I’m sitting at Starbucks before heading to work and I get a the urge to play with making glyphs. Now, I’m no linguist and I’ve not spent time with any ancient glyphs, so I’m no authority here. I simply had a canvas that I had prepared in Procreate on my iPad and was thinking of looking up a cool Japanese symbol to add to it. But, since I don’t know any Japanese symbols, I’m at the mercy of websites to supply me the image and the meaning.
I don’t know about you, but that always scares me. Like what happens if the website says this is the symbol for purity, but it’s actually the symbol for dunce, as in “Look at this dunce who saw something on the Internet and copied it!” I decided instead to work through a short exercise of what it might be like to create my own glyphs, my own symbols to convey an idea.
It wasn’t terribly easy, and I’m aware that we’ve all seen symbols and used them all our lives. I can’t do this in a vacuum of experience or culture, but can I move somewhat outside of my own experience to make something a little new? It won’t be totally new, but maybe a little novel?
I chose to convey the idea of compassion, compassion being our ability to see the suffering of someone and feeling moved to alleviate the suffering. My glyph is read left to right, top to bottom. I decided to convey four distinct ideas with the glyphs to represent compassion. First, there is awareness, the eye, that is looking upon a person. Second, that person is suffering, as seen by the downward movement of the arrow. Third, there is identifying with that person and making a communal bond, when the curving walls bring us together, like cupping hands. The final and fourth idea is a reversal of the downward trend of life to an alleviation of the suffering, an upward arrow.
The value of this little exercise of mine was not the work of deciding how to draw a person or make an stylized eyeball, but it was the meditation on compassion as a movement, an action and a process. Can I live this way? Can I see people and move to identify with them and work together to bring healing? Do I want to? It seems to me that we have a daily choice to go beside people in their worst of times, or to retreat and hope that less is asked of us when next we meet someone. This decision was poignantly played out in the story Jesus told about the man we now call The Good Samaritan.
In that story we see two people choose to ignore the suffering of another person, and one person choose to face the suffering and help alleviate it. Jesus taught this story to illustrate love for one’s neighbor, for all of ine’s neighbors. The story transcended ethnic divides, religious divides and national divides. The story unites us as a single humanity that cares for one another. That’s a concept worthy of some imagination. That’s a story worth doodling and imagining as a template for our own walk down the road.
This is a day and age when we are openly speaking of care and concern for all the earth, and compassion for the lost beauty and lost goodness of an ill-treated creation is an appropriate response to destruction of habitats, litter, oil spills and human negligence.
As an individual, does my stewardship of creation reflect my love of people? Does my compassion for the hurting extend to animals as well as humans? Have I allowed my compassion to be stunted and limited?
I believe that these are the kind of questions that would drive St. Francis to give us such a warning. I can ill afford to let my compassion be stunted or bounded or restrained. If it is to be a ready gift to my own species, a blessing to other people, then I must allow it to be growing and ever-expanding for each and all.
Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours,
all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High,
do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day;
and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant
in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which
you give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom
you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful,
and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits
with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who
endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds
doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve him with great humility.
“Compassion is not just feeling with someone, but seeking to change the situation. Frequently people think compassion and love are merely sentimental. No! They are very demanding. If you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action!”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
And amen, Todd
“God, another day unfolds before us…
Help me to forgive more and judge less.
Help me to love more and be angry less.
Help me to speak more grace than criticism.
Help me simply to speak less and listen more.
Help me see another’s beauty before their flaws.
And bring to me people who will forgive me,
love me, speak grace to me, listen to me
and celebrate the beauties of my life.
I’m a fan of the Dalai Lama. I like so much of what he says, teaches and exhibits in his life and humility. And I can’t tell you how much I wish I could work some Buddhist robes into my daily life, I just don’t have the body for it. So in the interests of being compassionate to others I’ll just quote the Dalai Lama and leave myself safely encased in flannel.
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.
Without them, humanity cannot survive.”
Dalai Lama XIV
As I read Jesus year after year, I’m more persuaded that the idea of life is not to make the world like me, or to make the world to be like me, but life is an effort to love and serve the world around me. Mother Teresa of Calcutta is on record as having said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” I couldn’t agree more. Not only does judging use up my time, it also wastes my precious energy and skews my prayers. I truly believe that living my life in judgment of others does more harm to my own soul than effects correction in anyone’s life.
Today, I’m going to let the man in orange speak to me. Compassion is not something I can ignore or replace in my life without serious consequences to my own health and the world’s joy. As Micah’s words have needfully reminded us for so very long: let us be about justice, mercy and humility, walking the road of life with a God we proclaim to be love. (1 John 4:7-9)