Nouwen views our spiritual "ascent" as evolving in three movements. The first, from loneliness to solitude, focuses on the spiritual life as it relates to the experience of our own selves. The second, from hostility to hospitality, deals with our spiritual life as a life for others. The final movement, from illusion to prayer, offers penetrating thoughts on the most mysterious relationship of all: our relationship to God. Throughout, Nouwen emphasizes that the more we understand (and not simply deny) our inner struggles, the more fully we will be able to embrace a prayerful and genuine life that is also open to others' needs.
Reaching Out is a rich book to be read, reread, pondered, and shared with others. "It does not offer answers or solutions" Nouwen cautions, "but is written in the conviction that the quest for an authentic Christian spirituality is worth the effort and the pain, since in the midst of this quest we can find signs offering hope, courage, and confidence."
Henri J. M. Nouwen is a Catholic priest who has taught at several theological institutes and universities in his home country of the Netherlands and in the United States. He shared his life with people with mental disabilities at the L'Arche-Daybreak Community in Toronto, Canada. He is the author of many books on the spiritual life, including The Genesee Diary, The Wounded Healer, and The Return of the Prodigal Son.