I was surprised the other day to notice a theme to what I've been reading in the weeks leading up to my Haiti trip. It wasn't intentional - or at least by my intention - so it captured my attention as something that God wants me to hear and to consider.
The first is a small work by Henri Nouwen: The Way of the Heart. In his Prologue, Nouwen writes, "What is required of men and women who want to bring light into the darkness, "to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord's year of favor" (Luke 4:18-19)? What is required of a man or a woman who is called to enter fully into the turmoil and agony of the times and speak a word of hope?"
As children of God, believers in Jesus Christ, and His disciples on this earth, we often find ourselves asking this same question. I know I do. And the word God has kept bringing me back to over these past several weeks is COMPASSION.
Allow me to share a few excerpts from The Way of the Heart and then a second book, A Glimpse of Jesus: The Stranger to Self-Hatred by Brennan Manning. I'm not going to editorialize on these quotations, but I invite you to ponder them and perhaps check out these two small books for yourself.
"...the point where ministry and spirituality touch each other [is] compassion ... Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it. As busy, active, relevant ministers, we want to earn our bread by making a real contribution. This means first and foremost doing something to show that our presence makes a difference. And so we ignore our greatest gift, which is our ability to enter into solidarity with those who suffer."
"In order to be of service to others we have to die to them; that is, we have to give up measuring our meaning and value with the yardstick of others. To die to our neighbors means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and thus to become free to be compassionate. Compassion can never coexist with judgment because judgment creates the distance, the distinction, which prevents us from really being with the other."
I picked Brennan Manning's A Glimpse of Jesus: The Stranger to Self-Hatred off a friend's bookshelf a few months ago. Like all of Manning's works, this is a beautifully written work with so much to consider:
"The etymology of the word compassion lies in two Latin words, cum and patior, meaning 'to suffer with,' to endure with, to struggle with, and to partake of the hunger, nakedness, loneliness, pain, and broken dreams of our brothers and sisters in the human family. Commitment to Jesus Christ without compassion for his people is a lie."
"What is indeed cruicial to the evangelical enterprise is the awareness that we ourselves are the primary target. It is not 'they' who are poor, sinful, and lost. It is ourselves. Unless we acknowledge that we are the sinner, the sick ones, and the lost sheep for whom Jesus came, we do not belong to the 'blessed' who know that they are poor and inherit the Kingdom."
"The church, the visible extension of Jesus Christ in time and space, is the image of the Compassionate One ... Where the Compassionate One is, there will his servants be. Whether in Times Square, Juarez, Rodeo Drive, middle-class suburbia, an alcoholic rehabilitation center, or a room full of eighth graders, the Word stands: 'I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers or sisters, you did it for me.' "
Nouwen observes, "Many of us have adapted ourselves too well to the general mood of lethargy. Others among us have become tired, exhausted, disappointed, bitter, resentful, or simply bored. Still others have remained active and involved - but have ended up living more in their own name than in the Name of Jesus Christ."
A read through these two works, especially in light of my upcoming trip to Haiti, has caused me to ask: What is my condition? Lethargic, exhausted, bitter, busy? Or alive in Christ? What is my calling? I am "called to enter fully into the turmoil and agony of the times and speak a word of hope. " And what reminder does God have for me in all of this? To live in the name of Jesus Christ is to bear the name Compassionate One.