Have compassion for everyone you meet
Even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,
Bad manners or cynicism is always a sign
Of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
Down there where the spirit meets the bone.
— Miller Williams – “Compassion”
The above poem is taken from a book called Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness & Connection.It was read at the end of the day of our very successful Open and Affirming Conference a couple of weeks ago. James Crews, the editor, was on hand and reading, as was Brad Peacock, Richard Slater, the Gay Men’s Chorus and others. It was a wonderful day, all about bringing healing to our many and various divisions. If you are interested, the Open and Affirming committee has purchased three copies of the book for our church library. They are available for borrowing through the church office.
This particular poem really speaks to me. Compassion is both sorely lacking and desperately needed these days. As you may know, the word comes from old Latin. It combines com “with or together” and pati “to suffer.” Its literal meaning is to suffer together with those who suffer. It is to have a “feeling of sorrow or pity excited by the sufferings or misfortunes of another.” Maybe it’s obvious, but were it not for compassion, there could not be anything like a Christian church. The compassionate suffering of Jesus on the cross, and his resurrection, was what gave rise to our faith in the first place. A compassionate response to the sufferings of others is the very definition of faithful ministry.
The poem highlights the fact that real compassion demands more than simply expressing concern. It asks us to look beyond the snappish responses we may receive for our efforts; to imagine those places of darkness, inside ourselves and others, that “no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.” Compassion is most needed “down there where the spirit meets the bone.”
In Matthew’s gospel (9:36-38) we find this wonderful expression of the spirit that moved Jesus.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
I can hardly imagine a more fitting vision of our ministry together than seeing ourselves as compassionate laborers in the harvest of God’s love.
Yours in grace,