Broken wholeness: A critical analysis of Henri JM Nouwen’s spirituality of vulnerability and its possible value for the current discourse on health and wholeness.

Riaan Van der Merwe


This essay investigates whether the counter-cultural spiritual formation theology of Henri Nouwen could make a significant contribution to the current discourse on an inclusive, gender-equitable, spirituality-based approach to holistic health. Three main relationships feature in the majority of Nouwen’s works: the relationship to self, the relationship to others and the relationship to God. This foundational framework of Nouwen is used to structure this inquiry into the possible enduring value of certain core concepts that Nouwen developed within his triad of ‘movements’ toward wholeness. In his thinking about the movement of Reaching Out to our Fellow Human Beings, the concept of Vulnerability emerges as a key component of his theology and it will be the focus of this article. In a second article the value of Nouwen’s seminal thinking on Embodiment (the movement of Reaching Out to our Innermost Self) and in a third his lifelong engagement with Mystery (the movement of Reaching Out to our God) will also be brought into discussion with current thinking.


Vulnerability; health; wholeness; spirituality; Henri JM Nouwen

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ISSN 2413-9467 (online); ISSN 2413-9459 (print)

© 2017 Pieter de Waal Neethling Trust, Stellenbosch.

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