The spiritual practice of compassion

Luke 6:39-49

A friend of mine went to a lecture by a famous person that she really admired. When she talked to me afterwards, she was crestfallen. I asked her what had happened, and she told me that her hero had really let her down and she was very sad about it. “Oh, dear, what did she say?” I asked.

“Oh, the usual,” said my friend. “She was as brilliant as ever. But I overheard her tell some friends a story about how she had managed to get a disagreeable colleague thrown off a committee. She was well enough liked that she became the committee’s chair. At the first meeting she was in charge of she called a vote for his dismissal. After hearing that story I just couldn’t hear the lecture that came afterwards in the same way.”

“Maybe he was a really awful person,” I said.

“Even more reason not to treat him badly,” said my friend.

My friend follows the spiritual practice of caring. This is what Jesus outlined in the passages from Luke that lead up to today’s reading. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” She reads these words not so much as “do this or else” admonitions as “do this and grow” invitations.

Jesus makes a bid for following this practice. We are the blind leading the blind until we learn how to give without hope of return – of our time, our “stuff”, our love and our understanding. We are like people with a log in our eyes trying to see well enough to find a dust mote in someone else’s vision until we are, as Lowell said in yesterday’s reflection, compassionate, just as God is compassionate. This practice is what teaches us how to see.

My friend understood by hearing her hero’s story that she was not a woman who fully realized how to love. All her fine words were like the house without a foundation. She could not back them up with the wisdom that comes from the work of caring.

John Dear, in his book Transfiguration, says, “At best we are fans of Jesus, not followers.” We can quote what Jesus says, admire what he does, and cheer him on mightily – but will we do what he does so that we grow spiritually to be like him? Not so much.

But how else will we come to be who we are most deeply meant to be except by following the Way Jesus lays out? It is only through practice that we build the foundations to our houses, so that our consciousness of the truth stands firm through any flood.

Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries. With others she manages a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries: Fresh Expressions Colorado

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