Wednesday, February 09, 2011


Consolation is a beautiful word. It means “to be” (con-) “with the lonely one” (solus). To offer consolation is one of the most important ways to care. Life is so full of pain, sadness, and loneliness that we often wonder what we can do to alleviate the immense suffering we see. We can and must offer consolation. We can and must console the mother who lost her child, the young person with AIDS, the family whose house burned down, the soldier who was wounded, the teenager who contemplates suicide, the old man who wonders why he should stay alive.

To console does not mean to take away the pain but rather to be there and say, “You are not alone, I am with you. Together we can carry the burden. Don't be afraid. I am here.” That is consolation. We all need to give it as well as to receive it.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I often think that this consolation is at the heart of all pastoral care, and at the root of all intercessory prayer. Just as we cannot ourselves, and are not ourselves called to, mend what is wrong for other people (except in certain very specific senses, for instance in the work of a doctor or a fire-fighter), so we are not called to work out how God can best mend things for those for whom we pray. We are called to come before God with them on our hearts, to hold them, and hold them in God’s presence, for as long as it takes. Very few words are required. All it takes is a heart willing to be broken in love for a broken world, for all who suffer, human or otherwise.

I am sure that this has a lot to do with praying “in the name of Christ”. We Christians are in Christ, all members of the same body, sharing in the one Bread of Life, Jesus. Our consolation is in his passion, his suffering for this broken creation; and it is all we have to give, all we have to share, with anyone. Our prayer stands in this, if it stands at all.

This is what is at the core of the ancient practice of the Jesus Prayer. As we pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…” we are actually standing in solidarity – more, in identity, with the brokenness of all our sisters and brothers in all of broken (fallen) creation – see Romans 8:18-27.


  1. Thanks for your definition of "consolation."

  2. Sometimes, all we can do is be there. I know I am thankful for the people who were just there, loving, caring and supporting when that is what was needed. Great post, thank you.

  3. Wonderful post. I wonder if this 'consolation' is not an antidote of the 'rugged individualism' that plagues so much of America.

  4. Thank you, people. There's more to be said about this, I know. It's just finding how to say it... ;-)