Cover image for A cry for mercy : prayers from the Genesee
A cry for mercy : prayers from the Genesee
Nouwen, Henri J. M.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1981.
Physical Description:
175 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BV245 .N69 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order


Author Notes

He was born in the Netherlands in 1932. An ordained priest and gifted teacher, he taught at several universities including Notre Dame, Harvard and Yale. He was a missionary in Peru. He died of a heart attack in 1996.

(Publisher Provided) Henri J. M. Nouwen was born in Nijkerk, The Netherlands on January 24, 1932. He was ordained a priest in 1957. He taught theology at Yale University Divinity School from 1971 to 1981 and at Harvard Divinity School from 1983 to 1985. He was the pastor at Daybreak, the L'Arche community for the mentally handicapped in Toronto, Canada from 1986 to 1996. He wrote over 30 books on spirituality, healing, and ministry including Reaching Out, The Genesee Diary, The Wounded Healer, The Road to Daybreak, The Return of the Prodigal Son, and Can You Drink the Cup? He died of a heart attack on September 21, 1996 at the age of 64.

(Bowker Author Biography)



I February-March: A fearful heart There is so much fear in us. Fear of people, fear of God and much raw, undefined, free-floating anxiety. I wonder if fear is not our main obstacle to prayer. When we enter into the presence of God and start to sense that huge reservoir of fear in us, we want to run away into the many distractions which our busy world offers us so abundantly. But we should not be afraid of our fears. We can confront them, give words to them and lead them into the presence of him who says: "Do not be afraid, it is I." Our inclination is to show our Lord only what we feel comfortable with. But the more we dare to reveal our whole trembling self to him, the more we will be able to sense that his love, which is perfect love, casts out all our fears. Sunday, February 18 O Lord Jesus Christ, you who forgave the sins of the paralytic before you let him walk again, I pray that my six months of retreat may make me more aware of your forgiving presence in my life and less concerned about performing well in the eyes of my world. Let me recognize you at that virginal point in the depth of my heart where you dwell and heal me. Let me experience you in that center of my being from which you want to teach and guide me. Let me know you as my loving brother who holds nothing--not even my worst sins--against me, but who wants to touch me in a gentle embrace. Take away the many fears, suspicions, and doubts by which I prevent you from being my Lord, and give me the courage and freedom to appear naked and vulnerable in the light of your presence, confident in your unfathomable mercy. I know how great my resistance is, how quickly I choose the darkness instead of the light. But I also know that you keep calling me into the light, where I can see not only my sins but your gracious face as well. Be with me every hour of my days in this community, so that I can be for the brothers here a real sign of hope--not because of what I am, but because of what you do in me. Thank you, O Lord, for bringing me here and giving me another chance to meet you on the road. Praise and glory to you, now and forever. Amen. Monday, February 19 Why, O Lord, is it so hard for me to keep my heart directed toward you? Why do the many little things I want to do, and the many people I know, keep crowding my mind, even during the hours that I am totally free to be with you and you alone? Why does my mind wander off in so many directions, and why does my heart desire the things that lead me astray? Are you not enough for me? Do I keep doubting your love and care, your mercy and grace? Do I keep wondering, in the center of my being, whether you will give me all I need if I just keep my eyes on you? Please accept my distractions, my fatigue, my irritations, and my faithless wanderings. You know me more deeply and fully than I know myself. You love me with a greater love than I can love myself. You even offer me more than I can desire. Look at me, see me in all my misery and inner confusion, and let me sense your presence in the midst of my turmoil. All I can do is show myself to you. Yet, I am afraid to do so. I am afraid that you will reject me. But I know--with the knowledge of faith--that you desire to give me your love. The only thing you ask of me is not to hide from you, not to run away in despair, not to act as if you were a relentless despot. Take my tired body, my confused mind, and my restless soul into your arms and give me rest, simple quiet rest. Do I ask too much too soon? I should not worry about that. You will let me know. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen. Tuesday, February 20 Today, O Lord, I felt intense fear. My whole being seemed to be invaded by fear. No peace, no rest; just plain fear: fear of mental breakdown, fear of living the wrong life, fear of rejection and condemnation, and fear of you. O Lord, why is it so hard to overcome my fear? Why is it so hard to let your love banish my fear? Only when I worked with my hands for a while did it seem that the intensity of the fear decreased. I feel so powerless to overcome this fear. Maybe it is your way of asking me to experience some solidarity with the fearful people all over the world: those who are hungry and cold in this harsh winter, those who are threatened by unexpected guerrilla attacks, and those who are hidden in prisons, mental institutions, and hospitals. O Lord, this world is full of fear. Make my fear into a prayer for the fearful. Let that prayer lift up the hearts of others. Perhaps then my darkness can become light for others, and my inner pain a source of healing for others. You, O Lord, have also known fear. You have been deeply troubled; your sweat and tears were the signs of your fear. Make my fear, O Lord, part of yours, so that it will lead me not to darkness but to the light, and will give me a new understanding of the hope of your cross. Amen. Wednesday, February 21 Thank you, O Lord, for this day. I did not feel your presence, I did not hear your voice, I did not see your gentle face, but the raging fear of yesterday was gone, at least for many hours. Thank you for the quiet hours in the bakery, the quiet hours in my room and the quiet hours in church. I could think, read, and pray a little, and I even had a moment in which I could imagine that I might one day feel peace and joy again. Thank you, O Lord, for these good things. I read about "knowing you," about the ways one comes to a knowledge of you, and I pray that what I understand with my mind will descend one day into my heart and give me inner light. I call to you, O Lord, from my quiet darkness. Show me your mercy and love. Let me see your face, hear your voice, touch the hem of your cloak. I want to love you, be with you, speak to you and simply stand in your presence. But I cannot make it happen. Pressing my eyes against my hands is not praying, and reading about your presence is not living in it. But there is that moment in which you will come to me, as you did to your fearful disciples, and say, "Do not be afraid; it is I." Let that moment come soon, O Lord. And if you want to delay it, then make me patient. Amen. Monday, February 26 Is this going to be a period of purification, Lord? Is this going to be the time when you give me insight into the chains that bind me and the courage to throw them off? Is this going to be my chance to see my prison and escape it? John Eudes said: "This is a time of purification. A time to identify your ambiguous relationships and your ambivalent attitudes, and to make some decisions and choose some directions." Lord, it is you who said this to me. If I believe in your church and the voice of those who speak in her name, in your name, then it was you who pointed out to me the meaning of my stay here: "Identify and choose." And you also said, "Pray even when you do not feel attracted to it." Yes, Lord, I will try to pray, even when I am afraid to face you and myself, even when I keep falling asleep or feel as though I am going around in circles, even when it seems that nothing is happening. Yes, Lord, I will pray--not only with others, not only supported by the rhythms of the choir, but also alone with you. I will try not to be afraid. Lord, give me courage and strength. Let me see myself in the light of your mercy and choose you. Amen. Wednesday, February 28 Ash Wednesday O Lord, it is a great grace that I can be in this monastery during Lent. How often have I lived through these weeks without paying much attention to penance, fasting and prayer? How often have I missed the spiritual fruits of this season without even being aware of it? But how can I ever really celebrate Easter without observing Lent? How can I rejoice fully in your resurrection when I have avoided participating in your death? Yes, Lord, I have to die--with you, through you and in you--and thus become ready to recognize you when you appear to me in your resurrection. There is so much in me that needs to die: false attachments, greed and anger, impatience and stinginess. O Lord, I am self-centered, concerned about myself, my career, my future, my name and fame. Often I even feel that I use you for my own advantage. How preposterous, how sacrilegious, how sad! But yes, Lord, I know it is true. I know that often I have spoken about you, written about you and acted in your name for my own glory and for my own success. Your name has not led me to persecution, oppression, or rejection. Your name has brought me rewards! I see clearly now how little I have died with you, really gone your way and been faithful to it. O Lord, make this Lenten season different from the other ones. Let me find you again. Amen. Sunday, March 4 Dear Lord, you are the first of the just. You lived the righteous life. It is because of you that your heavenly Father keeps this world in existence and shows his mercy to us sinners. Who am I, Lord, to expect your love, protection, and mercy? Who am I to deserve a place in your heart, in your house, in your kingdom? Who am I, Lord, to hope in your forgiveness, your friendship, your embrace? And still this is what I am waiting for, expecting, even counting on! Not because of my own merits, but solely because of your immense mercy. You lived for us the life that is pleasing to God. O Lord, you are the just one, the blessed one, the beloved one, the righteous one, the gracious one. I pray that your Father, the Father of all people, the One who created me and sustains me day in and day out, may recognize in me your marks and receive me because of you. Help me to follow you, to unite my life with yours and to become a mirror of your love. Amen. Monday, March 5 Listen, O Lord, to my prayers. Listen to my desire to be with you, to dwell in your house, and to let my whole being be filled with your presence. But none of this is possible without you. When you are not the one who fills me, I am soon filled with endless thoughts and concerns that divide me and tear me away from you. Even thoughts about you, good spiritual thoughts, can be little more than distractions when you are not their author. O Lord, thinking about you, being fascinated with theological ideas and discussions, being excited about histories of Christian spirituality and stimulated by thoughts and ideas about prayer and meditation, all of this can be as much an expression of greed as the unruly desire for food, possessions, or power. Every day I see again that only you can teach me to pray, only you can set my heart at rest, only you can let me dwell in your presence. No book, no idea, no concept or theory will ever bring me close to you unless you yourself are the one who lets these instruments become the way to you. But, Lord, let me at least remain open to your initiative; let me wait patiently and attentively for that hour when you will come and break through all the walls I have erected. Teach me, O Lord, to pray. Amen. Wednesday, March 7 O Lord, let me praise you, bless you, worship you. So often my prayer turns into introspective ruminations regarding my own confused feelings and emotions. So often I find myself engaged in reciting a litany of self-complaints, or my attention wanders to people and events that inhabit my restless mind. O Lord, why do I keep focusing so much on what separates me from you? You are the source of all goodness, beauty, and love. You have shown me your mercy by coming to me and lifting me up into your own life through the life of your Church. And still I keep living as if the thousand other things that crowd my mind need more attention than you. Help me in this struggle to make you the center of my inner life. Give me the grace of prayer. Show me clearly and convincingly how I am fooling myself, and give me the strength to follow this insight. Most of all, O Lord, let me understand that in and through you all my little concerns will be taken care of. You do not despise my worries, but you do ask me to trust that you will deal with them when I simply keep my eyes on you and your kingdom. Teach me, O Lord, your way. Amen. Saturday, March 10 O Lord, life passes by swiftly. Events that a few years ago kept me totally preoccupied have now become vague memories; conflicts that a few months ago seemed so crucial in my life now seem futile and hardly worth the energy; inner turmoil that robbed me of my sleep only a few weeks ago has now become a strange emotion of the past; books that filled me with amazement a few days ago now do not seem as important; thoughts which kept my mind captive only a few hours ago, have now lost their power and have been replaced by others. Why is it so hard to learn from this insight? Why am I continuously trapped by a sense of urgency and emergency? Why do I not see that you are eternal, that your kingdom lasts forever, and that for you a thousand years are like one day? O Lord, let me enter into your presence and there taste the eternal, timeless, everlasting love with which you invite me to let go of my time-bound anxieties, fears, preoccupations, and worries. "Seek first the Kingdom," you said, "and all these other things will be given you as well." All that is timebound will show its real meaning when I can look at it from the place where you want me to be, the place of undying love. Excerpted from A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee by Henri J. M. Nouwen All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.