Friday, December 14, 2012

To Have Compassion

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.  But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.  When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.  -- Matt. 14:13-14

I love this description of Christ:  he had compassion for them.  This phrase is repeated throughout the gospels whenever Jesus sees someone in need.  He has compassion for them, and he helps them.

Somewhere (can't remember where), a long time ago, I read or heard that the word "compassion" shares roots with the word "womb."  Essentially, compassion is visceral.  When we are moved with compassion, something physical within the deepest part of us literally shifts.  You may have experienced for yourself that very uncomfortable sensation in your stomach when you see your children in danger, seriously ill, or hurt.  That is our womb lurching to protect our children.  I wonder if this is what Jesus felt when faced with the plight of so many people.  He felt compassion for them.  

This last Sunday, my pastor, Gayle Bintliff, preached a wonderful Advent sermon about being open to change, to being open to looking at life and our lives in a new way.  She asked, "What are we willing to change or let go of so that we can receive him?  What are we willing to give up so we can truly turn in a new direction?  A life-giving direction? ... Are you carrying an attachment to the way its always been?  Could you let that go so that you could receive all that God is longing to give you?  ... One author...goes on to say -- what God needs is a willing womb, a place of safety, nourishment and love.  ... Maybe sometimes we just need to STOP, to BE, to LISTEN, TO WAIT... actually make space in our hearts, our lives for the ONE who comes to bring salvation, the healing of the world."  I was struck by how well these words mirrored my thoughts over the last couple of weeks.

For I have been discovering just how strongly my ego dictates my life.  When my sense of who I am, or my desires, or perceived needs, are threatened, I respond by blindly rising to my defense -- whether this is ultimately good for me or not.  If I am being told I am wrong, or that I should do things differently, my first response is usually to deny, or dismiss, this person, without really considering if they are right or not.  Even if this person is a friend or family member.  I am beginning to realize just how much my ego gets in the way of my ability to listen to other people, gets in the way of understanding them.  It even gets in the way of my ability to understand myself.

For example, my husband and I often go round and round, arguing about the same things, mostly because I refuse to change the way I do things that bother him.  His requests are not unreasonable.  Some are actually to my benefit, like eating more healthily.   I just don't like being told to do things differently than I want to do them.  But, the last time he expressed his same-old grievances, something else happened.  I gave up the fight.  Why?  What finally caused me to change?  Well, I wrote about his grievances in my journal, and I wrote down my defenses and self-justifications:  they were, basically, cries of "What about me???  What about what I want???"  And I heard this when I read what I had written.  "Am I really that ego-centric?  That self-centered?" I wondered.  It was an awakening.  And just like that, the way I thought about those things my husband was asking me to do changed.  The tight hold I had on "little old me" was gone.

The same thing happened when I wanted to learn how to help people who are dying, or whose loved ones are dying (see the last posting, "A Wise Heart").  I saw that it was my fear of getting lost in my own emotions that was keeping me from really being open to the intense emotions of other people.   And then again, I felt God telling me to release the tight hold I had on myself, that he would be with me, even in the depths of despair.

Then, last week, as I started reading about Christian meditation in order to prepare for a class I will be facilitating next year, I heard again this same message.  John Main, the great Catholic priest and proponent of Christian meditation, explained it this way:  Meditation "is learning to stand back and to allow God to come into the forefront of your life.  So often in our experience, we find that we are the centre of our world.  So many of us see reality revolving around us.  We think quite naturally of situations and of people primarily in terms of "how is this going to affect me?"  Now that's all right as far as it goes.  But if we really imagine that we are at the centre of the world, then we are never going to see any situation, or any person, or ourselves, as we really are.  Because of course, we are not at the centre of the world.  God is at the centre.  Now meditation is trying to take that step away from self-centredness to God-centredness."  ("the hunger for depth and meaning: Learning to Meditate with John Main," pg. 29)  John Main suggested using the mantra, "maranatha," when we meditate.  It is an Aramaic word meaning "Come, Lord."  It is an invitation for Jesus, and through Jesus, God, to come into our heart, our center, our womb, and move us according to his will.

How important this message must be!  Wherever I turn, I am hearing it again and again.

Yesterday, I asked my pastor for a book about listening, and she lent me Paul Tournier's book, "A Listening Ear:  Reflections on Christian Caring."  I was amazed to read again about meditation, only Tournier meditated through journaling.  I had never before thought of jounaling as a form of meditation.  But Tournier describes our need to "bring our human relationships before God in order to smooth the way.  ...It is only insofar as I can overcome my own reluctance to recognize the truth about myself, that I can help others to overcome their own resistance." (pg. 15)  I must see myself as I am, flaws and all, before I can truly have compassion for someone else.  I can do this through meditation, through deep prayer, through journaling.

All these pieces fit together so tightly.  If I truly want to have compassion  for other people, then I must let go of my ego, that false sense of who I am that protects, defends, and pushes out other people, which I cling to so tightly.  In order to release my ego, I must first see it.   It's as if our ego is a secretive, mischievous, ghost that disappears with a great "poof" if it is ever seen.   The only way to see it is to be quiet for a moment, and truly be open to what our spirit has to tell us.  When all that which is not godly within us is released, then God will have room to fill us and guide us in the way he wants us to go.

Dear God, help me to clear myself out of my center.  Help me to always be open to your word.  Love always, Pam

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