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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 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 discussion among themselves, with other religious, and with men and women at the very center of national politics, the authors look at compassion with a vigorous new perspective. They place compassion at the heart of a Christian life in a world governed far too long by principles of power and destructive control. Compassion, no longer merely an eraser of human mistakes, is a force of prayer and action -- the expression of God's love for us and our love for God and one another. Compassion is a book that says no to a compassion of guilt and failure and yes to a compassionate love that pervades our spirit and moves us to action. Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison have written a moving document on what it means to be a Christian in a difficult time.


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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 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 discussion among themselves, with other religious, and with men and women at the very center of national politics, the authors look at compassion with a vigorous new perspective. They place compassion at the heart of a Christian life in a world governed far too long by principles of power and destructive control. Compassion, no longer merely an eraser of human mistakes, is a force of prayer and action -- the expression of God's love for us and our love for God and one another. Compassion is a book that says no to a compassion of guilt and failure and yes to a compassionate love that pervades our spirit and moves us to action. Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison have written a moving document on what it means to be a Christian in a difficult time.

30 review for Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    Katy

    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.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Longfellow

    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 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 Nouwen experiences in several ways: clearly stated ideas, challenges to reflect upon, and potentially life-changing sentences throughout. If I were to write down just one of these sentences and stick it in my pocket for a day or a week or a year, I’m certain I would find my perspective being brought back to the places where joy and gratitude reside. Alright, I’ll try it. Wow, I’d better be careful. Some of these things require a level of commitment and change that is no joke. But okay, I’ve chosen a couple: “Being compassionate would require giving up dividing lines and relinquishing differences and distinctions.” I had to search as far as page 19 to find this one. It’s a good reminder that each person has full and equal value in the light of love. Another good question, which I will not put in my pocket, is a few pages later: “Are we really servants when we can become masters again once we think we have done our part or made our contribution?” But the second quote I’ll put in my pocket is something that is a fairly consistent challenge for me, which has to do with feeling there’s rarely enough time in each day, resulting in impatience and annoyance: “Essentially, impatience is experiencing the moment as empty, useless, meaningless. It is wanting to escape from the here and now as soon as possible.” Holding this quote closely should remind me to continually return fully to the present moment. The central idea of Compassion is that God, through Jesus, has expressed intent to be with humanity in our suffering and weakness. As believers and followers, our calling is to seek a similar presence with those whom we come into contact, resulting in “displacement” from our solitary subjectivity to a place of empathy and beyond. Prayer is the tool that heightens our awareness of such reality, and action is the discipline that results from our true faith in this reality.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    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 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 interested at all in the subject then I highly encourage you to read it for yourself. The book is laid out as follows: Compassion is modeled from • Jesus as God with us • Jesus as Servant God • Jesus as Obedient God Compassion can only happen when • We work it out within community • We accept displacement from what is “ordinary and proper” in the eyes of the world • We embrace a radical way of being together with others Compassion is expressed through • Patience • Prayer • Action It sounds simple because they strove to make their message simple. But there is so much to get out of every section.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Patti

    Challenging in its points, but not the best-written book... I was actually a bit glad when it was over.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bailey Frederking

    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.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rebekah Choat

    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 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 down to help those beneath him, but as a common man fully sharing in the day-to-day experiences of ordinary human life. In Jesus Christ, we see that compassion is completely self-emptying, humble, and obedient. In the second section, the authors examine the importance of community, displacement, and togetherness in living compassionately as followers of Christ, concluding that “…displacement leads to a new togetherness in which we can recognize our sameness in common vulnerability, discover our unique talents as gifts for the upbuilding of the community, and listen to God’s call…” The third section discusses the disciplines involved in the way of compassion: patience, prayer, and action. It is necessary to recognize that sometimes what we believe are compassionate actions are misdirected due to our lack of patience and prayerful waiting on God’s guidance. This book is a deliberate reflection on the Christian life, challenging us to explore aspects that we rarely consider in our cursory understanding of compassion and exhorting us to better realize and fulfill our commission as the body of Christ.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ánderson

    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 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 and Now" or ideas like the "breaking of the bread" as a factor in forming community. Ideas and phrases that are excellent but seemed to be used more than necessary. All in all, this does not make the reading boring, read it if you have a chance.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    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 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 subtly... beautiful.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Craig Bergland

    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 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, traditional atonement theology undergirds it as well. Don't waste your time on it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mary Banken

    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.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    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.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dale

    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.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Lustig

    I come back to this book on a regular basis and each time I get something more from it!

  14. 4 out of 5

    John-Francis Friendship

    Excellent book exploring this virtue by a leading writer on spiritulaity.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    "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 "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 answers for our many questions. God might do all of that, but the solidarity of God consists in the fact that God is willing to enter with us into our problems, confusions, and questions. This is the deepest meaning of compassionate action. It is the grateful, free, and joyful expression of the great encounter with the compassionate God. And it will be fruitful even when we can see neither how nor why."

  16. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Forshee

    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 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. Compassion is who Jesus was and how he lived. There were so many profound truths that I believe it will take reading it a second time to absorb many of the prophetic and biblical truths put forth here until I understand it in my heart and practice compassion in my life. I recommend this book for every person of faith who feels helpless in an overwhelmingly hurt world. It's empowering.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Brian Campbell

    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 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 this book a very vague description of those who have given me the gift of compassion. I suppose no author could describe the warm generosity of those who demonstrate compassion so naturally and fearlessly. Maybe it is best for me to learn compassion by example.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Luanne Clark

    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 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 feel insignificant and overwhelmed. “When, through discipline, we have overcome the power of our impatient impulses to flee or fight, to become fearful or angry, we discover a limitless space into which we can welcome all the people of the world.”

  19. 4 out of 5

    Toby Baxter

    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.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Glen

    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.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Ingalls

    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.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    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.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michael Disher

    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.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    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.

  25. 5 out of 5

    J

    This is a great book that teaches us how to live compassionate lives. Imagine if all the world lived compassionately!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    The last sections were much more engaging than the first. Liked this less than work written by Henri Nouwen alone.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Shane

    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

  28. 4 out of 5

    Brent

    A classic. I need this book in my life.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Briana Gentry

    One of the best written books. I keep this book on my bedside and turn to it often. Grateful for the blessing this book has been in my day to day walk with Jesus.

  30. 4 out of 5

    JillT

    I highlighted every other sentence. It tore me to shreds. I’ll need to read it a few more times to let it sink in.

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