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Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  1,171 ratings  ·  102 reviews
In this provocative essay on that least understood virtue, compassion, the authors challenge themselves and us with these questions: Where do we place compassion in our lives? Is it enough to live a life in which we hurt one another as little as possible? Is our guiding ideal a life of maximum pleasure and minimum pain? Compassion answers no.

After years of study and discus
Paperback, 160 pages
Published January 17th 2006 by Image (first published January 1st 1982)
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Nov 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Pg 17-18 are imprinted in my mind. Our world and relationships give a distorted image of a deeply compassionate God. Nouwen paints for us a depiction of God-with-us, the One who desires to embrace and love us through our pain and chaos. Once we have met with this God, we are called to go out and embrace others with that same compassion.

While this book hasn’t influenced my day-to-day thinking as much as some other Nouwen books, I think this says more about my current level of distraction than it does the quality of the observations and insights found in Compassion, though it’s possible that Nouwen’s co-authorship with two other authors on this one slightly reduces the tone of intimacy most of his books offer.

Nonetheless, when I look back at my underlinings and annotations, I see that my reading experience exemplifies all my Nou
Jul 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those who want to live their Christian calling
Recommended to Jonathan by: Brooke Riggio
Shelves: all
This book touches my heart and challenges my mind. I’ve never been dared to love and care for others like I am by the three men who spent a significant stretch of their lives putting together these words. Even when I read the book for the third time recently, I was carefully taking down notes and retyping whole paragraphs. It is a book to read slowly and take seriously. I can’t say anything that would do justice to the depth of their insights, so I will just summarize their path, and if you are ...more
Jan 31, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: spirituality
Challenging in its points, but not the best-written book... I was actually a bit glad when it was over.
Bailey Frederking
Sep 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is the book I needed for a day of sabbath rest. A book that speaks into the here and now and brings about great encouragement and conviction. A compassionate life is far from an easy one. It is one of patience, humility, gratitude, confrontation of evil within ourselves and around us, obedience, and sacrifice. But as they finish this book, a compassionate life is not the final goal- a compassionate life should point beyond itself.
Julie Woolery
Jan 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book was a huge influence in my life 20 years ago, and I can’t believe it’s been that long since I read it. This is a book I will re-read every year, and I’m so thankful for the friend who inspired me to pick it up again :)
Nov 15, 2020 rated it liked it
A thoughtful and compassionate look at how we should respond to others - as you might expect, given the topic of the book. Also to be expected of a single-topic book that is a passion project, the authors go a bit too far in seeing compassion as the apex virtue and sole lens through which to understand human existence. None-the-less, certainly a book worth reading and reflecting on.

The style comes across as very Catholic - emphasizing God's mystical and intimate shared suffering with us as the m
Rebekah Choat
Jun 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
The word compassion is derived from two Latin words – pati and cum – which together mean “to suffer with.” The authors note that, although most of us commonly think of compassion as one of the basic characteristics that make us human, true compassion in fact runs counter to our inborn nature.

The first section of the book is a study of the meaning of compassion as demonstrated by God, beginning with His act of taking on flesh and living not among the privileged classes as a benefactor reaching do
Dec 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Excellent reading. The authors write from a very devotional way. This is not a technical book it is most an example of practical theology with a bit of mysticism. This book invites the reader to live in a life of compassion and vulnerable relationships to God and humans. An enriching reading, highly recommendable.

I give it four stars not because it is not good enough simply because I feel some sections of the book (I suspect those written by Nouwen) make an excessive use of phrases like "Here an
May 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
this book is truly amazing... i've read it a couple of times now and would truly recommend it to anyone... it's beautiful and rich and deep... speaks of living in our world with a rich awareness of the needs around us, how to enter in deeply with others who are hurting... how to live as Christ called us to live. in my mind it sums up a great many books that try to delve into how we are to live in out day and age... it approaches this subject on a deeper heart level and challenges you truly and s ...more
Craig Bergland
Aug 02, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: christianity
The title of this book is misleading in that it is a book not about Compassion at all, but instead a book about Christian Community. I found that disappointing in that I had hoped based on the title for a Christian treatment of compassion. Beyond that, I found the content trite and dated at times. What serious Christian thinker asserts that God won't give us more than we can handle, the biblical verse that suggests that notwithstanding? The book's take on suffering was almost medieval, tradition ...more
Mary Banken
Jan 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
On those days when the world around me and/or the world far away cause me to despair, the gentle words of this book have called me back to patience and compassion...away from competition. A good book to return to when life's challenges begin to overwhelm. ...more
This is probably one of the most life-changing books I have ever read. In my opinion, this book just completely maps out what the Christian life is all about.
Jun 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Henri helps us to understand that compassion is more than sympathy or concern for another. Rather Compassion is to feel the pain of another, and to enter into a similar struggle for justice.
Rachel Lustig
Jul 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I come back to this book on a regular basis and each time I get something more from it!
John-Francis Friendship
Jun 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book exploring this virtue by a leading writer on spiritulaity.
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religious, 2018
"Simply being with someone is difficult because it asks of us that we share in the other's vulnerability, enter with him or her into the experience of weakness and powerlessness, become part of uncertainty, and give up control and self-determination. . . . These reflections offer only a glimpse of what we mean when we say that God is a God-with-us, a God who came to share our lives in solidarity. It does not mean that God solves our problems, shows us the way out of our confusion, or offers answ ...more
Elizabeth Forshee
May 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-books
Though this book was written almost forty years ago, it amazes me how relevant it is still to the Church, to followers of Christ. I have never considered the truest meaning of Compassion or what it looks like in real life scenarios. It is beyond feeling pity for others. I believe, as the gentlemen who wrote this book, that compassion is exactly what we need as believers and exactly the kind of love we should be expressing in our world to bring restoration into the broken and hurting places. Comp ...more
Brian Campbell
Sep 27, 2018 rated it liked it
authors examined the subject very deeply and thoughtfully from the perspective of traditional God separate from its creation. Part One offers some good insights into how close God is to humans while maintaining their separateness. Description of God's compassion very well done. Part Three offers useful insights into how we can be compassionate. Notes that human compassion requires patience and prayer. Well written caution to be wary of manipulation. As recipient of profound compassion, I see in ...more
Luanne Clark
Jul 08, 2020 rated it liked it
This was a very appropriate read for the present climate of our culture. I had three big takeaways.
1. The opposite of compassion is competition. I had never thought about it that way, but it’s true.
2. Patience is an integral component of compassion. As Ralph Waldo Emerson encouraged, “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
3. The concept of inner displacement. Take some time each day to practice pushing aside the media bombardment of the hate and pain in the world, It only makes us fe
Nathan Swedberg
Mar 01, 2021 rated it liked it
Great thoughts - I like nouwen better by himself

Favorite lines:
“We prefer to keep compassion on the periphery of our competitive lives.”
“...compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there.”
“To pay attention to others with the desire to make them the center and to make their interests our own is a real form of self-emptying, since to be able to receive others into our intimate inner space we must be empty.”
“...patience is a will
Toby Baxter
Jan 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent quote:
Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.
May 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
Not sure what everyone else saw in this book, but it was brutal. The base concepts talked about were solid but it was very repetitive. Not sure if that comes from having 3 authors, but it made this thin book drag. A cursory skim is all I would recommend to someone who wants to try it.
Matthew Ingalls
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Such a useful book! I especially appreciated the final section and its emphasis on gratitude. It is a remarkable place to be when one realizes that the experience of solidarity in the "other's" struggle is also something to thank God for. ...more
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
One of the most influential books I have read in my life. Truly encourages you to engage with what compassion truly is. This is a book I recommend that anyone should read, but especially those in vocations of compassion.
Michael Disher
May 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Nouwen presents some reflections on the centrality of compassion in the Christian life, the nature of compassion as shown in the life of Jesus, common barriers to showing compassion, and how compassion is developed and lived in practice.
Jun 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A must read. God gave me this to explain the last few months of my life to me, and I understand what He was doing now and what I have been through even more now.
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book that teaches us how to live compassionate lives. Imagine if all the world lived compassionately!
Apr 19, 2018 rated it liked it
The last sections were much more engaging than the first. Liked this less than work written by Henri Nouwen alone.
Dec 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Some excellent insight on compassion. One thing I learned is that compassion is seeing people at their level, without the discrepancies of power. The book got rather deep in some areas
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Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen (Nouen), (1932–1996) was a Dutch-born Catholic priest and writer who authored 40 books on the spiritual life.

Nouwen's books are widely read today by Protestants and Catholics alike. The Wounded Healer, In the Name of Jesus, Clowning in Rome, The Life of the Beloved, and The Way of the Heart are just a few of the more widely recognized titles. After nearly two decades of

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“Jesus' whole life and mission involve accepting powerlessness and revealing in this powerlessness the limitlessness of God's love.” 3 likes
“God wants to bring joy not pain, peace not war, healing not suffering. Therefore, instead of declaring anything and everything to be the will of God, we must be willing to ask ourselves where in the midst of our pains and sufferings we can discern the loving presence of God.” 2 likes
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