Henri Nouwen (1932-1996)
Henri Nouwen and Contemplative Prayer
Nouwen and Ecumenism
Whatever Happened to Discernment?
Nouwen and Eastern Religions
Nouwen and Fr. Thomas Ryan
Nouwen and Andrew Harvey
Nouwen and Eknath Easwaran
Nouwen - Homosexuality
Nouwen' Strange Fascination with Vincent Van Gogh
Henri Nouwen's website describes him as an "internationally renowned priest and author" and a "respected professor and beloved pastor" who wrote over 40 books on the spiritual life." They go on to say (Emphasis Added)
He corresponded regularly in English, Dutch, German, French and Spanish with hundreds of friends and reached out to thousands through his Eucharistic celebrations, lectures and retreats. Since his death in 1996, ever-increasing numbers of readers, writers, teachers and seekers have been guided by his literary legacy. Nouwen's books have sold over 2 million copies and been published in over 22 languages"...
His spirit lives on in the work of the Henri Nouwen Society, Henri Nouwen Stichting, the Henri Nouwen Trust, the Henri J. M. Nouwen Archives and Research Collection, and in all who live the spiritual values of communion, community and ministry, to which he dedicated his life". 
Henri Nouwen was born in Holland in 1932 and ordained a Catholic priest in 1957. He studied psychology at the University of Nijmegen in The Netherlands, taught psychology for two years at Notre Dame (1966-68), and spent two years as a part-time professor at Harvard Divinity School (1983 -85).
Nouwen was brought into contact with people of other faiths when he spent several months living a monastic life with Trappist monks at the Abbey of the Genesee in NY, and became a fellow at the Ecumenical Institute at Collegeville, Minnesota. Both of these occurred during the ten years he spent teaching at Yale Divinity School. It was also during this period that he began to write prolifically. Several of his over 40 books on spirituality, such as Way of the Heart, The Wounded Healer, Reaching Out etc. date from these years.
He appeared to have found his calling when he spent a year in the original L’Arche community in Trosly-Breuil, France where people with intellectual disabilities and their care givers live together in community. In 1986 Henri Nouwen became pastor of L'Arche Daybreak near Toronto, Canada.
However, there was a hugely important influence in Nouwen's life - Thomas Merton. Nouwen apparently admired Merton enough to write a book about him - Pray to live: Thomas Merton: A Contemplative Critic is an introduction to the thought of Thomas Merton with a five page bibliography of Merton's works at the back. Michael O' Laughlin says, (Emphasis Added)
"Some new elements began to emerge in Nouwen's thinking when he discovered Thomas Merton. Merton opened up for Henri an enticing vista of the world of contemplation and a way of seeing not only God but also the world through new eyes. . . . If ever there was a time when Henri Nouwen wished to enter the realm of the spiritual masters or dedicate himself to a higher spiritual path, it was when he fell under the spell of Cistercian monasticism and the writings of Thomas Merton." 
Henri Nouwen and Contemplative Prayer
In The Way of the Heart Henri Nouwen quoted John Climacus - abbot of the monastery of Catherine on Mount Sinai in the latter half of the sixth century. (All Emphasis Added)
"When you pray do not try to express yourself in fancy words, for often it is the simple repetitious phrases of a little child that our Father in heaven finds most irresistible. Do not strive for verbosity lest your mind be distracted from devotion by a search for words. One phrase on the lips of the tax collector was enough to win God's mercy; one humble request made with faith was enough to save the good thief. Wordiness in prayer often subjects the mind to fantasy and dissipation; single words of their very nature tend to concentrate the mind. When you find satisfaction or compunction in a certain word of your prayer, stop at that point."
Nouwen then elaborated
The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart .. a word or sentence repeated frequently can help us concentrate, to move to the center, to create an inner stillness and thus to listed to to the voice of God... This way of simple prayer, when we are faithful to it and practice it at regular times, slowly leads us to an experience of rest and opens us to God's active presence. 
While I cannot be completely sure which of John Climacus' writings this was paraphrased from, it sounds very like a paragraph in The Ladder of Divine Ascent - initially written for monastics, but now considered one of the classics - especially in the orthodox church. According to OrthodoxWiki, "The aim of the treatise is to be a guide for practicing a life completely and wholly devoted to God. The ladder metaphor - not dissimilar to the vision that the Patriarch Jacob received - is used to describe how one may ascend into heaven by first renouncing the world and finally ending up in heaven with God. There are thirty chapters; each covers a particular vice or virtue. 
However, Climacus said absolutely nothing about "single words". He did not say, or even imply that "a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart". Much to the contrary, he was advocating short and simple prayers that are as concise and uncomplicated as possible. In his words...
Pray in all simplicity. The publican and the prodigal son were reconciled to God by a single utterance.... In your prayers there is no need for high-flown words, for it is the simple and unsophisticated babblings of children that have often won the heart of the Father in heaven. Try not to talk excessively in your prayer, in case your mind is distracted by the search for words.
One word from the publican sufficed to placate God, and a single utterance saved the thief. Talkative prayer (polylogia) frequently distracts the mind and deludes it, whereas brevity (monologia) makes for concentration. If it happens that, as you pray, some word evokes delight or remorse within you, linger over it. 
In other words, in the effort to show that Contemplative Prayer is an ancient 'Christian' tradition (albeit completely unknown to the Scriptures), Nouwen saw exactly what he wanted to see in the writings of the ancient author.
This is a very similar situation to when John Main, a 20th century Roman Catholic priest who learned his meditation techniques from a Hindu guru, conveniently read into John Cassian's writings what he wanted to find there. Cassian was a 4th century monk from Bethlehem who wrote two major spiritual works, the Institutes and the Conferences. If you actually read Cassian's tenth conference for yourself, you will find that far from advocating a word or phrase to "achieve the stillness necessary for prayer", Cassian was advocating the use of a verse from Psalm 70 in exactly the same way the original author appeared to have used it.
See Is Contemplative Prayer -rooted in the tradition of the Desert Fathers or Eastern mysticism?
Although Nouwen calls the "quiet repetition of a single word" a "short prayer", it is not really a prayer at all. Repeating a word or phrase over and over again is nothing but the 'Christianized' version of the mantra - one of the primary methods for achieving an altered state of consciousness. Much energy has been expended in the effort to show that the sacred word is NOT a Mantra that is But if you cut through the stream of gobbledygook, there is absolutely no difference.
In any case, how Nouwen could advocate "The quiet repetition of a single word" is beyond me when this is EXACTLY what the Lord told us not to do
"And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. (Matthew 6:7 NASB)
Jesus then immediately gave us 'The Lord's Prayer' - an outline of how we should pray. Odd isn't it that the only example of prayer given by the Messiah says not one word about clearing your mind but focuses instead on the kind of thing we need to talk to the Father about?
Nouwen and Ecumenism
The Bible says
Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. "Therefore, come out from their midst and be SEPARATE," says the Lord. "and do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. "And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me," Says the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18 NASB)
Yet, like Merton who claimed that there is no reason to believe that God has not revealed himself to other religions, and that believers can benefit from being 'open' to other religious traditions, Nouwen's ecumenical views are seen all through his writings. For example (All Emphasis Added)
"Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God's house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God." 
In the house of God there are many mansions. There is a place for everyone - a unique special place" 
Still, when we remain faithful to our discipline, even if it is only ten minutes a day, we gradually come to see — by the candlelight of our prayers — that there is a space within us where God dwells and where we are invited to dwell with God... One of the discoveries we make (in contemplative) prayer is that the closer we come to God, the closer we come to all our brothers and sisters in the human family. God is not a private God. The God who dwells in our inner sanctuary is also the God who dwells in the inner sanctuary of each human being. [08 ]
Regarding the last quote above, it is a tragic fact that so many Christian contemplatives have adopted and adapted the Hindus and New Age beliefs that we are all connected to god as an impersonal energy force. Because we are all part of this life force we too are god. However, since most of humanity is unaware of this fact, mankind's greatest need is to discover their own divinity - to look inside and find what the Catholic mystics call our true or higher self. Meditation that leads to an altered states of consciousness is the most commonly used method to achieve awareness of our god-selves or god-consciousness.
Whatever Happened to Discernment?
These aberrant views (and there are plenty more - See Below) seem not to have had the slightest effect on Nouwen's popularity among Christians. His books have sold millions of copies in over 28 languages. In A Time of Departing [2nd edition] Ray Yungen states (Emphasis Added).
Like Merton, Nouwen combines a strong devotion to God with a poetic, comforting, yet distinctly intellectual style that strikes a strong and sympathetic chord with what could be called Christian intelligentsia. Many pastors and professors are greatly attracted to his deep thinking. In fact, one of his biographers revealed that in a 1994 survey of 3,400 U.S. Protestant church leaders, Nouwen ranked second only to Billy Graham in influence among them. Nouwen also attracts many lay people who regard him as very inspirational. One person told me that Nouwen's appeal could be compared to that of motherhood - a warm comforting embrace that leaves you feeling good". 
And, as far as the so called Christian intelligentsia is concerned, - apparently even they seem not to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. One has to wonder at the level of deception in the church today when even seminaries and numerous so called Christian leaders can study and promote the teachings of a Catholic mystic who, like others of his ilk (Thomas Keating, Thomas Merton, Brennan Manning, Richard Foster etc.- the list is a very long one), derived many of his ideas not from the Bible, but from other religions and the mysticism of the east.
Theological Seminaries: In an article entitled The Dangers of Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Disciplines, Pastor Bob DeWaay tells of a friend and co-worker of his who, in the summer of 2005, went back to seminary (Bethel Theological Seminary in Arden Hills, MN) to finish his masters degree. In the words of his friend (Emphasis Added)
"I recently took a seminary course on the book of Luke. It was a summer intensive and was one of only two classes being offered at the time. About midway through the week, while the class was steeped in trying to discern the intent and significance of the book of Luke, we began to hear the echoes of mystic chanting coming through the walls. As it turned out, the other class being offered was parked right next to ours. The paper thin walls were carrying the choruses of a class exploring the life and teachings of Catholic mystic Henry Nouwen. We proceeded, trying to concentrate on studying the Scriptures while tuning out the chants that were carrying on next door. Perhaps what was more unsettling though is the class studying Nouwen was chock full, while there were plenty of empty seats next door for anyone wanting to learn about the inspired book of Luke. 
Mike Yaconelli co-founder of Youth Specialties, an international organization which trains and equips youth workers around the globe, says Henri Nouwen's In the Name of Jesus, was one of the two most pivotal book in his life. (The other book being When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd. See below). 
Henri Nouwen seems to be rather favorably viewed by the staff at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and indeed, by Ravi himself.
In The Greatest Investment, posted on September 2, 2016, Ravi Zacharias mentions reading a book by Nouwen and recounts his experience at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.. Also see September 11, 2001: Was God Present or Absent? by Ravi Zacharias
Jill Carattini, ordained as a specialized minister in the Reformed Church of America, is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity - a daily reading on themes from theology and culture to philosophy and the arts. Several of her articles on rzim.org, including Free Lunch Economy written in 2011, Picnics and Pilgrims and As Sure as the Sun either favorably mention Henri Nouwen, or quote from one of his many books.
Danielle DuRant, Director of Research and Writing, also has at least one article A Disquieting Parable in which she quotes Nouwen's The Return of the Prodigal Son.
In fact, numerous books by Nouwen and other Catholic Contemplative were available in Ravi Zacharias' online "Christian" book store until the summer of 2017 which is when I initially wrote this article. It is troubling that they were available FIVE years after an interview in which Zacharias stated he regretted saying that Nouwen was one of the greatest saints of our time. 
Henri Nouwen's book In the Name of Jesus is supposedly a guide to Christian Leadership that is based not on one's own self interests, i.e. power, popularity, control, but on service and sacrifice. Rick Warren said this about the book,
My wife, Kay, recommends this book: "It's a short book, but it hits at the heart of the minister. It mentions the struggles common to those of us in ministry: the temptation to be relevant, spectacular and powerful. I highlighted almost every word!" .
The problem is that In the Name of Jesus blatantly promotes contemplative prayer. In it Nouwen writes
Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen again and again to the voice of [God] ... For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral to the mystical is required. [Pgs 31-32]
Besides which, In the Name of Jesus lists a number of books of 'related interest' including William Shannon's Silence on Fire that "incorporates spiritual insights from the East as well as the West" and another with the unbelievable title of The Zen Teachings of Jesus.
Sue Monk Kidd, is a well known New Ager who promotes worship of the goddess. In her book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, which is a quest for the "Sacred Feminine" within Christianity originally published by HarperOne in 2002. In it Kidd wrote,
Today I remember that event for the radiant mystery it was, how I felt myself embraced by Goddess, how I felt myself in touch with the deepest thing I am. It was the moment when, as playwright and poet Ntozake Shange put it, ‘I found god in myself/ and I loved her/ I loved her fiercely'. 
And amazingly she wrote the foreword to the second edition of Nouwen's With Open Hands published in 2006. In an interview conducted by Heidi Schlumpf, managing editor of U.S. Catholic, She also said "reading The Seven Storey Mountain (by Thomas Merton) marked the beginning of her contemplative life, and "it was like coming home". 
Note that Sue Monk Kidd is also the author of The Secret Life of Bees - essentially a story about a young girl, but one that contains much religious symbolism - the Black Madonna in particular.
See Feminism and The Bible
Nouwen and Eastern Religions
There is an old saying "A man is known by the company he keeps". In other words, our character is reflected in our choice of friends. I would expand this slightly by adding that our character is not only reflected in our 'friends', but also in who we admire and approve of. People not only tend to associate with those who are like them, but endorse those who have similar beliefs, ideas, and opinions. In view of which I would like to take a quick look at some of the people and books that Henri Nouwen expressed approval of.
Nouwen and Fr. Thomas Ryan
The book Disciplines for Christian Living: Interfaith Perspectives was written by another Catholic priest - Fr. Thomas Ryan, CSP (Community of St. Paul). An editorial review says (All Emphasis Added])
Ryan, a Roman Catholic priest who spent a year in India studying Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic spiritual practice, has written a splendid book of practical spirituality, the result of genuine, faithful, and receptive interfaith dialog. Beautifully blending what he learned from those traditions with Christianity, Ryan provides a guide to holistic living, emphasizing the importance of intimate friendship, sabbath time, play and exercise, contemplation, fasting, and service.
Of this book Henri Nouwen said
I am convinced that this book will be of great help and support to the many people who have a deep faith in Jesus but are at a loss when they look for ways to practice it in their busy and always changing lives.
When Thomas Ryan took a sabbatical and went to India to study the religions of the Hindus, the Buddhists and the Moslems, he was most struck by their practices. In India he came to realize that there was nothing wrong with the How to do it?" question and that all the great Hindu, Buddhist and Moslem teachers taught their disciples very practical disciplines to transform their lives. He became deeply convinced that unless Christians offer similar disciplines, the Christian faith will never become a truly transforming faith, with concrete and specific implications for daily life....
Living in Toronto and seeing new Hindu and Buddhist temples and new mosques and synagogues being built all over the place, I realize that the east and the west are no longer so far away from each other as before. Even without a far journey we can become aware of the many treasures that different religions have to offer us".
See Footnote I for a perfect example of how biased people like Thomas Ryan are favor of other religions.
Nouwen and Andrew Harvey
In his autobiographical book, Sabbatical Journey. Nouwen spoke glowingly of his April 1996 encounter with author and lecturer Andrew Harvey. Nouwen wrote that it was an opportunity to meet this spiritual writer whose life and work had "intrigued" Nouwen from the moment he heard about him. Nouwen described the lecture he attended as "excellent" and says he later introduced himself to Andrew and asked for his autograph. He further added that although Andrew's "personal and intellectual history" differed from his own, he had the deep sense of meeting a "soul-friend". On the way home, he and two friends discussed how Andrew's mysticism had "touched" them. 
So who is Andrew Harvey? According to Living Spiritual Teachers Project, (All Emphasis Added)
Andrew Harvey was born in South India and lived there until at age nine he was sent to England for his education. He studied history at Oxford and at 21 became the youngest person ever to be awarded a fellowship to All Souls College, England's highest academic honor. In 1977, however, he became disillusioned with life at Oxford and the patriarchal, rationalist Western tradition and returned to India.
India, with its rich diversity of spiritual expressions, shaped his understanding of the value and unity of all religions. His spiritual search initially led him to the ashram of the Bengali mystic Sri Aurobindo. Later, he studied with the Tibetan Buddhist master Thuksey Rinpoche, an experience he recounted in his first spiritual autobiography, Journey to Ladakh. This was followed by a ten-year exploration of the mystical works of the thirteenth century Persian poet Rumi and the Sufi tradition.  Note: Rinpoche is an honorific title meaning "precious one"
Also Note: At the time of the encounter, Harvey had already written Hidden Journey -that details his spiritual surrender to the Indian mystic Mother Meera.
Nouwen and Eknath Easwaran
Eknath Easwaran is a spiritual teacher, prolific author, and founder of the nonprofit Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in Berkeley, CA founded in 1961. Easwaran believed that all the wisdom traditions of the world have their own great spiritual passages that convey our highest ideals and the qualities we most admire. Meditating on these texts cause these qualities to come alive in the meditator.
His many books include one on the Bhagavad Gita, one on the Upanishads, and a translation of an important Buddhist text The Dhammapada - the path of truth, harmony, and righteousness. He is also the author of God Makes the Rivers to Flow: An Anthology of the World's Sacred Poetry and Prose and The Mantram Handbook.
In yet another of his books, Meditation: A Simple Eight-Point Program for Translating Spiritual Ideals into Daily Life, Easwaran recommended passages for meditation from every major spiritual tradition - the prayer of St. Francis, excerpts from the Sutta Nipata (a Buddhist scripture), the Psalms, the Bhagavad Gita, 'Baba Kuhi' (an Iranian Sufi poet-saint), and Swami Omkar (a Karma Yogi) etc.
Yet, on the back cover, Henri Nouwen made the astounding statement "This book has helped me a great deal"
On page 163 Easwaran takes a Bible verse completely out of context.. saying
".. to realize God we must quiet the mind. As the Bible says, "Be still and know that I am God" 
While Easwaran was not a Christian, he was doing what many thousands of people (Christians and non-Christians alike) around the world do, i.e. twist the plain meaning of Scripture to conform to their philosophical outlook. This verse from Psalm 46 has absolutely nothing to do with quieting the mind to realize God. See Contemplative Prayer - Unsupported By Scripture Scroll down slightly
The Kingdom of God
On page 29, Easwaran wrote
Attaining this state of consciousness is the highest goal we can have in life. Different religions have called it by different names: illumination, enlightenment, nirvana, Self-realization, entering the promised land or the kingdom of heaven within. But whatever the language, the experience is everywhere the same. Jesus called it "a pearl of great price," Without it, our lives will always be wanting; even if we had to give everything on earth to obtain it, the cost would not be too high. May this pearl be yours! 
And, by the way, does the Bible teach that the Kingdom of God is within human beings? Although the King James and the NIV use the phrase "the kingdom of God is within you", the context favors the NASB translation that says
Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or, 'There it is!' For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst." (Luke 17:20-21 NASB)
The theme of the entire Bible makes it impossible that Jesus was telling the Pharisees who were His enemies, that the kingdom was within them. What He was saying was that the beginning of this three stage kingdom was among them in the person of Jesus Christ. If they were going to enter the kingdom, they would have to repent and turn to Christ for salvation (see Mark 1:14, 15). There is absolutely nothing in this passage that would suggest that if the Pharisees took an inward journey using meditative techniques they would find God's kingdom!" See The Kingdom - When?
As said earlier, the kingdom of God that Jesus said he was sent to proclaim is not some mystical altered state of consciousness, but a real life kingdom that matches, in every respect, the world most men and women would choose to live in. A place of peace and safety, where there is no crime, hunger and disease, war and above all... no death. Far from being outdated, out of touch, and largely irrelevant to modern society, Christianity promises exactly the utopian world most men and women can only dream of. See The Message of The Bible. Part 13 of Choose Life That You Might Live.
Nouwen - Homosexuality
In God's Beloved: A Spiritual Biography of Henri Nouwen by Michael O'Laughlin, he says
In addition to being sensitive and prone to self-doubt, Henri slowly came to an uneasy awareness that he was homosexual, and this can hardly have added to his sense of well-being. ... In the thirties, forties and fifties, homosexuality was a feared, even loathsome aberration, part sin, part mental illness. No one talked about it except as a joke of an insult... He knew he was not like other people and that he did not dare reveal this truth about himself. 
While there is absolutely no evidence that Nouwen was anything but celibate.. the Biography Of Henri Nouwen by Michael Ford says
Before he died in 1996, Nouwen was becoming more vocal in his support of gay men and women, saying they had a "unique vocation in the Christian community."
Additionally, it seems that Nouwen was not exactly stable.
Nouwen was extraordinarily generous, giving money to various causes and sending flowers and gifts to his many friends. Sometimes, however, friends backed away because he could be so demanding. When his close friend Nathan Ball, the director of Daybreak, began to pull back from their platonic relationship, Nouwen went into a tailspin and had to seek treatment for an emotional breakdown. 
Nouwen' Strange Fascination with Vincent Van Gogh
The cover of Nouwen's book Life of the Beloved is Vincent Van Gogh's painting entitled Café Terrace at Night. Sabbatical Journey features Sunflowers (2) another of the artists paintings. Additionally, the Henry Nouwen web site used to feature different paintings by Vincent Van Gogh at the top of individual pages. In answer to the question of why they used Van Gogh as a motif, they replied (Emphasis Added)
"Henri Nouwen was deeply moved and inspired by the life and work of van Gogh. Of van Gogh he said, "That was [Van Gogh's] vocation: to touch people by tenderly expressing his solidarity with the human condition - not motivated by anger but by love."
In an October 1992 interview with Alicia Von Stamwitz Liguorian, he said
Someday I would love to write about Vincent van Gogh—his paintings and letters continue to inspire me very much. But it remains hard to find the time and inner rest to write. 
In Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J.M. Nouwen, Michael Ford wrote
Wherever Nouwen settled, the spirit of van Gogh rested too. While on the faculty of the Yale Divinity School, he taught seminare entitled "The Ministry of Vincent van Gogh," which, he concluded, had made a more profound impression on his students than any of his other courses: 
While I do think that some of Van Gogh's art was interesting, I cannot see how a so called spiritual leader could ever be 'inspired' by his life... What exactly in this sordid tale is there to find inspiration in? He had a ministry? What ministry? Van Gogh is almost as famous for his mental instability as for his vivid paintings.
At one stage of his life Van Gogh moved in with a pregnant prostitute called Sien Hoornik and even considered marrying her. He suffered from various types of epilepsy, psychotic attacks, and delusions even, at one stage, committing himself to an asylum. His mental state deteriorated through much of his life with him cutting off his own ear and taking it to a brothel, where he handed the ear to a prostitute named Rachel and asked her to keep it carefully. At the age of 37, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest and died two days later.
Debate has raged over the years as to the source of Van Gogh's mental illness and its effect on his work. Some of the theories which have been suggested include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, syphilis, poisoning from swallowed paints, and temporal lobe epilepsy. Any of these could have been the culprit and been aggravated by malnutrition, overwork, a fondness for the alcoholic beverage absinthe (alcohol content - 55-75 percent), and insomnia.
In his book God's Beloved: A Spiritual Biography of Henri Nouwen, Michael O'Laughlin says
"Nouwen's approach to spirituality was certainly unique and personal", his "way of speaking and writing grew out of an awareness that I feel is more typically artistic than theological... and perhaps the artist's way of seeing and creating became Nouwen's way of doing spirituality." 
You can say that again... Everyone is entitled to "do spirituality" any way they choose.
However, God has already outlined everything we need to know in His book - people cannot and will not escape the consequences of ignoring what He has to say or endeavoring to blaze their own path to Him. Certainly every single person who names the name of Christ is obliged to follow God's teachings as outlined in the Scriptures.
If you do not wish to do so, it is your God-given right to freedom of choice.
However, please call yourself anything you choose - just not a "Christian", because you aren't one - not by any stretch of the imagination.
See Can We Decide How to Approach God? and Does God Dwell Within Us? on THIS page..
Although Henri Nouwen might have been a wonderful friend to many people and befriended hundreds more (things one can certainly appreciate), the fact remains that his ecumenical leanings undoubtedly led very many people astray. Nouwen's embracing of eastern religious practices and his promotion of pagan 'spiritual' books, undoubtedly introduced countless believers to New Age and Eastern religious ideas they may never have heard of before.
In the ultimate analysis, Henri Nouwen was a wolf in sheep's clothing. I dread to think how many souls were pushed off Christianity's narrow path by him and the people he endorsed. ...
Footnote I - A perfect example of how biased people like Thomas Ryan are favor of other religions.
Although there is much to condemn in this book (endless discussions about the different forms of Buddhist meditation for example), one example of how people can wax eloquent about the wonderful things they see in other religions. For example, Thomas Ryan continuously extols the virtues of Islam, particularly how it harmonizes the material and spiritual aspects of life - and how "every member of society is expected to willingly and gladly help those who are in need..." Pg. 200. He also says,
The Muslim code assumes responsibility for the orphans, widows and the poor who slip through the cracks of Arab society... Unless one has heeded the cry of the beggars, "Alms for the love of Allah," one will have a thin defense on the Day of Judgment. Islam does not preach salvation by faith alone. Only those who do the truth come to the light. Pg. 229.
Like so many other people, Thomas Ryan thinks that Christianity teaches "salvation by faith alone. It often seems that the only Scripture Christians can quote about good works is the one in Ephesians which states we are not saved by them....
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB)
He has apparently not bothered to actually read the Scriptures that so clearly emphasize obedience, righteousness, justice and taking care of people who need help, without which any and all rituals and sacrifices are not acceptable to the Lord. Ryan saw fit to hold up pagan religions as examples we need to emulate when the Old Testament (written centuries before Islam was even dreamed of) repeatedly (over 25 times) speaks of how the widow and orphan are to be treated. For example,
The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do. (Deuteronomy 14:29 NASB)
In regard to the injustices being perpetrated by the nation of Israel, the Lord God had this to say
"I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. "Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. "Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. "But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:21-24 NASB)
And the New Testament is no different. James, the brother of Christ said this
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27 NASB)
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:14-20 NASB)
Christians are instructed to be a reflection of God's light by their good deeds that even the unbeliever may be influenced.
"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 NASB)
Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12 NASB)
Wealthy Christians are commanded that their good works be as abundant as their riches
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, ( 1 Timothy 6:17-18 NASB)
Evidence of doing good deeds was essential to be enrolled in the body of widows who were to receive church support
A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints' feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work. ( 1 Timothy 5:9-10 NASB)
In fact, both the Old and New Testaments say we will be judged according to our deeds. See The Myth of Faith Alone:
I dread to think what would happen if someone in a modern church were to preach that you have to attain a certain level of righteousness to be saved. The hue and cry would be deafening, with the preacher soundly denounced, from one end of the Christian world to the other, as a false teacher who is teaching salvation by works. But, consider for a moment Jesus' words in the sermon on the mount.... ""For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven". (Matthew 5:20)