Nurturing Empathy — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Nurturing Empathy

Politics: Week 2

Nurturing Empathy
Friday, July 20, 2018

Sister of Social Service Simone Campbell, famously known as “the nun on the bus,” is one of the most passionately and compassionately engaged faith leaders I know. In last fall’s issue of Oneing, the Center for Action and Contemplation’s journal, she offered some practical wisdom for how we can stay connected with our own heart and others:

I live at the intersection of politics and religion. . . . My faith impels me into the public square. It is abundantly clear that Pope Francis is correct when he says that faith has real consequences in the world . . . and these consequences involve politics. . . .

I currently lead NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, based in Washington, DC. . . . We lobby on Capitol Hill [to shape federal legislation] on issues of income and wealth disparity in our nation. . . . At NETWORK, we often say that our care for the common good is care for “the 100%” instead of the 99% or the 1%. . . .

My meditation practice has led me to see that God is alive in all. No one can be left out of my care. Therefore this political work is anchored in caring for those whom we lobby as well as those whose cause we champion. This was illustrated for me . . .  when I was with four of my colleagues lobbying a Republican Senator on healthcare legislation. I commented on the story of a constituent and asked her how her colleagues could turn their eyes away from the suffering and fear of their people. . . .

She said that many of her colleagues . . . did not get close to the candid stories of their people. In fact, some did not see these constituents as “their people.” Tears sprang to my eyes at her candor and the pain that keeps us sealed off from each other because of political partisanship. Compassion spills out of safe containers to flood our lives.

It is breaking my heart that some of these same politicians want to dismantle healthcare and force millions off of healthcare they receive through the Affordable Care Act. Pope Francis is correct when he says that “health is not a consumer good, but a universal right, so access to health services cannot be a privilege.” [1] Some in Congress want to take away healthcare coverage in order to make a partisan point. It is these members of Congress that I have a difficult time caring about. . . .

However, I find that our position “for the 100%” requires an empathy that stretches my being beyond my imagining. Finding a way to not vilify or divide into “them” and “us” in today’s federal politics goes against . . . current custom. . . .

So my contemplative practice is to attempt to sit open-handed and listen to the “wee small voice” that sometimes whispers ideas and ways forward.

[1] Cindy Wooden, “Health Care Is a Right, Not a Privilege, Pope Says,” Catholic News Service, May 9, 2016,

Simone Campbell, “Religion and Politics,” “Politics and Religion,” Oneing, vol. 5 no. 2(Center for Action and Contemplation: 2017), 57-59.

Image credit:
Mexico–United States barrier at the border of Tijuana and San Diego (detail), Tomas Castelazo, 2006. The crosses represent migrants who died in the crossing attempt—some identified, some not. Surveillance tower in the background.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
When we forget that politics is about weaving a fabric of compassion and justice on which everyone can depend, the first to suffer are the most vulnerable among us—our children, our elderly, our mentally ill, our poor, and our homeless. As they suffer, so does the integrity of our democracy. —Parker Palmer
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