St. Francis on Compassion
“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”
Saint Francis of Assisi
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.
The Canticle of the Sun, St. Francis
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.
Desmond Tutu on Active Compassion
“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
A Compassion Prayer
“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.
The Necessity of Compassion
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)
Compassion Welcomes Suffering
Compassion welcomes the suffering of the other person. One of the strongest movements I have felt against compassion in my own life has been a denial of suffering, especially of another person’s suffering. Don’t I have enough to deal with of my own? Don’t you have someone else to call? Can’t you just suck it up and move on?
I offer that confession, but I also want to affirm my desire to overcome such thoughts. I want to welcome your suffering, compassionately. Compassion welcomes you to come into my world and asks you to bring your battered, torn and hurting baggage with you.
Welcoming your suffering will mean affirming your suffering. Compassion doesn’t say, “Awww, you don’t have it so bad. You’re fine!” Compassion accepts that you’re hurting and validates the suffering. That doesn’t mean I will necessarily take your side in an argument with someone else. It doesn’t mean that I will agree 100% with your interpretation of how you got to this point; I will simply allow you to be hurting.
It’s similar to a few years ago when tweeting on civility; I offered the idea that civility will allow the other person to label themselves as they desire…
Oct. 11 ~ Allow the other to self-identify: Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Democrat, Republican, etc… #civility
Compassion allows a person to be suffering without a need to deny or even to quantify that suffering relative to someone else. Compassion will accept that a person is suffering and then desire to be a help to them move from that point of pain to a better place in life. It might be true that their suffering is relatively easy compared to certain other people in the world, but it probably feels second-to-none for them. So accept it. They hurt. Compassion welcomes that hurt.
I may not allows get it right in my responses, but I’m trying. I’m trying to hear you and let you be hurt with me. I may not allows understand everything you’re saying or quite get how you got here, but I’m going to listen and let you quantify the hurt. I may not always get you, but I got you.
Imagination in Compassion
Is there an imaginative component to compassion? There will be times when the suffering of the other person is not known to us and is only evident by their negative behavior. Can you imagine a compassion that acts upon that person’s capacity to suffer and not just an apparent suffering?
Is it too far fetched to choose compassion before knowing what pain and suffering drives another person, so that my responses are based upon a compassion not dependent on their obvious brokenness? This will mean that my compassion becomes not only intentional but also costly. It means that I will need the imagination to see what cannot be seen, to react to what I do not know… I will need to imagine the need for my compassion.
“None knows the weight of another’s burden.”
Father George Herbert
Can you imagine a world of people who are deserving of your compassion? Can you imagine a world full of hurting people who are hurting others, and deserving of your compassion? Can you imagine the transformative power of a compassion that is freely given before the burden is known?
Perhaps that imaginative component of compassion is nothing other than love, a love that yearns to see the best for a person, in a person, even when they are at their worst. I can surely imagine that I need that kind of compassion here and there along my own journey.