Source: Sherman Publications

Spiritual Matters
Religions teach us to create a compassionate world

February 06, 2013

Some days are more eventful than others. The other morning, after a significant snowfall, as I was driving into town I came upon the scene of an auto accident. I didn’t understand what had happened at first and I still don’t know the whole story. An SUV was stopped along the road and another vehicle was in the ditch. The second vehicle had left the road, smashed through a road sign and was hugging a tree. The front end of the SUV looked totaled. The car driving in front of me pulled over to the side of the road, and I instinctively stopped in front of her.

As I exited my car and approached the scene I saw that a man was standing next to the car that was off the road, his arm was draped over his head and blood was covering one side of his face. His young daughter was standing next to him with that deer caught in the headlights kind of lost expression in her eyes. The other driver was behind her car talking on her cell phone. I later confirmed with her that she was calling for help.

I searched my glove box and came up with a clean cloth to use as a compress for the minor cut on the man’s head. Wanting to comfort her, I spoke to the daughter assuring her that her dad would be okay and that help was on its way. Not knowing what else to do, I stayed with them until the fire truck and ambulance came and paramedics took charge. Then I proceeded on with my day, driving a little slower than I had been earlier.

The mention of the word compassion generally evokes positive feelings in most people. We want to be considered as compassionate and caring people. We think of ourselves as basically good and loving. We generally believe that compassion is the natural response to human suffering. How can you not feel compassion when you see people in pain, a starving child or homeless family? Being compassionate is part of being human. To feel another’s pain is a normal part of life. We are greatly offended when accused of not showing compassion.

Yet the evidence for the lack of compassion is readily available in every newspaper and broadcast. The results of this lack are tragic acts of war and aggression, conflict and struggle, poverty and hunger. How could these exist in a world filled with compassionate people? Perhaps we need to take another look at how we are relating with each other, evaluate our priorities, make new choices and help create a world that works for all.

The word compassion comes from two Latin words meaning to “suffer with.” This is more personal than mere sympathy, more intense than mere empathy or understanding and more active than mere mercy or pity. It is the sharing of the experience, lifting the burden of another onto your shoulders, a hand up to the one who is down so that you may both move forward. It is feeling another’s pain, crying with those who mourn and hurting with those who are suffering. “Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless.” Henri Nouwen.

Jesus said, “I have compassion on the crowd,” before giving instructions for the feeding of the four thousand (Mark 8:2). “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion;” (Psalm 111:4). The Buddha said, “Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others,” and advised us to “fill your mind with compassion.” The Dalai Lama said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. I you want to be happy, practice compassion.” All but one chapter of the Quran begins with, “In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful”. “Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things.” Thomas Merton

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to me.” (John 12:32) This is the fruits of compassion, to be lifted above the pain and sorrow and suffering of this earthly experience. And, the only way out is through. Serenity, peace of mind, fulfillment comes with giving and receiving love: compassion.

Blessings of peace, joy & love.

The Rev. Matthew E. Long is senior minister at Peace Unity Community.