Mysticism, Revolution or Suicide?


One of the books I’m reading currently is Henri Nouwen’s “Wounded Healer.” There is a lot that is quote-worthy in this text but I wanted to draw out a couple of quotes that have specifically speak to me.

For those of you unfamiliar with the book, Nouwen states that the main premise of the book is, “In our own woundedness, we can become a source of life for others.” This alone is powerful enough to reflect on. For one, I tend to wallow in my own hurt, becoming paralyzed by it rather than using it to serve others. I like to lick my wounds or maybe just bury them altogether.

I recently had a friend minister to me about some wounds I am carrying by saying, “My prayer for you is that the stinger is dislodged and love will fill the void.” It seems rather preposterous to think that there is a source of life and healing found within these things we carry, but on second thought this seems exactly right. In recognizing my own wounds, I am invited to go down to a place where I see and understand the source of my hurt. I may also discover that I too have wounded others. My woundedness affords me, when I let it, a sympathetic understanding of others where I might attempt to see things from their perspective. Finally, my woundedness reveals to me that I am in fact human, bound by the physical world. I am limited and I do my best work when I walk in humility and surrender to the need for God’s healing, mercy and forgiveness in my own life.

But there is another function of this woundedness that strikes me and that they can motivate us to bring about change. There are at least two ways that we respond to the hurt: withdrawal (mysticism) or revolution. For many of us, we feel the weight and need for change in the world and so we hit the ground running wanting to bring about revolution, for others we want to see change but we are paralyzed by fear.

In this Nouwen says that:

…people become aware that the choice is no longer between our present world or a better world, but between a new world or no world. It is the way of those who say revolution is better than suicide.

This is how many in my generation feel. We feel that there is no choice between this world or a better world, rather it is between this version of reality or no reality at all. There is too much injustice, too much hurt, too much that can no longer be accepted because we are afraid. If we wait any longer we may not have anything left to fight for.

I recognize this is rather dark, even for me, and it may be a reflection of how I am feeling at this time, but again I feel this is related to the wounds I see many of my friends, colleagues, and others carrying with them.

For Nouwen, our two responses tend to be either mysticism and revolution. Where my tendency, on the one hand, is to want revolution, want to move toward the future, I am afraid, unexperienced, and can be reactionary. On the other hand, the mystical aspect is much harder for me, I realize that this is the place where courage and patience can be developed. While I am no contemplative, I need this to help level out the other impulse.

Jesus was a revolutionary who did not become extremist, since he did not offer an ideology, but himself. He was also a mystic, who did not use his intimate relationship with God to avoid the social evils of his time, but shocked his milieu to the point of being executed as a rebel. In this sense he also remains for modern humanity the way to liberation and freedom (25).


How can you develop both these impulses in ourselves? How can you honor and build on the impulse that comes most natural to you rather than be afraid of it?