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on May 30, 2000
I know that's a big claim, but the fact is that it did. At the time that I read this book, I was frustrated with God, Jesus, the church and anything that had an air of religion about it. I'm not sure why I picked it up and read it, but I'm thankful that I did.
This book's exploration of what compassion is and what it means to a Christian is without a doubt the best explanation that I have ever read. The book examines how God is compassionate and then looks at how this impacts the lives of those who would follow Him (the introduction alone is reason enough to read this book). It challenges people to embrace the sorrows and pain of others and to truly live a compassionate life.
This books simple approach and "no-holds-barred" attitude towards compassion showed me that God was in fact compassionate and that those who followed Him could be too. If you have any questions or doubts about who God is, or if you want to know more about how God wants people to react to hurting, you MUST read this book. I can't say enough good things about it.
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on September 19, 2003
The not too well known poet Yosano Akiko wrote, "This one thing will I ask you: Are you with the people or apart from them? Depending on your answer, you and I will be forever divided between heaven and earth." This is the heart of Compassion. Nouwen and his co-authors argue that it is only genuine compassion, the ability to go outside of one's self in love for the other, that we find the meaning of God's love in Christ. It speaks directly to the heart of the Gospel, an incarnate faith in a life of compassion. Christ is known in "the least of these," in the person who is next to you now, on the bus, in the office, at your home. This is one of the books that I would really like to recommend to any Christian, regardless of their interests in theology or spirituality.
Centered around the self-emptying, kenotic love of God in Christ, the book reminds us that Christianity is not a dogma, or a rule, or some system, but rather a Person. The authors use St. Paul's letter to the Philippians, 2:6-11, as the scriptural touchstone of the book. "In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus..." Dogmas and theologies are footnotes, Nouwen suggests, to the reality of the crucified and risen Christ as experienced by the disciples and his followers. They are essential, but they are not the "thing" in itself. To come to know the meaning of our lives, our creation, we must enter into the love of God directly through compassion.
Anyone in the field of social services would benefit from this book immensely. Sometimes we loose sight of the value and meaning of our lives. This book is an antidote.
This insightful work is divided into three parts. 1) The Compassionate God- examining the nature and mission of Christ and what he tells us about the Father. 2) The Compassionate Life- the roles and meaning behind community, displacement and togetherness. 3) The Compassionate Way- Patience, Prayer and Action.
Each chapter stands alone and can be profitably used in group studies or for personal reflection.
One of my favorite books! I wish I could give it to you! Enjoy!
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on April 30, 2001
This book is one of the most important How-To books ever. There are a lot of books out there offering to make us feel better, or to solve our various problems and anxious concerns, but few books give us concrete ways to give back of all that we've been given in our lives. This book simply, powerfully, intelligently, and at times, overwhelmingly, shows us how to relate the service and compassion of Jesus' life, and the love, patience, and generosity of God, to our own lives and the world around us. It answers the question of our human purpose in the world, and it suggests a way of being in this world that supports and encourages others and fulfills the will of God. This book teaches us how to serve God by daily and humbly serving man. This book is all about love. I know I will read and reread this book for the rest of my life. It is that essential and full of truth. And it is that challenging.
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VINE VOICEon October 8, 1999
Everyone interested in Jesus should read this book. Yes, everyone. A couple of times. It has been one of the most influential books I've ever read. Nouwen pulls no punches, is not afraid to say anything. His message is hardcore and thought-provoking and if it was listened to honestly, would change the world. Read this book.
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VINE VOICEon February 20, 2004
These authors cut straight through the lighter, more popular, aspects of society and dive straight into a radical life of Christ-baised community that challenges evil face to face, without returning evil for evil. If this book were to be widely accepted it could turn our society upside down. If you read it carefully, it might just turn your own world upside down (or more accurately right side up). I first read this book 5 years ago and still, today, I feel a flood of emotions go through me, whenever I pick it up.
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on April 27, 2001
The book, Compassion, a Reflection on the Christian Life, by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison is about the meaning and role of compassion in a Christian's life. The book is a collection of reflections by the three authors and some of their friends, gathered in a series of weekly meetings, as they discussed what compassion means in our society. The book was written many years after these meetings. The book does not mention how the writing was divided among the three authors. The introduction makes it clear that these authors are not talking about simple compassion, as most people understand the concept, but rather, a literal "suffering with" compassion; one that requires us to enter into places of pain, and to share the misery of those who suffer. It is a compassion that is contrary to our natural goals in life; competition for a better life, to be on top, to have distinct identities. To really understand compassion we need to make a radical change of heart and mind, which the authors feel Jesus' meant when he said: "Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate."The authors suggest our service to our fellow human being requires radical commitment and self self-sacrifice (in my opinion, they are suggesting self-flagellation). Compassion happens in the world when true Christian community is formed. Each member of the community can contribute with their own skill set, according to God's will for each of us, in order to the serve a great variety of needs (page 58). In my opinion, the best part of the book was the chapter on prayer. Prayer and action are an essential part of patience. Prayer strengthens our discipleship, and allows the Spirit of God to speak freely to us. In prayer we free God's Spirit from "our impatient impulses", and "allow the Spirit to do his re-creating work in us." Compassionate prayer should be the mark of the Christian community. Prayer and action are not mutually exclusive, "they must be a manifestation of God's compassionate presence in the midst of our world." I feel the pervasive message of the book calls for a compassion that few can give. Its appeal calls for a "displacement" that is too extreme. If we enter into the full "solidarity" which the authors demand, we are to become one of the downtrodden and poor. Should we then expect someone else from the old community to join us too, and repeat until we all are poor. Is true compassion only achieved when we are all outcasts? If we all realize the authors' suggested "sameness," perhaps no one will need help - lets hope so, for there will be no human left to help us.
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on August 25, 2008
I'm having difficulty trying to type what I would like for someone to know about this book. I read the reviews of books before I purchase them too and know they have some influence. What if I just say that your dollar and time investment are low and your yield is gigantic? Reading this has brought me to a deeper understanding of God's nature and has brought me back to the Bible as a source of this understanding.

Please read this book.
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on June 3, 2011
This was my textbook during my junior year "service" class at Notre Dame. The co-author, Father Don (McNeill) was my instructor. The course was great, but I had forgotten about the book. More than a decade later, as I re-engaged myself with social justice and welfare, and international orphanage work, I re-discovered this book while reading through all of Henri Nouwen's books. I found this book incredibly insightful for a more matured person in search for purposeful social action in the world.

Key points I take away from this book - 1) We are overwhelmed by the world's problems and crisis if we do not have a center in our hearts and a community to which we belong; 2) We allow ourselves to be dominated by "clock" time, rather than trusting in the eternal; 3) If we think the world depended on our wits and efforts to "save", we are more doomed than those we are trying to serve; 4) Moving from seeking power (in social action) to seeking community; 5) Find how goodness (Christ) is already working even in places of despair. The last point has guided my work and restored my hope as I sat in desolate orphanages overseas -- and it is true! There are so many more insights, and every time I re-read it, I get something more from it. I've made a habit to take the book with me whenever I am off to a distant land working on child welfare issues.

The reader will undoubtedly get her own take from it. I see this book as this deep reflecting pool. As a person grows in social action, a person may come to see and learn different things from this book. It's a companion book to be read at different stages of life.

For those who may consider the book a little too "conceptual" and feel they need more "practical" guidance, I'd recommend

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor... and Yourself by Brian Fikkert, Steve Corbett and Danny Campbell (Feb 1, 2010)
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on August 22, 2004
One of the best books on Christian spirituality ever written. No other book encompasses the true sprit of the work of Jesus Christ like this one. If you like this book, I also recommend Walter Wink's "Engaging the Powers."
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on February 13, 2013
Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life

Initial Question:
How does Nouwen's gentle tone connect to the strong language of compassion-infused discipleship?

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Nouwen (& et. al)'s Compassion will be a book I return to to fuel my soul in times of doubt or cloudy direction. I've highlighted and underlined and highlighted again so many of the simple, eloquently phrased sentences, that I might need to start committing the book to memory.

The most profound result from the book is how Nouwen's pastoral tone guides the reader toward seeing the necessity of Jesus' call to the compassionate life as a disciple.

My largest "take away?" --Compassion is the direct opposite of competition. Compassion cultivates love and a loss of self; competition is the preservation of self (or the self's tribe) through the weaponry of anger, slander, etc. In order to cultivate a life (and people) of compassion, we're going to have to face our inner (and cultural) tendencies toward competition.
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