Category: Compassion

Love and suffering

Richard Rohr reminds us that “love and suffering, and especially suffering” are “universal paths” to change. Suffering is a common thread of Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism.

A Jewish teaching, from Midrash Samuel, states that “Everyone undergoes some suffering in life. Only one who can keep it from distracting him will succeed at Torah study.”

The suffering and death of Jesus is central to Christianity. Theodore Runyon said everyone suffers, thus everyone has a point of connection with Jesus: “The uniqueness of Jesus is his universality.”

Four Noble Truths of Buddhism deal with suffering: (1) suffering exists; (2) it has a cause; (3) it has an end; and (4) it has a cause to bring about its end.

From “They Say Suffering Will Make You Stronger—But It’s Not That Simple,” by Paul Bloom, Time, November 29, 2021

Consistent, coherent connections

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was impacted by two world wars. He was cited for bravery as a World War I stretcher-bearer in a colorful, spirited, highly-decorated North African unit of the French Army. He spent much of the World War II era working as a paleontologist in China. He was a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest, and he spent years dealing with church leaders who opposed much of his writing and teaching. Through it all, Teilhard developed an amazing coherence in his faith, science and philosophy.

Teilhard inspires me to ask whether my worldview and my actions reflect an inner coherence. Is there a seamless connection with all things? Is my faith consistent with my politics? Is there a “gyroscope” of common sense, or particular principles, that inform my faith and my political opinions? Has religious or political fervor created blind spots in my vision? Who helps me spot inconsistencies? Do I become defensive or am I able to change my position, or find a workable compromise?

South Carolina Republican state legislator Neil Collins told the House Judiciary Committee that he no longer supports in its present form the bill he earlier voted for after he learned that the law endangered the health of a 19-year-old. Sometimes there are unintended consequences when we act based on enthusiasm, political ideology or religious dogma. Common sense encourages coherence, connection, and consistency in our attitudes, our relationships and our actions.

From “Lawmaker Tearily Explains Teen Almost Lost Uterus Because of Abortion Law He Voted For,” by Dan Ladden-Hall, The Daily Beast, August 17. 2022

Immanently transcendent

How we can meaningfully speak today about transcendence? Traditional religious language spoke of transcendence in spacial terms, as in heaven “up there.” In his 1979 book A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox suggested we think of transcendence as “future.” Ever since, my understanding of transcendence has been “welcoming the future” (in an Isaiah 43 sense).

Traditional religious metaphors about transcendence have become less frequently used by much of today’s population. I remember a well-meaning friend seeking to comfort the adult child of a just-deceased parent, saying, “He’s in a better place.” The grieving one’s blank stare made it clear that the old spacial understanding of transcendence had lost its currency.

I see transcendence as the way we connect with others in the broadest sense–humans and all creation (including creation’s source, however understood). Transcendence is getting past my self-centeredness and tribalism through what I call a “Jesus-flavored panentheism.” In spite of Christians’ failures (mine being at the top of the list), I agree with my friend Don that the gestalt of Jesus is worth pursuing.

I see faith as the way we experience the immanently transcendent. In the next few posts, I’ll try to unpack my understanding of the practical meaning of these two words.

From “The Transcendent is Immanent in Each Speck of Dust,” by Alfred K. LaMotte, The Braided Way, September 27, 2021

Abby

After reading the latest “Trump did what?” article in Friday’s Washington Post, I ran across Cathy Free’s article, “A dog was missing. Cavers found her two months later 500 feet underground.” I don’t remember the Trump article. They all run together after awhile, but I’ll remember Abby’s story.

I’ll also remember Gerry Keene, a 59-year-old spelunker, who was exploring a cave 500 feet under Missouri. He saw Abby curled up on a rock in total darkness. She was too weak to wag her tail or whimper. Keene took a photo of the dog and climbed out of the cave to get some help.

Caver Rick Haley, 66, heard about it and went with Keene to help carry the dog out. Meanwhile word spread that a dog had been found. The two men put her in a padded duffel bag, with her head poking out, and hauled her out of the cave. Abby had been missing for two months. She’s 14-years-old.

Abby was reunited with her grateful family–a story with a happy ending. No search warrant. No political posturing. Just a lost dog and two guys with soft hearts and a love of spelunking. This week, let’s look for more stories like this. From now on, if Abby sees Gerry or Rick, I’m sure she’ll wag her tail.

From “A caving project became a rescue mission after a dog was found 500 feet down,” by Wynne Davis, NPR, August 12, 2022

Healers

This morning, respectful gratitude for healers. A compassionate nurse called Monday night to say Aunt Margaret was hospitalized after a fall, likely fracturing a hip bone. A jovial orthopedic surgeon called Tuesday while I traveled to confirm the break and recommend a hip replacement. Overworked nurses were patient with their patient’s inability to remember and with her sundown syndrome.

Several healers were volunteers who staffed waiting rooms, reception areas and a library. A friendly motel clerk provided a 15% discount when I replied to “What brings you to the Secret City?” Social workers, food service staff, hospital security, and a gentle anesthesiologist transformed what could have seemed like a fleeting, mindless, rote process into an experience of genuine, personalized care.

When she was fidgety, I said, “I think Aunt Margaret needs some of Aunt Bee’s elixer.” Her nurse gave her towels and sheets to fold, calming her as they discussed various folding techniques. Less than 48 hours after surgery, she was transported to rehab. When her movement alarm was activated, the staff found her walking around on her own, earning her a seat in the hall across from the nurses’ station.

From “Clara Barton,” edited by Debra Michals, Women’s History Museum

A political faith

In White Evangelical Racism, Anthea Butler sees American evangelicalism as a political movement within the Republican Party–moving the party away from its liberation roots in Abraham Lincoln and moving it toward repressive tactics that echo post-Civil War democrats in the South.

Butler’s subtitle provides a good question for Sunday dinner conversation for individuals, families or faith groups: What are The Politics of Morality in America today? How does your faith (or moral principles) shape your politics? How do your politics shape your faith (or moral principles)?

The Founders tried to avoid two European problems made worse by religious passion: (1) religious autocracies that demanded uniformity of belief and (2) religion-based political divisions. Thus, the US Constitution prohibits a “religious test” as a prerequisite for holding public office.

Lincoln wasn’t very religious, but his politics were shaped by a biblical understanding that liberty and justice are a nation’s highest principles–with malice toward none and charity (love) for all. I share our Founders’ fear of religious parties. I share Lincoln’s politics of human rights and equal justice.

An announcement from the Equal Justice Initiative about an expansion of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Sadness+Grace=Compassion

After mentioning that healing can come through identifying, owning and embracing whatever sadness resides within us, several friends have mentioned sadness in their lives. As I allow myself to feel sadness, I’ve begun to sense our connection through this basic emotion.

If my sadness turns inward, it can be expressed through addiction or some other self-destructiveness. If I project my sadness onto others, it can be expressed through withdrawal, through passive/aggressive behavior, or through violence–verbal and/or physical.

Our social, political or faith responses to sadness may differ wildly, but the sadness underneath our differences can become a common bond when we can be gentle with ourselves and others. How can we creatively direct the grief, pain, or anger that flows from our sadness?

Is grace–a basic gentleness in the face of life’s struggles–the critical ingredient that moves our sadness toward compassion? I think so. What do you think?

From “What Does It Mean to ‘Be Gentle With Yourself’?” by Jolissa Skow, Still Mothers, July 10, 2017

Sad

Sadness isn’t the whole story, or its most important part. But, sadness is a significant part of our world today. Generally, I look on the bright side, but sadness has become a more frequent companion. I talk to myself the way Churchill talked to the UK and the way Zelenskyy talks to Ukraine.

Easter heals, but does not deny, suffering. So, this Easter season I’ve decided to identify, to own and to embrace sadness. I’ve learned over many years that when I do this, I discover a deeper connection with the earth and its inhabitants. I connect with Donbas, with Dunkirk and with Devil’s Den.

Many times last week someone used the word “sad” to describe a medical condition, the destruction of Mariupol, or a Methodist congregation. I’m making peace with sadness and I invite you to identify, own and embrace any sadness you may be feeling these days. That’s this week’s blog agenda.

Churchill painting by Richard Deane Taylor; Zelenskyy photo from “A Modern Churchill? Zelenskyy praised as war communicator,” by David Bauder and Jocelyn Noveck, Associated Press, March 7, 2022

Carried carriers

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for April 6 is his poem, “It Can’t Be Carried Alone,” a response to the collective suffering of the people of Ukraine. Some excerpts:

“…we watch their suffering unfold in real time from an unfair distance….”

“Our partisan divisions now appear small and trivial.”

“…both good and evil are, first of all, social phenomena.”

“In loving solidarity, we each bear what is ours to carry, the unjust weight of crucifixion, in expectant hope for God’s resurrection!”

“The people of Ukraine have much to teach the world.”

Rohr says we are “crucified and resurrected at the same time.” Through contemplation we stand “inside both these mysteries,” which leads us to action “to do what we can….” Our individual engagement is part of the larger “social phenomena” we call community.

We who carry responsibility are ourselves carried by a Mystery beyond our comprehension.

From “Footprints in the Sand,” a poem by Carolyn Joyce Carty, via a Malcolm Tilsed video on YouTube

Compassion

Life can be intense. Engagement can be costly. Sabbath is a much needed rhythm for healthy living. We’re finishing Jonathan Karl’s Betrayal as we begin reading Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s Peril. Tomorrow, we’ll reflect on a critical January 5, 2021 Trump-Pence Oval Office encounter.

But first, a Sabbath from Betrayal and Peril. Compassion forms a healing context for pain and disaster. I grew up hearing World War II veterans’ stories and watching war movies and TV shows. As a young adult I read several books about the Third Reich, including one about Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer. This week I revisited this tragic figure in a 2013 article about him in the Smithsonian Magazine, which concludes: “His legacy as an architect was ephemeral: None of his buildings, including the Reich Chancellery or the Zeppelinfeld stadium, are standing today. Speer’s legacy as a Nazi persists.”

The introduction to Richard Rohr’s January 2, 2022 Daily Meditation included three sentences: “…God is absolute relatedness. God is our word for the ultimate ecosystem that holds all things in positive relationship…. As long as we’re in honest and loving relationship with what is right in front of us, the Spirit can keep working in us and through us and for us.” This absolute relatedness, a sense of belonging in the ultimate ecosystem, empowers us to look at what is right in front of us with a compassion that honestly discerns (to the best of our ability) right from wrong, good from evil, justice from injustice.

(Photos by Brian McLaren, arranged as a triptych, an early Christian three-fold art form that tells a unified story: One fruit, the whole tree, then an abundance of fruit. It’s not alone. Nothing stands alone.)