Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Compassion


First, I have to tell you the interesting thing that happened in the high school Sunday school class last Sunday.  It was as pure a sign of the times as you can get.  James Spurgeon wanted to show the kids a video about what we were about to study in Luke and Mark.  But the link between youtube and our big HD video screen wouldn’t cooperate.  So here’s what we ended up doing:  Everybody with a smart phone who could access the internet pulled up the video on their phone.  (You could do this yourself.  It’s a cool video.  Here’s the link--   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NekNjtnc2E It's not that important to what I'm about to say so you don't need to look it up right now. Do it later.  

Then when everybody was ready we each hit “play” at the same time.  We were watching together but separately.  And it worked.  It worked.

Then we started reading some scripture.  James told us that each person should use “their devices” to look up a certain scripture.  Somebody said they didn’t have the bible on their phone.  “Well, you could get one of the bibles lying around the room and look it up there…..if you want to go “Old School.”

The times they are a’changing. 

I had a short conversation a few weeks ago about using your phone to read the bible in church.  One woman said she found it a dangerous temptation to just flip over to facebook while she had the phone out.  And I feel the same way.  But you can mark my words and note that you heard it here first:  the day is coming when the preacher will tell the congregation to do something  with their phones besides turn them off.

But that’s not what I want to talk about  today.  My efforts to grow spiritually during Lent have led me into a direction I didn’t expect.

Originally, I was going to spend Lent learning how to become more peaceful and serene.  I picked through a few books on the subject and read here and there.  My favorite—the easiest to understand , the one I did a mind-meld on-- was Aging as a Spiritual Practice by Lewis Richmond.  He talks a lot about contemplative meditation.  I grasped it like a monkey takes the banana.  But then the book took me into a different direction –away from myself.  Things got complicated. I just hate it when God does that.

The author talks a lot about acts of compassion being our true call in this world.  And I realized how self-centered my decision to become more peaceful is.  In order to become peaceful I must become compassionate first.

Ever since Karen Armstrong won the TED prize in 2008 and used it to start her Charter for Compassion the word has made regular visits to my mind. It tickles my brain when I am alone. It pokes me in the ribs when I am in a crowd. I started looking for it. If you want to read the actual document, the real Charter, go to my other blog, Really Cool Stuff.

I saw it in a conversation my friend Babs had with the cleaning lady in a restroom --in a casino in Las Vegas, of all places. Who knew you could find compassion in Las Vegas?  But Babs lives there now; it’s her home and she has chosen to bloom where she is planted.  And she has managed to show compassion for the people she meets, even strangers in a public bathroom. I don’t remember anything about the short conversation, I just remember vividly how compassionate Babs was, not so much in the words she said or the expression on her face. It was a feeling radiating from her towards the lady in a way I can’t find the words to express.

I heard compassion in Kat Hutching’s description of the homeless guys who come by the church for a sack lunch.  Kat has been the administrative assistant for the Garland Presbyterian church for 25 years.  I missed a huge party to celebrate that milestone when I chose to stay home in Winnsboro last  Sunday and watch youtube videos on my phone instead.  Everyone knows the church secretary is the hub of the wheel that moves a church.  These homeless guys visit her regularly.  She calls them “my boys”  and knows them by name. Some of them she has researched their background through the police.  She gets around 25 people every day looking for food.  The ministry has grown so much that it interrupts her other work of running the church. 

Or maybe it’s the other way around.

The word “compassion” has grown larger in my life and now I want some.  Rather, I want to know how to Do compassion.  I can be nice.  I can be generous.  But I don’t think I am doing a very good job of being compassionate.  I’ve avoided it for a long time because I know when I strip the bark off my heart it will leave it vulnerable.  I don’t want other people’s needs to mess up my own orderly life. I don’t want to co-passion another person’s life.  It will hurt, I just know it will.

Then I hit on a solution.  A tiny little low-risk start.  A small step but a start.  My new goal now is to find out what color eyes a person has when I’m talking to them. In order to do this I have to look closely at them while they’re speaking.  Once I perform this simple act, I have a hunch I will feel compassion stirring, waking up.

So, here’s my revised Lenten practice, late in the game though it is:  I’m going to take note of every person’s eye color.  I’m going to collect eye colors.

When someone is talking to me I usually look at their face in a collective way and this is what I see:  eyes certainly but nose, lips, hair, teeth and skin; sometimes earrings, necklace and/or shirt collar. If I’m listening to something that is hard to understand my eyes will turn to look into the distance to concentrate my thoughts.  Sometimes I even close my eyes.  I learned this trick from my father and find that it helps me concentrate.  (note to my pastor:  I’m not asleep, I’m listening in a deep way that you should really appreciate.)

I will start to focus on eyes.  I will let myself be drawn into them and fall down the rabbit hole that leads to a Wonderland of humanity with all the danger, beauty and surprises it offers.  The spirit in me will greet the spirit in them.  Namaste.  I will look life in the eye and maybe I will find peace there.

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