Jesus never once talked about attending church services, but he talked constantly about healing the sick and feeding the hungry. That is what it seems to mean to be a follower of Jesus.
As compassion and sympathy flow from us to any person marginalized for whatever reason, wounds are bandaged—both theirs and ours. We’ll never bandage them all, nor do we need to, but we do need to get close to the wounds.
God’s relentless care for those who are poor and suffering is the visible expression of our compassionate God, which moved the prophets from the praying stance of the psalms to courageous action on behalf of God’s children in need.
—Catherine T. Nerney
There can be no self-care without self-compassion, which is compassion turned inward. It is the ability to connect to our feelings, to respond to our suffering with kindness, and to desire that our suffering be ameliorated.
Compassion flourishes when we have nothing to protect and everything to share. It is the gravity of all living beings that binds together all that is weak and limited into a single ocean of love.
The most obvious change that results from the holding and allowing that we learn in the practice of contemplative prayer is that we will naturally become much more compassionate and patient toward just about everything. Compassion and patience are the absolutely unique characteristics of true spiritual authority.
Seeds of Compassion
The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. —2 Corinthians 9:6
Retreat leader Joyce Rupp is dedicated to the cultivation of compassion in the world. She describes a practice she has used on retreats where she offers each individual four seeds:
I asked the group to consider the seeds as symbols of the four main spiritual qualities necessary for compassion’s growth: nonjudgment, nonviolence, forgiveness, and mindfulness.
The more these seeds are nurtured, the greater the harvest of compassion. Enlivening these four aspects requires deliberate practice, interior stamina, and trust in the power of the Holy One to assist in their development….
We plant the seeds of compassion by being aware of our thoughts and feelings, and by the deliberate intention to think and respond in a kindhearted manner…. We can teach our minds to activate compassion, so that we do not react on impulse, or go about our lives unconsciously, missing opportunities to alleviate suffering—and create more suffering.
What do you do with your thoughts and feelings? Do they run rampant all day without being tended? Do they move your heart toward loving-kindness? The qualities of nonjudgment, nonviolence, forgiveness, and mindfulness wait to be nurtured….
If you have access to four seeds, use them to represent the four seeds of compassion. If not, cut four small pieces of paper. Write the name of one of the seeds of compassion on each paper. Choose one of these, and put it in the palm of your right hand. Place your left hand on top of it, as if covering a seed in the soil. As you breathe in, breathe this quality of life into your heart. Do this for two to three minutes. Then repeat the gestures with the other three seeds, or words. Put these in a place where you will see them the rest of the week, to remind you to nurture these qualities within you.
Joyce Rupp, Boundless Compassion: Creating a Way of Life (Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2018), 19, 21–22.
Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Taylor Wilson, Transfiguration (detail), cyanotype, used with permission. Taylor Wilson, Madonna and Messiah, ink, used with permission. Alma Thomas, The Eclipse, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian. Click here to enlarge image.
The rounded lines of mother and child echo the compassion we express toward others.