Christianity 201

June 22, 2011

Henri Nouwen Quotations

It’s pronounced ‘NOW-in.’  I don’t need to tell most of you that.  But many people don’t know his story, so you might want to take a minute to read about him before continuing, though his Wikipedia article is far too brief. In short: A theology academic who gave it up to live a life of service that most people reading this would consider far too menial.  Therefore, posting his words here is almost secondary to remembering his actions.

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”

“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 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.”

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.”

“We are called to give ourselves, not only in life, but in death as well. I am called to trust that life is a preparation for death as a final act of giving. Not only are we called to live for others, but also to die for others. We have to choose between clinging to life in such a way that death becomes nothing but a failure, or letting go of life in freedom so that we can be given to others as a source of hope.”

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”

“The world is waiting … for new saints, ecstatic men and women who are so deeply rooted in the love of God that they are free to imagine a new international order.”

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

“The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it”

“Our life is a short time in expectation, a time in which sadness and joy kiss each other at every moment. There is a quality of sadness that pervades all the moments of our lives. It seems that there is no such thing as a clear-cut pure joy, but that even in the most happy moments of our existence we sense a tinge of sadness. In every satisfaction, there is an awareness of limitations. In every success, there is the fear of jealousy. Behind every smile, there is a tear. In every embrace, there is loneliness. In every friendship, distance. And in all forms of light, there is the knowledge of surrounding darkness … But this intimate experience in which every bit of life is touched by a bit of death can point us beyond the limits of our existence. It can do so by making us look forward in expectation to the day when our hearts will be filled with perfect joy, a joy that no one shall take away from us.”

“One way to express the spiritual crisis of our time is to say that most of us have an address but cannot be found there.”

“Dear God,
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.
And what you want to give me is love,
unconditional, everlasting love.

“Christian life is not a life divided between times for action and times for contemplation. No. Real social action is a way of contemplation, and real contemplation is the core of social action.”

“The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation…”

“To pray, I think, does not mean to think about God in contrast to thinking about other things, or to spend time with God instead of spending time with other people. Rather, it means to think and live in the presence of God. As soon as we begin to divide our thoughts about God and thoughts about people and events, we remove God from our daily life and put him into a pious little niche where we can think pious thoughts and experience pious feelings. … Although it is important and even indispensable for the spiritual life to set apart time for God and God alone, prayer can only become unceasing prayer when all our thoughts — beautiful or ugly, high or low, proud or shameful, sorrowful or joyful — can be thought in the presence of God. … Thus, converting our unceasing thinking into unceasing prayer moves us from a self-centred monologue to a God-centred dialogue.”

” Much violence is based on the illusion that life is a property to be defended and not to be shared. “

Sources: Think Exist, Good Reads, Quoteland, Wisdom Quotes, Quote Mountain, Sammy Williams Blog, iWise.

Here’s a final quote from Nouwen on prayer which I found at Thinking Out Loud from May, 2009

way-of-the-heart-nouwenFor many of us, prayer means nothing more than speaking with God. And since it usually seems to be a quite one-sided affair, prayer simply means talking to God. This idea is enough to create great frustrations. If I present a problem, I expect a solution; if I formulate a question, I expect an answer; if I ask for guidance, I expect a response. And when it seems, increasingly, that I am talking into the dark, it is not so strange that I soon begin to suspect that my dialogue with God is in fact a monologue. Then I may begin to ask myself: To whom am I really speaking, God or myself?

Sometimes the absence of an answer makes us wonder if we might have said the wrong kind of prayers, but mostly we feel taken, cheated, and quickly stop “this whole silly thing.” It is quite understandable that we should experience speaking with real people, who need a word and who offer a response, as much more meaningful than speaking with a God who seems to be an expert at hide and seek.


  1. […] A few years ago I compiled a number of quotations from Henri Nouwen. They are collected at this link. […]

    Pingback by Cricket, Cricket | Thinking Out Loud — March 1, 2018 @ 1:14 pm | Reply

  2. […] This is an excerpt from the Prologue to The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom and Silence (1981 edition, pages 1-5) by Henri Nouwen. […]

    Pingback by Pursuing Solitude, Silence, Prayer | Christianity 201 — March 2, 2018 @ 5:34 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: