This week, we remember, compassion is real.
And I say (yes, often in homilies), “Compassion matters. And our world needs it.”
This is easy to say (or preach), but I confess that more often than not, I see (focus only on) the brokenness instead.
Which means that I have a hard time seeing that the two—compassion and brokenness—are connected.
You see, broken I do understand. But, it does not help that I’ve always seen it as an “impairment”.
So… It is time for a reset. To embrace that child within each of us—the child, bearing grace and love—is to embrace all that is vulnerable and broken within us.
And that, Bryan Stevenson reminds us, is when and where healing begins.
“I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion. We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity… But simply punishing the broken—walking away from them or hiding them from sight—only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity… Embracing our brokenness creates a need for mercy.” (Bryan is a lawyer, social justice activist, and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.)
We easily forget, don’t we… the cathartic power of grace?
The power to shine the light on shame and fear and paranoia.
To invite us to bear the beams of love.
We forget the power and life-giving restoration and repair from simple gestures of compassion.
To invite us to be the kind of person we want to be.
And this from Pema Chödrön, “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
Compassion is real. Compassion matters.
So. How do we assume (choose, practice) compassion in a broken world?
I really like this story about a woman named Sarah. An ordinary woman, with a peculiar habit.
You see, every Saturday, when the Jehovah’s Witnesses make their neighborhood rounds, she invites them in. And begins by saying, “I’m glad to see you. I’m not going to covert, but you all are welcome to stay for tea.” And every Saturday, the missionaries do just that.
Another time, a salesman dropped in (one of the old-fashioned door-to-door type), selling vacuum cleaners. “Come on in,” she tells him. “I need to tell you that I’m not going to buy, and my baby is asleep, so no loud demo, but you look like you’ve had a long day, would you like a cup of coffee?”
“Why?” the salesman asked.
“Well, this may sound strange, but I actually believe that God may be found in any person, so I’m offering you coffee because you might be Jesus.”
I’m certain that for the salesman, it was easily his strangest house call ever. But he sat for a spell, and enjoyed the coffee.
You know what resonates here? Compassion is alive and well in the small, gentle gestures of attention, inclusion, connection and sanctuary.
It reminded me of this note from photographer Michael Collopy. “I was blessed to have known Mother Teresa for fifteen years. I especially treasure the times I was asked to drive her around while she was in San Francisco, because it enabled me to ask her questions. In the course of knowing Mother, I always saw her receive each person the same way. She saw the face of God in everyone, always approaching each person with love, compassion, and the gift of her complete self. Time was never an issue. I once asked her, ‘How is it that you never seem to judge anyone who comes to you?’ She said, ‘I never judge anyone because it doesn’t allow me the time to love them.’”
And speaking of Mother Teresa… let’s give her the last word, “Peace and war begin at home. If we truly want peace in the world, let us begin by loving one another in our own families. If we want to spread joy, we need for every family to have joy.”
When a young girl in an African village heard that her visiting teacher would be leaving their village, she wanted to give her a special gift. The girl didn’t have any money to buy a present for her teacher, but finally she decided what she would do.
She was gone for two days and when she returned, she was carrying the most exquisite shell anyone in her village had ever seen. Her teacher was amazed.
“Where did you find such a beautiful shell?” she asked.
The child told her that such shells were found only on a certain faraway beach.
The teacher was deeply touched, because she knew that the girl had walked many miles to find the shell. “Why, it’s wonderful, but you shouldn’t have gone all that way to get a gift for me.”
Her eyes brightening, the girl smiled and answered, “Long walk part of gift.”
Here’s the deal: Compassion is born and spills from grace, and big hearts that are fully alive, hearts that are grateful, hearts that see how we are all connected to one another. And that connection matters. And that connection makes our world a better place.
Gifts of compassion show up in delightful and surprising ways. Surprising because they can be unexpected, because they don’t always fit in the mental box we’ve made for love—for compassion and kindness and empathy. Yes, and that’s why compassion will always break down barriers, and defenses, and walls, allowing us to embrace the gift of vulnerability. So. Let us rest in that gift.
The news in our world continues to weigh me down. And I pray for those who are suffering. And when that happens, I don’t know what I can do to help make a difference. I’ve been reading, and finding comfort from some of Mother Teresa’s reflections, on Working Toward Peace.
“Let us not use bombs and guns to overcome the world. Let us use love and compassion. Peace begins with a smile. Smile five times a day at someone you don’t really want to smile at; do it for peace. Let us radiate the peace of God and so light His light and extinguish in the world and in the hearts of all men all hatred and love for power.”
“Today, if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other—that man, that woman, that child is my brother or my sister. If everyone could see the image of God in his neighbor, do you think we would still need tanks and generals?”
And this, from Coretta Scott King, “Love is such a powerful force. It’s there for everyone to embrace–that kind of unconditional love for all of humankind. That is the kind of love that impels people to go into the community and try to change conditions for others, to take risks for what they believe in.”
I’ve had several emails this week, wondering how we navigate the invitation to compassion (and kindness and empathy), given the weight of destruction (and bloodshed) and suffering in our world. When the stories we read make us feel so helpless. Or powerless.
Yesterday, I quoted Mother Teresa and Coretta Scott King. Icons for peace and compassion. “But how can I model these icons?” I hear in the back of my mind.
Here’s what I know: moments of epiphany also invite a paradigm shift… from “big world” to “small world”. We forget that change happens (ferments and grows) in the small world, not the big world.
You see, the big world feels (way too often) overwhelming, and outside of our ability to change, or affect change. Plus, you know, “we don’t have the skill set” (we tell ourselves).
No wonder it is so easy to give up when we see only big world issues. “It’s not my problem, after all.” And seeing only the big world takes us away from this moment… and takes us away from the people who are right in front of us. Now.
People who are frightened and anxious and need a hand to hold.
“There is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” Amanda Gorman
When we know that the light is here, now, we embrace the permission to be present. In the small world where we live.
Where we are grounded, we pause. We say thank you. We will see beauty in places we didn’t expect, and we are gifted with surprises of grace. We will see craziness and pain, yes, but now we have the permission to engage, instead of resign. To care. To spill light. Even in small ways to spill compassion… forgiveness, second changes, healing, and understanding. And from this grounded place, we quite literally can make a difference in the small world where we live and breathe.
And remember; this call to spill the light of compassion is not merely something we “should” do, as if an obligatory check mark on a resume. This is something we are wired to do—because spilling the light is in our DNA.
Let us take this, from Steven Charleston into our weekend, “I pray for your peace in troubled lands, in places where people fear each day, in cities or villages under threat of danger. I pray your peace into the hearts of those who hate, into the minds of those who live in anger, of those who long for revenge. The hot winds of war sweep over so many lives, dear God, terror and cruelty following in their wake, I do not know what else to do, but stand here making my appeal to heaven. Peace I pray. Peace against all the odds, peace without compromise, peace strong and enduring, peace so children never worry as they go to sleep.” (Episcopal bishop and citizen of the Choctaw Nation)
Prayer for our week…
Slow me down, Lord
Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind.
Steady my hurried pace with a vision of the eternal reach of time.
Give me, amid the confusion of the day, the calmness of the everlasting hills.
Break the tensions of my nerves and muscles with the soothing music of the singing streams that live in my memory.
Help me to know the magical, restoring power of sleep.
Teach me the art of taking minute vacations
–of slowing down to look at a flower, to chat with a friend, to pat a dog, to read a few lines from a good book.
Slow me down, Lord, and inspire me to send my roots deep into the soil of life’s enduring values that I may grow toward the stars of my greater destiny.
Wilferd Arlan Peterson
Photo… “Glorious, colorful reminders of God’s ‘gifts’–if only we take time to notice. It’s sometimes the little things that make the biggest difference in our outlook. I’ve been visiting Sun Valley area this week for the first time and it could not have been more delightful!” Michaele Ann Melton… Thank You Michaele… And I’m so grateful for your photos, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org