Going where it hurts……

Being compassionate is going where it hurts. OK that doesn’t sound that inviting or attractive!  –  Jesus though, in Luke’s gospel, says: ‘Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.’ However difficult it is our calling.

I have come to believe that if God were a computer program he would default to tender compassion. God can’t help himself. As it says in Psalm 103, ‘The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.’ To be compassionate means ‘to suffer with’. Frederick Buechner, a pastor and writer, says: “Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin.” In Jesus we see the compassion of God. Jesus is ‘God with us’, God with skin. A God who enters into our sufferings as well as our joys.

Henri Nouwen writes beautifully as well as challengingly on this subject, “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish… Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” All true, and as we dare to respond compassionately we also bring something into the situation that may have been buried or forgotten and that is hope. It maybe fragile like a flickering candle but somewhere in the mystery of it all there is a belief that in choosing to be present alongside another hope can begin to grow.

The Grenfell Tower fire in London was such an awful tragedy, and the repercussions will go on for a long time. And yet, if there is one ray of hope it was the community response. Giles Fraser in The Guardian, interviewed a parish priest of a church which became a loving refuge, for grieving families, as well as receiving generous donations. He speaks of how quickly the church was able to respond. “I was woken up at 3am by a priest who lives in the Tower, so I came down to the church, opened the door and turned the lights on.” From then everything happened: volunteers appeared, coffee and tea were made, people began delivering food and clothes. It was a wonderful expression of compassion and solidarity within such a diverse community.

Being compassionate brings real hope, as the community round Grenfell testifies.  Most of us will not be faced with such an experience, yet we have a daily opportunity to be a compassionate presence. It’s risky and costly, sometimes we maybe a bit clumsy, but we are given daily opportunities to be a compassionate hopeful presence to those we meet and share our lives with. It could be as a smile, a willingness to be fully present, to truly listen, to “waste time” with someone. Jesus calls us to be compassionate people and, metaphorically speaking, ‘open the door and turn the lights on’.

 

 

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Choosing Gentleness

Today we have said goodbye to David, one of our young community members who has been with us for a year. He has taught us much about gentleness. He has been one of the best community members we have at interacting with guests, helping them to feel at home. One of the things he loved doing was making himself available to carry people’s bags as they arrived, with a welcoming, smiling presence. Francis de Sales said, ‘it is wonderful how attractive a gentle, pleasant manner is and how much it wins hearts.’  This could have been written about David.

Gentleness is a beautiful gift, so here are some thoughts about it.  We can learn a lot about gentleness from Jesus. He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you find rest for your souls.” Jesus gets tough with those who should have known better yet shows fundamentally that his Kingdom is radically different from that of society around us. On that first Palm Sunday Matthew, quoting the prophet Zechariah, speaks of the Messiah “gentle and riding on a donkey”. Jesus comes not in power but in peace, vulnerably riding on a donkey. It reminds us that Jesus is gentle and humble in heart.

St Paul, at times not really known for his gentleness, realises that this godly characteristic should be practised in the Christian community. In Ephesians 4:2, ‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.’ I love Paul’s  realism in showing love by ‘bearing with one another’. How true is that when living in community!

So how do we grow in gentleness? What I think Jesus does is instead of giving us overwhelming feelings of warmth, especially towards those who get up our noses, he gives us opportunities to practise gentleness – that is how it works. There is no doubt that living in Community is an apprenticeship in becoming like Jesus! A lack of gentleness often betrays our inner feelings, our frustration with a situation or someone (sometimes justified), as well as our anxiety. It is often in Community we learn to live not just with each others gifts but with each others limitations –  the easy way out is to be dismissive of one another.

Gentle, patient encouragement is the way forward, speaking words and actions that bring life – to build people up. Max Lucado writes, ‘Choose gentleness… Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.’

At Scargill we have a beautiful walled garden, it is stunning at this time of year. There are many delicate plants and flowers which are both beautiful and fragile. They are a picture of our own fragility and vulnerability, and if not treated carefully, gently, and patiently we break, yet if treated gently we flourish and grow.

Living in Community is one of those places where we can become the people Jesus wants us to be,  where our gifts are celebrated, where we can face our limitations and find ways to grow through them with the gentle patience of each other. As we learn to be gentle with each other we can learn to be gentle with ourselves. This helps us on our road to wholeness, not allowing the old inner critic to whisper harsh and unyielding words about ourselves.

‘It is wonderful how attractive a gentle, pleasant manner is and how it wins hearts.’ Thanks David. Let’s choose gentleness.

 

Community April 2017 C Best