The living reminder : service and prayer in memory of Jesus Christ /
Henri J.M. Nouwen.
San Francisco ; Toronto : Harper & Row, c1977.
80 p. ; 21 cm.
More Details
San Francisco ; Toronto : Harper & Row, c1977.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. 79-80).
A Look Inside
First Chapter


The French writer-politician Andre Malraux writes in his Anti-Memoirs , "One day it will be realized that men are distinguishable from one another as much by the forms their memories take as by their characters. 2 This is a very important observation. The older we grow the more we have to remember, and at some point we realize that most, if not all, of what we have is memory. Our memory plays a central role in our sense of being. Our pains and joys, our feelings of grief and satisfaction, are not simply dependent on the events of our lives, but also, and even more so, on the ways we remember these events. The events of our lives are probably less important than the form they take in the totality of our story. Different people remember a similar illness, accident, success, or surprise in very different ways, and much of their sense of self derives less from what happened than from how they remember what happened, how they have placed the past events into their own personal history.

It is not surprising, therefore, that most of our human emotions are closely related to our memory. Remorse is a biting memory, guilt is an accusing memory, gratitude is a joyful memory, and all such emotions are deeply influenced by the way we have integrated past events into our way of being in the world. In fact, we perceive our world with our memories. Our memories help us to see and understand new impressions and give them a place in our richly varied life experiences.

I have always been fascinated by the way immigrants, especially Dutcbmen respond to the U.S.A. when they come here for the first time. The first way they make themselves feel at home in their new country is to look at things which remind them of the old country. Then they start to see all the things which are larger, bigger, wider, and heavier than at home Finally, often after several years, they begin to compare things within the country: the East with the West, the city with the countryside. When that happens then they are at home Then they have built up a large enough store of memories in the U.S.A. to compare its different parts and aspects.

These observations show how crucial our memory is for the way we experience life. This is why, in all helping professions-such as medicine, psychiatry, psychology, social work-the first questions are always directed to the memory of the patient or client. "Please tell me your story. What brought you here? What are the events which led you to this place here and now?" And it is clear that what doctors and therapists hear about are not just events but memories of events.

It is no exaggeration to say that the suffering we most frequently encounter in the ministry is a suffering of memories- They are the wounding memories that ask for healing. Feelings of alienation, loneliness, separation; feelings of anxiety, fear, suspicion; and related symptoms such as nervousness, sleeplessness, nailbiting-these all are part of the forms which certain memories have taken. These memories wound because they are often deeply hidden in the center Of our being and very hard to reach. While the good memories may be present to us in outer signs such as trophies, decorations, diplomas, precious stones, vases, rings, and portraits, painful memories tend to remain hidden from us in the corner of our forgetfulness. It is from this hidden place that they escape healing and cause so much harm.

Our first and most spontaneous response to our undesirable memories is to forget them. When something painful has happened we quickly say to ourselves and to each other: "Let's forget it, let's act as if it did not happen, let's not talk about it, let's think about happier things."We want to forget the pains of the past-our personal, communal, and national traumas-and live as if they did not really happen. But by not remembering them we allow the forgotten memories to become independent forces that can exert a crippling effect on our functioning as human beings. When this happens, we become strangers to ourselves because we cut down our own history to a pleasant, comfortable size and try to make it conform to our own daydreams. Forgetting the past is like turning our most intimate teacher against us. By refusing to face our painful memories we miss the opportunity to change our hearts and grow mature in repentance. When Jesus says, "It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick" (Mark 2:17), he affirms that only those who face their wounded condition can be available for healing and so enter into a new way of living.


How are we healed of our wounding memories? We are healed first of all by letting them be available, by leading them out of the corner of forgetfulness and by remembering them as part of our life stories. What is forgotten is unavailable, and what is unavailable cannot be healed. Max Scheler shows how memory liberates us from the determining power of forgotten painful events. "Remembering," he says, "is the beginning of freedom from the covert power of the remembered thing or occurrence." 3

If ministers are reminders, their first task is to offer the space in which the wounding memories of the past can be reached and brought back into the light without fear. When the soil is not plowed the rain cannot reach the seeds; when the leaves are not raked away the sun cannot nurture the hidden plants. So also, when our memories remain covered with fear, anxiety, or suspicion the word of God cannot bear fruit.

To be a reminder requires a dynamic understanding of the lives and behavior of those who need to be reminded, an understanding which offers insight into the many psychic forces by which painful memories are rejected. Anton Boisen, the father of the Movement for Clinical Pastoral Education, pleaded for this dynamic understanding when he proposed a "theology through living human documents." Many pastoral theologians and psychologists have deepened this understanding with the help and inspiration of the contemporary behavioral sciences.


Excerpted from Living Reminder, The - Reissue by Henri J. M. Nouwen Copyright © 2003 by Henri J. M. Nouwen
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Review Quotes
"On the long road it's good to have Nouwen and his diving rod. Deftly he bends toward the drop of spiritual wisdom caked in the most ordinary things."
"The Living Reminder was like a visit from a friend I needed to speak with. The surprise for me was how much I needed to hear him say familiar things."
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Main Description
How service is prayer and prayer is service In this rich and deceptively simple book, beloved writer Henri Nouwen speaks--from the heart and from his own experience--of the joys and challenges of religious service. He shows how ministry cannot be separated from spirituality and reveals how anyone involved in religiously motivated service can act as a healing, sustaining, and guiding reminder of Jesus.

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