The Road to Peace: Writings on Peace and Justice

May 11, 2007


In 1989, Jesuit activist John Dear was demonstrating in Washington with a group of homeless people when he was arrested. While waiting in jail he discovered that he had a slim volume by Henri Nouwen, recently given to him by a Trappist monk friend, in his coat pocket. Dear began reading it and was hooked. He subsequently wrote to Nouwen and so began a correspondence of faith and friendship that lasted until Nouwen’s death in 1996.

In `The Road to Peace’, Dear presents an under-appreciated aspect of Henri Nouwen, the dimension of social responsibility that Dear sees as underpinning all of his writings, and was a significant part of his life. Dear’s collection gathers for the first time nearly all of Nouwen’s writings on peace, social justice, and disarmament.

We learn enough about Dear in his 25-page introduction to know that he himself is a deeply committed and experienced social activist. (Following an anti-nuclear Ploughshare demonstration, for instance, he spent eight months in a US jail, and a further five months under house arrest.) So when Dear says that social justice is a key dimension of Nouwen’s spirituality and that he is an inspiring and challenging writer for social activists, he believe him.

A key part of Dear’s introduction is a well-composed account of Nouwen’s life, which also reveals the extent to which social concerns were a part of his life as well as his thought. To give one example, following an impromptu visit to Nicaragua, Nouwen undertook a six-week tour of the US denouncing the nation’s involvement in the contra-war, which culminated in a bomb threat against the writer.

Nouwen’s writings challenge his readers to recognize that solidarity with, and action on behalf of, our wounded world is an essential part of spirituality, while activists are challenged to deepen their inner contemplative life, without which they are vulnerable to despair.

`The Road to Peace’ includes a number of previously unpublished texts, most notably a 50-page `Spirituality of Peacemaking’, a! s well as a talk on AIDS, interviews with the writer, his reflections on the legacies of Thomas Merton and Oscar Romero, and writings on his life with handicapped persons at L’Arche.

`The Road to Peace’ is a substantial, significant and original addition to the Nouwen corpus that will be widely welcomed.