Perhaps “mystic” is one of the most misunderstood descriptions of a prayerful Christian. But Henri Nouwen simplifies the meaning with this clear definition: “a mystic is a person whose identity is deeply rooted in God’s first love.”
For Christian leaders, becoming people of prayer will be a lifetime pursuit. As Nouwen writes, Christian leaders both today and tomorrow will need to learn the discipline of contemplative prayer “dwelling in the presence of the One who keeps asking us, ‘Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?’”
“Through contemplative prayer we can keep ourselves from being pulled from one urgent issue to another and from becoming strangers to our own heart and God’s heart. Contemplative prayer deepens in us the knowledge that we are already free, that we have already found a place to dwell, that we already belong to God, even though everything and everyone around us keep suggesting the opposite.”
While it is well and good for laypeople, priests and ministers to be moral, well-trained, eager to help others, and able to respond creatively to the burning issues of the day, that is not the heart of Christian leadership says Nouwen.
“The central question is, Are the leaders of the future truly men and women of God, people with an ardent desire to dwell in God’s presence, to listen to God’s voice, to look at God’s beauty, to touch God’s incarnate Word, and to taste fully God’s infinite goodness?”
Christian leadership “must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find the source for their words, advice and guidance. Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to listen again and again to the voice of love and to find there the wisdom and courage to address whatever issue presents itself to them.
“When we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative” (In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen, Crossroad Publishing, New York, 1989, pages 42-47).