I love Rachel Naomi Remen + How we Serve

Self-portrait in the rear view mirror

Rachel Naomi Remen

If you don’t already know Rachel Naomi Remen’s work, you should probably head to your nearest bookstore and buy everything she has ever written. Both Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging have a permanent post on my bedside table.

Whenever I have asked myself what my hugest Mondo Beyondo dream is (the one that’s scary to even say out loud) it is this: To write a book as beautiful as My Grandfather’s Blessings. This book is like sacred text to me… like a wise friend that counsels and comforts. Every time I pick it up, there is more to discover, more to learn, about what it is to be human and how we can love and serve one another better. I cry through nearly every story.

I recently listened in on a live call she hosted with Frank Ostaseski (founder of Zen Hospice and the Metta Institute) on the topic of A Life of Service. I transcribed my favorite part of the call below:

How we Serve

We don’t serve with our strength- that’s helping people.
We don’t serve with our expertise — that’s fixing people.
We actually serve with ourselves. We serve with everything we are.

Our wounds, our own wounds, are the source of our compassion for the wounds of others. They make us gentle with the wounds of others, and able to trust the mysterious process by which we heal. Not as a theory, but as a lived experience.

Because we too are wounded, no wounded person needs to be ashamed in our presence or a lesser person.
No wounded person is alone.

Our loneliness recognizes the loneliness in others, despite the masks that everyone is wearing.

And it gives us the courage to reach out to others and to be present with them as they find their way out of places of darkness and constriction.

We are enough to make a change in the lives of others.

Service is not something that you learn. It’s something that you are.
-Rachel Naomi Remen





  1. Posted May 22, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    L-O-V-E-D this POST!

  2. Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Crap, more books to buy! :)
    Thanks, Andrea! Great post.

  3. elizabeth
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Amazing Andrea! I had a favorite post from you that dates back a few years…..this may be my new favorite. Thank you for sharing and transcribing.

  4. susan
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    May i say, Of course you should write a book ! – your (private admittance) lifted my own heart as soon as you bravely shared what it had been you were holding close. When I read the transcripts you posted, they recalled another beautiful book and man: Jean Vanier and his book titled Becoming Human. There is room for very much more Books, Art, Expression.. These are some of the best things on Earth, (beyond the Natural World,,) I read something yesterday that also set me more straight & which thrilled me, it was a (self-guiding) question for (us), “What experiences do you want to have during your brief sojourn here?” – Oh my, Glory Be! –

  5. Donna
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Rachel Naomi Remen is one of my all time favorite authors also. Each time I reread one of her stories I gain a new insight or piece of wisdom. One of my favorite stories is “The Container” from Kitchen Table Wisdom in which a young man learns to use his own brokenness to minister to others. “This is where the light comes through,” he says. And that seems to be what she is talking about above. Thanks so much for sharing her insights on your blog. What a precious and delightful dream you have – blessings as you nurture your own book to fruition! I’d like to read it some day in the future also.

  6. Mariella
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    The transcription you shared gave me the chills. Can’t wait to get her books. Excited! Thank you!!

  7. Posted May 22, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this Andrea! Juicy quotes! Can you tell me…can we attribute the quotes to Rachel? I’d love to include one in some writing I’m doing for advocates. Thanks!

  8. Kat
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    Honey, you gotta write that book!

  9. jennifer
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    As a chaplain I can relate to this post very much. Kitchen Table Wisdom has been recommended to me in the past. Now I’ll actually have to get a copy!

  10. Posted May 23, 2012 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    I loved this post. I recently purchased her Kitchen Table Wisdom but haven’t started it yet. I am an RN in a small town hospital. Great wisdom in your post. I can’t wait to start her book. Thank you so much for this post!

  11. Cheryl
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    So glad you lifted this from the call you listened to. I needed to read this today!

  12. Posted May 23, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    totally powerful. i can’t wait to check out these books.

  13. Posted May 24, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Holy Wow…
    I adore this.
    Thank you (for the millionth time, thank you).

  14. Denise Tanaka
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    Couldn’t resist ordering this book!!! thanks for the recommendation and inspiration. thanks!

  15. Christa
    Posted May 25, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I will forever be grateful that you tipped me off to Rachel Naomi Remen’s books. And like many others, I completely and firmly believe you should (and will) write a book that will be similarly inspiring, empathetic, and kind. I believe this because you have already been writing it here. I found your blog somewhere between middle school and high school (so about ten years ago) and I have always come back for your personal blend of photographic beauty and gentle honesty in words. To me, you and your writing has always been very similar to Rachel Naomi Remen. (And if I’m to be totally honest, your experiences and words have always held a place in my heart as if they were coming from an older sister, someone wiser and more experienced, but not so far removed from my range of experience that I couldn’t learn from and relate to you.) So please keep on writing about it all (whether your publish it here or in a book or anywhere) because your honesty about pain and joy has really been a blessing in my life.

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