Henri J. M. Nouwen (1932 - 1996), according to journalist and BBC producer Michael Ford, was "a priest who tried to follow the mystical path through earnest prayer and a disciplined sacramental life focused on the Eucharist." The author interviewed over 100 of this formidable teacher and preacher's friends, colleagues, and family members in order to present a rounded picture of him. The result is a thought-provoking and richly nuanced portrait of the man considered to be "one of the most remarkable spiritual figures of his generation."

Nouwen wrote, "The spiritual life is a reaching out to our innermost self, to our fellow human beings and to our God." For him, writing was a devotional discipline in which he conveyed his struggles and vulnerabilities as a "wounded healer." Nouwen broke through denominational barriers and found a diverse audience including Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Eastern Orthodox believers, Jews, and secularists. His interest in peace and social justice was an attempt to tear down the walls between contemplation and action, spirituality and politics. In his ministry as pastor of a community of people with developmental disabilities, Nouwen discovered "a whole new adventure in grace among people who were broken in their bodies but had a lot of wholeness to give in their hearts."

Besides drawing out the similarities between Nouwen and Vincent van Gogh in their loneliness, fear of rejection, and depression, Ford discusses this Catholic priest's cultivation of friendship with gay men late in his life. Although many of them urged Nouwen to be more open about his homosexuality, he did not heed their advice.