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’.




The Tale of Two Good Friends

This last week Di and I have been in London and Canterbury, where we have experienced a cocktail of emotions.

On Wednesday we were in Canterbury where it was a privilege and an honour to be at the consecration of two women bishops, one of them being a good friend Rachel Treweek. It was very moving and a truly joyful occasion.

On Friday, we were at the funeral of a close friend, Malcolm, and I was given the privilege of giving the address. Malcolm and his wife Caroline had been great friends of ours while I was vicar of their church in London, and since we have been at Scargill. The service was a celebration of a life well lived, with grief at the loss of someone we loved dearly.

You may ask, “What does a consecration and a funeral have in common?” Unsurprisingly, yet joyfully, we caught up with old friends and had time to share laughter and tears, but most importantly the tale of these two friends is a tale of hope.

Rachel is now the Bishop of Gloucester – the first woman Diocesan Bishop in the Church of England! It has been a long struggle with a great deal of patience and perseverance, often much heartache, which has now culminated in this most joyful celebration – and it is full of hope. Having worked with Rachel, when she was our archdeacon in London, it is wonderful to see that her gifts, and the person she is, can be experienced within the Episcopate. There is hope for the Church as Rachel and other gifted women are called by the Holy Spirit to become bishops. It will be so life giving for the Church!

Malcolm, who was 60, struggled with cancer over the last eighteen months, and through his illness was such a person of hope. Malcolm lived in the knowledge that he was deeply loved by God, and however dimly or partially he saw it, he believed that he would know it fully. Malcolm died in this hope, being literally “sung into heaven” by those he loves, and those who love him.

And the hope in which Rachel lives, and Malcolm died in, is the hope that is gifted in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul’s words to Timothy (1 Tim 1 v1) ring with truth for whatever lies before us, “Christ Jesus our hope”. Shawshank Redemption (a must see film!) is full of great hope quotes – “hope is a good thing, may be the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” So the Risen Lord Jesus is our hope, that we live, move and have our being in, and it is this Hope that longs to make his home in our hearts for eternity.