A Review of
A Spirituality of Homecoming
Reviewed by Jon Wymer
I must sheepishly admit that Henri J. M. Nouwen’s A Spirituality of Homecoming is my first direct reading of the acclaimed spiritual leader. It will not be my last. This 64-page booklet is an adaptation of Lenten talks given by Nouwen in 1985. For me it was a pleasantly surprising journey, clearly centered in Christian theology yet evocative of significant connection to life under the sun.
Whether or not I can now clearly articulate my assumptions picking up Homecoming, it was refreshing for this 21st century pastor to find something I certainly was not expecting: the unlikely marriage of being-a-disciple and home. I say “unlikely marriage” because it feels so often in the parish as if the costly demands of being a disciple are lost in the face of the prior stronger commitment many of us have to home and family. Nouwen does not force the concepts together in some artificial way. Rather he shows how they naturally belong together: “We find our way home to the heart by following Jesus.”
What does it mean to be people who are finding our way home to the heart? And how does Nouwen deftly work the magic of tying home-coming to discipleship? Defining the heart as the center of all things, he says that is the place where we meet God. So for the Christian we are in the middle of becoming God’s home (our heart) and we are being drawn toward God’s home (wherever that may be). Jesus invites us to come and be at home with him! Nouwen says there are three parts of our response: listen to those pointing to Jesus (whoever they may be), ask Jesus where he lives (wherever that may be), and dwell with him intentionally. This is how a theology of coming home begins to coalesce.
Jesus is calling us to follow him, to be his disciples. He is revealing to us just who this God who sent him is. Coming home to God and becoming God’s home through Jesus brings us into conflict with the kingdom around us. Nouwen elaborates on the nature of a challenging and costly cross-shaped discipleship. It is through the homecoming work of God in the lives of people that good news works itself out in the joy of our lives, and a community of disciples is formed as they journey together into being God’s home (themselves) and finding themselves at home where Jesus is (in the midst of enemies and trials).
Nouwen’s treatise culminates in one short page voicing hope in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit revealing God, calling us, teaching us.
As I read A Spirituality of Homecoming it almost felt as if a trick was being played on me. I say almost because what might seem like sleight-of-hand from some authors, with Nouwen seems authentic and piercing. He is talking about home. Home is something the Christian following Jesus is being transformed into. The disciple is becoming a vehicle for God’s presence, a place where God meets with humanity. Then at the same time, home is a destination. It is a place we are going towards and actually reach. It is a situation, a time and place, where Jesus is and where we meet him as we are there. It is a place where there are trials and enemies and yes even joy.
Nouwen transforms a static concept of home into a process of personal growth and journey to a place. I think there is significant potential in his spirituality of homecoming for displacement of the static “home” which idolizes belonging and safety with the dynamic “home” where danger and other lurk yet it is truly home because that is where Jesus lives. Homecoming for Nouwen is drawing close to God by living in terms of Jesus.
This is a moving little book. It is well laid-out as part of the larger “The Henri J. M. Nouwen Spirituality Series.” As you read through Nouwen’s Lenten talks, quotes from over twenty of his books are dispersed throughout the text. The style is simple and direct, yet evocative. Henri Nouwen will get you thinking, questioning, working through the concept of a journey toward “home” and a process of becoming “home.” I recommend this volume as a superb devotional book worth looking into for Lent this year.
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