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’.