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The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life

In the coming weeks I’m going to explore the map of spiritual life that Henri Nouwen offers in Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life.  Along with the Benedictine Promise his three movements of the spiritual life is one of the most useful resources for understanding and assessing the spiritual dynamics of a parish church as well as in the life of individual baptized person.


Nouwen sees our spiritual life as involving three movements:

From loneliness to solitude

To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude.

From hostility to hospitality

Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.

Receptivity without confrontation leads to a bland neutrality that serves nobody. Confrontation without receptivity leads to an oppressive aggression which hurts everybody.

From illusion to prayer

Solitude and hospitality can only bear lasting fruits when they are embedded in a broader, deeper and higher reality from which they receive their vitality. …The movement from illusion to prayer undergirds and makes possible the movements from loneliness to solitude and from hostility to hospitality and leads us to the core of the spiritual life.


Confession and seeing

The spiritual life is that constant movement between the poles of loneliness and solitude, hostility and hospitality, illusion and prayer. The more we come to the painful confession of our loneliness, hostility and illusions, the more we are able to see solitude, hospitality and prayer as part of the vision of our life.



Part One: From Loneliness to Solitude

Part Two: From Hostility to Hospitality 

Part Three: From Illusion to Prayer


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