Among some Americans who call themselves christians, compassion is out. It’s not a big surprise, in a way, since there has been less and less evidence for it being valued among many of the conservative rightwingers.
I have to admit, however, that I’m more than a little taken aback by the seeming actual fact of compassion having being cast out of consideration as a Christian virtue among some communities. Humility seems to be gone too. Now, I’ve given up hope for a revival on the sin of usury, but really… Compassion? Caring? Caritas? Love? All gone, and in their place an addiction to signs and wonders, “casting out demons,” paranoia, hate/fear of others, self-aggrandizement. Does anyone really believe that mucking around in Daniel and Revelations (and all the rest of that tired old dance) it is going to give people guidance in the contemporary world? It seems as though every generation has to learn this particular lesson again.
Baby, the beginning and the end happen all the time – they are always already in process.
I really hope that the “visions” that L (someone I care a great deal for) are having are simply hysterical self-narratives and not real hallucinations. There are levels of self-delusion, and I hope he’s not gone past the limits. Please. Please. I’m really concerned, and worried, and frightened for the future of this very special person.
So I was accused by him (among other things – ouch) of having a compassion-based sense of religion. Accused! Very, very strange. I know that the rather mystical/theoretical weights of my spiritual side don’t mesh well with delusions of grandeur, but attunement with the cosmos doesn’t tend to make you feel too terribly important (except occasionally in the nice feeling that comes with the service that you might be able to offer to others). And I suppose I take seriously the idea that I may be judged as I judge others.
This kicked off a whole train of thought that I’ve been trying to work through for some time now.
Just about everyone that I respect and model myself after in terms of spiritual things is loving, open, encouraging and kind. That’s such a touchstone for me that it is very difficult to think of any kind of spiritual insight at all that could be gained through hate, greed, lust for power, or cruelty – the antonyms of compassion and caring and kindness. Isn’t self-righteousness nearly always hypocritical?
One thing that bugs me a lot is that when you’re really focused on compassion and love, it seems as though things should work out “for the best in this best of all possible worlds.” “They” say (the ubiquitous They) that all’s fair in love, but it’s not. You have to give more than you think you can, and you have to let go of more than seems possible.
It hurts that love doesn’t always make a difference. It hurts that you can’t heal everything with love. It hurts when love is met with ridicule or disinterest or cruelty. And if you really, really love, I guess you learn to transcend the ego-aspects of that – but it’s not easy.
Maybe that’s one reason there are all those iconic images about of Jesus with the bleeding heart (not to mention the “bleeding-heart liberal,” right?) But the blood is also a rose. The sacrifice sometimes means that you feel suffering – you feel the suffering of others, and you (keenly, keenly) feel your own suffering too. I have all sorts of little methods for letting go, but they seem to work episodically if at all. Maybe Buddhism still has something to say to me, but I can’t seem to get to that enlightened place where the love can be at the same time entirely disinterested, without attachment. It doesn’t seem right to me – there is something there I cannot yet comprehend or feel to be true.
I still believe that it’s better to feel than to be numb, or to be entirely protected, but I can be too thin-skinned sometimes too. Sometimes I feel that love should be like a shield – but it’s not. Love is not a spell that allows you to change anything at all about reality or another person. Walking in the spirit of love really involves letting go of more of ego and wishes and desires than I’ve been able to do much of the time. I don’t love everyone except in the most general sense of human decency. The ones that I love truly, I tend also to love fiercely.
One thing that’s difficult for me is to forgive myself for not meeting my own standards, and to believe that God – whatever God may be – loves me for my own unique flawed self. At one time, it was impossible for me to even think a thought like that. Having Ben helped a lot with that, and losing people helped with that, too. Don’t you end up loving all the little things that make someone who they are the very most of all? The universe is so complex, and we are so very small, but we’re still all a part of the incredible diversity that is constructed and destroyed and constructed again with every heartbeat.
I can’t help but believe that loving is better for the soul’s journey, too – that if you speak from love, you can still be wrong or it may not make any real difference, but you’ve at least accepted the being-there (or the there-being, if you like Heidegger) of the love. Love isn’t always there, and it’s certainly not always a motivating force, but when it is maybe it’s just a kind of gift in itself, even if the gift takes its sacrificial tax as well.
Maybe love doesn’t prevent bad things from happening, and maybe it doesn’t heal anything, and maybe it isn’t even heard, much less accepted – but I still think that what you do in and through authentic love and caring and empathy and concern is never wasted, even if there never is any communion at the borders. Maybe it works on soundlessly, transforming things on some other level.
Maybe there’s even a formula for what happens to the love-energy, or maybe that’s just what I wish to be true. But somehow, unreasonably, I have faith there is never too much love .
I just don’t comprehend how authentic spirituality (of all kinds) could not be centered on the compassionate love that seems to be the ideal state of all spiritual seekers ever.
If compassion and caring are rejected, how do you “feel-with” anyone? What is any relationship – with God or the cosmos or humans, or even animals – without it? Can someone even have imagination without compassion? If you can never tolerate the otherness of the other, aren’t you forever in a prison of the same?
Becoming caring, encouraging, forgiving, and less ego-centric are what I think of as the fruits of the spirit, the revelations of grace, the signs that you are starting to learn what you need to learn. And in a way, that’s all the more the case for christians.
If that’s not what you are about, can you really claim to be christian? Can you even claim to be a spiritual being?