Monday, February 11, 2008

Henri Nouwen on Compassion


As I prepare to serve with a mission team this week, I am reminded of a quote by the brilliant 20th century writer on Christian spirituality, Henri Nouwen. It goes like this: “Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it. As busy, active, relevant ministers, we want to earn our bread by making a real contribution. This means first and foremost doing something to show that our presence makes a difference. And so we ignore our greatest gift, which is our ability to enter into solidarity with those who suffer. Those who can sit in silence with their fellowman, not knowing what to say but knowing that they should be there, can bring new life in a dying heart. Those who are not afraid to hold a hand in gratitude, to shed tears in grief and to let a sigh of distress arise straight from the heart can break through paralyzing boundaries and witness the birth of a new fellowship, the fellowship of the broken.”

2 comments:

John said...

i have mixed feelings about this article. why are compassion and "finding a cure" considered to be mutually exclusive? is compassion "real", if not accompanied by a "real contribution?"

aren't our expressions of faith a combination of qualities, compassion and good works among them?

GCootsona said...

I think you're definitely on to something, but I believe that it's best to read Nouwen's words by putting quotation marks around "real." I.e., what he's saying is that we may think it's only when we do something concrete that we have done something real.