituality. Tolerance of religious belief was something Harvard was proud of. Celebrating Christ’s divinity was not politically correct and Nouwen began to experience rejection. He was criticised for “spiritual imperialism” by the students.
Needless to say, this stimulated doubt and depression but at the same time prompted new insights into the “downward” nature of Christian belief. The road that he was taking did not lead to the “upward mobility” espoused by a generation seeking to become successful and prosperous in the eyes of the world. It led downward towards humility and simplicity. Nouwen wrote:
“In the gospel it’s quite obvious that Jesus chose the descending way. He chose it not once but over and over again. At each critical moment he deliberately sought the way downwards. Even though at twelve years of age he was already listening to the teachers in the Temple and questioning them, he stayed up to his thirtieth year with his parents in the little-respected town of Nazareth and was submissive to them. Even though Jesus was without sin, he began his public life by joining the ranks of sinners who were being baptized by John in the Jordan. Even though he was full of divine power, he believed that changing stones into bread, seeking popularity, and being counted among the great ones of the earth were temptations.
Again and again you see how Jesus opts for what is small, hidden, and poor, and accordingly declines to wield influence. His many miracles always serve to express his profound compassion with suffering humanity; never are they attempts to call attention to himself….”
Henri Houwen began to experience more and more of what it meant to follow Christ on this descending path, finding more solidarity with the poor, oppressed and handicapped.