Henri Nouwen on Compassion

“To care means first of all to empty our own cup and to allow the other to come close to us. It means to take away the many barriers which prevent us from entering into communion with the other. When we dare to care, then we discover that nothing human is foreign to us, but that all the hatred and love, cruelty and compassion, fear and joy can be found in our own hearts. When we dare to care, we have to confess that when others kill, I could have killed too. When others torture, I could have done the same.”

from Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen (Ave Maria Press, 1974), pg. 42


“Through compassion it is possible to recognize that the craving for love that people feel resides also in our own hearts, that the cruelty the world knows all too well is also rooted in our own impulses. Through compassion we also sense our hope for forgiveness in our friends’ eyes and our hatred in their bitter mouths. When they kill, we know that we could have done it; when they give life, we know that we can do the same. For a compassionate person nothing human is alien: no joy and no sorrow, no way of living and no way of dying.”

from The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen (Doubleday Press, 1972), pg. 41

“Broken Things” by Julie Miller


You can have my heart
Though it isn’t new
It’s been used and broken
And only comes in blue
It’s been down a long road
And it got dirty on the way
If I give it to you will you make it clean
And wash the shame away?

You can have my heart If you don’t mind broken things
You can have my life if you don’t mind these tears
Well I heard that you make old things new
So I give these pieces all to you
If you want it you can have my heart

So beyond repair
Nothing I could do
I tried to fix it myself
But it was only worse when I got through
Then you walked into my darkness
And you speak words so sweet
And you hold me like a child
‘Til my frozen tears fall at your feet


from Broken Things (HighTone Records, 1999). Music and Lyrics by Julie Miller. © Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

“blessing the boats (at st. mary’s)” by Lucille Clifton

Adrian's Viking boat

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear

may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back

may you open
your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that


from Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000 (BOA Editions, 2000). Copyright © 2000 by Lucille Clifton. All rights reserved.

“Thanks” by W.S. Merwin

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead

whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster

with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is


from Migration: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin. All rights reserved.

“Of History and Hope” by Miller Williams

We have memorized America,
how it was born and who we have been and where.
In ceremonies and silence we say the words,
telling the stories, singing the old songs.
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.
The great and all the anonymous dead are there.
We know the sound of all the sounds we brought.
The rich taste of it is on our tongues.
But where are we going to be, and why, and who?
The disenfranchised dead want to know.
We mean to be the people we meant to be,
to keep on going where we meant to go.

But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how
except in the minds of those who will call it Now?
The children. The children. And how does our garden grow?
With waving hands—oh, rarely in a row—
and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow.

Who were many people coming together
cannot become one people falling apart.
Who dreamed for every child an even chance
cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not.
Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head
cannot let chaos make its way to the heart.
Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child
cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot.

We know what we have done and what we have said,
and how we have grown, degree by slow degree,
believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become—
just and compassionate, equal, able, and free.

All this in the hands of children, eyes already set
on a land we never can visit—it isn’t there yet—
but looking through their eyes, we can see
what our long gift to them may come to be.
If we can truly remember, they will not forget.


from Some Jazz A While: Collected Poems (University of Illinois Press, 1999). Copyright © 1999 by Miller Williams. All rights reserved.