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Contemplation Creates Compassion

Sunday, September 26, 2021


Contemplation Creates Compassion
Sunday, September 26, 2021

A practice of contemplation is one of the surest ways to develop the virtue of compassion—for both ourselves and others. Father Richard speaks to how this loving gaze is developed between ourselves and God.

Much of the early work of contemplation is discovering a way to observe ourselves from a compassionate and nonjudgmental distance until we can eventually live more and more of our lives from this calm inner awareness and acceptance. In a contemplative stance, we find ourselves smiling, sighing, and weeping at ourselves, much more than needing either to hate or to congratulate ourselves—because we are finally looking at ourselves with the eyes of God.

Actually, what is happening is we are letting God gaze at us, in the way only God can gaze—with infinite mercy, love, and compassion. God initiates a positive gaze, which now goes in both directions. Unfortunately, we seldom allow that to happen. Decades ago, Matthew Fox identified what it has cost us and the universe to have lost this mutually loving gaze with God. I believe it is even more true of the world today. Fox writes:

Compassion is everywhere. Compassion is the world’s richest energy source. Now that the world is a global village we need compassion more than ever—not for altruism’s sake, nor for philosophy’s sake or theology’s sake, but for survival’s sake.

And yet, in human history of late, compassion remains an energy source that goes largely unexplored, untapped and unwanted. Compassion appears very far away and almost in exile. Whatever propensities the human cave dweller once had for violence instead of compassion seem to have increased geometrically with the onslaught of industrial society. The exile of compassion is evident everywhere. . . .

In acquiescing in compassion’s exile, we are surrendering the fullness of nature and of human nature, for we, like all creatures in the cosmos, are compassionate creatures. All persons are compassionate at least potentially. What we all share today is that we are victims of compassion’s exile. The difference between persons and groups of persons is not that some are victims and some are not: we are all victims and all dying from lack of compassion; we are all surrendering our humanity together. [1]

As we receive God’s compassionate gaze in contemplation, all negative energy and motivation is slowly exposed and will eventually fall away as counter-productive and useless. There will be no mistrust, fear, or negativity in either direction! If we resort to any form of shaming ourselves, we will slip back into defense, denial, and overcompensation. We will not be able to “know as fully as we are known” (see 1 Corinthians 13:12).

But if we can connect with the Indwelling Presence, where the “Spirit bears common witness with our spirit” (see Romans 8:16), it can and will change our lives! This mutually loving gaze is always initiated by God and grace. Once you learn to rest there, nothing less will ever satisfy you. This is foundational.

[1] Matthew Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice (Inner Traditions: 1999), xi, xii.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (CAC Publishing: 2017), 58–59.

Story from Our Community:
I was utterly lost when I had to exit an interstate due to an accident ahead. I came to a gas station and asked a man outside for directions. He wrote down simple but very concrete directions, and I found myself on the exact road I needed—in fact right to the driveway! As I reflected on this, I felt I had met Jesus and also Christ. This man exhibited kindness, care, and compassion for a lost soul. I had a real living example of how to live, an experience that has changed my life. —Joseph K.

Image credit: Manuel Alvarez Bravo, El ensueño (detail), 1931, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: What is she thinking? How do you feel seeing her? If you could, what would you say to her? Would you notice the weight she’s carrying?

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