COMPASSION: A Letter Of Consolation from Abraham Lincoln

August 17, 2017

A letter to a mother who lived in Boston, who President Lincoln mistakenly believed lost her five sons in the war.  Carl Sandburg wrote of this letter, “More darkly than the Gettysburg speech the letter wove its awful implication that human freedom so often was paid for with agony.” Executive Mansion Washington, Nov. 21, 1864 To Mrs. Bixby, Boston, Mass. Dear Madam, I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.  I feel how week and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming.  But I cannot refrain from tendering [...]

SWORD OF THE SPIRIT: Ephesians 6:10-20 by William Loader

June 21, 2016

From First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages from the Lectionary The final segment of Ephesians is a mini-sermon in itself, employing the tradition of Isaiah 59:17 and Wisdom 5:17-18, which speak of God’s armor. One response to military might in a world held in check by Rome’s might was to make it a metaphor for one’s own potential strength. The tradition is, of course, much older. In what ways is God like a soldier? In what ways are Christians like soldiers? Both Isaiah and Wisdom use the imagery to portray God in strength. Here in Ephesians the focus is the believer. What are these Christian soldiers meant to be doing? Centuries of fascination with power and of Christian engagement with rulers and their armies [...]

POETRY: Back From The City, by Jane Kenyon

April 20, 2016

After three days and night of rich food and late talk in overheated rooms, of walks between mounds of garbage and human forms bedded down for the night under rags, I come back to my dooryard, to my own wooden step. The last red leaves fall to the ground and frost has blackened the herbs and asters that grew beside the porch. The air is still and cool, and the withered grass lies flat in the field. A nuthatch spirals down the rough trunk of the tree. At the Cloisters I indulged in piety while gazing at a painted lindenwood Pietà— across her knees; but when a man stepped close under the tasseled awning of the hotel, asking for “a quarter for someone down on his luck,” I quickly turned my back. Now I hear tiny bits of bark and [...]

POETRY: Banding by Suzanne Underwood Rhodes

April 6, 2016

The nets of God hang in every wild place to catch the unwary migrant, one with the skull another to fall from the sky on the ten-thousandth mile, but when he holds one of those small, terrified bodies like a jewel between his thumb and forefinger and unfans the wing to measure it, secretly admiring the bars he conceived to catch his own hungry eye, and the little claw foot he rings with a coded band that numbers the feathers and weds him forever to the pulse in his palm that recalls his own heaving heart the day he flew into a net and hung there thirsting in the woods where only a wasp moved, flicking cobalt wings, when he lets go, when he flings what he has marked into emptiness, he follows the speck with his eye to South America and [...]

LENTEN MEDITATION: Bald Places by Hob Osterlund

March 14, 2016

From Portland Magazine Rooms 652 and 653 couldn’t be more different, except they’re both bald. Room 652 is a woman with a glioblastoma.  It’s the kind of brain tumor that often kills fast, usually within six months of diagnosis.  She’s fifty-seven.  Her name is Teea.  The doctor says I’m history, says Teea softly, without apparent fear.  Her humor is deceptive.  I bet she’d bribe, threaten, or supplicate all creatures, medical or otherwise, two-legged or four, who promised they could buy her even one extra week.  She wants to live so bad she could scream it to the Heavenly rafters, but she doesn’t, at least not in the hospital.  She behaves calmly here. Each of her three daughters is as [...]

SPIRITUAL FORMATION: Compassion by Gregory Boyle

December 11, 2014

From Tattoos on the Heart In 1993, I taught a course at Folsom Prison.  “Theological Issues in American Short Fiction.”  From the beginning, the inmates said they wanted me to teach them something.  Just not scripture.  I mentioned that I had an MA in English. “Well, yeah, teach us that,” they said. So we would sit around in the chapel, some fifteen lifers and myself, and discuss short stories.  I ended up teaching three classes of this short-story course on all three yards.  (As in most prisons in California, they have three yards: A [special-needs yard or protective custody]; B [a tough and generally wild yard]; and C [a moderately “programming” yet very high security yard].  I settled on short [...]

POETRY: Answered Prayer by Kathleen Norris

December 10, 2014

I came to your door with soup and bread. I didn’t know you but you were a neighbor in pain: and a little soup and bread, I reasoned, never hurt anyone. I shouldn’t reason. I appeared the day your divorce was final: a woman, flushed with cooking and talk, and you watched, fascinated, coiled like a spring. You seemed so brave and lonely I wanted to comfort you like a child. I couldn’t of course. You wanted to ask me too far in. It was then I knew it had to be like prayer. We can’t ask for what we know we want: we have to ask to be led someplace we never dreamed of going, a place we don’t want to be. We’ll find ourselves there one morning, opened like leaves, and it will be all [...]

POETRY: He Sits Down On The Floor Of A School For The Retarded by Alden Nowlan

December 10, 2014

I sit down on the floor of a school for the retarded, a writer of magazine articles accompanying a band that was met at the door by a child in a man’s body who asked them, “Are you the surprise they promised us?” It’s Ryan’s Fancy, Dermot on guitar, Fergus on banjo, Denis on penny-whistle. In the eyes of this audience, they’re everybody who has ever appeared on TV. I’ve been telling lies to a boy who cried because his favorite detective hadn’t come with us; I said he had sent his love and, no, I didn’t think he’d mind if I signed his name to a scrap of paper: when the boy took it, he said, “Nobody will ever get this away from me,” in the voice, more hopeless than [...]

TERRORISM: Compassion And Nonviolence From New York To Afghanistan by John Dear

December 9, 2014

From Christian Peace and Nonviolence Reflections after September 11th Like thousands of other New Yorkers, I started volunteering immediately after the World Trade Center disaster.  Within a few days, the Red Cross asked me to help coordinate the chaplain program at the Family Assistance Center, the site run by the government and the Red Cross for families. I’ve been working there ever since.  These past few weeks, I have met some 1,500 grieving family members, police officers, and firefighters. All we can do is stand with them in their grief, share their pain, listen, hold them, pray with them, encourage, and bless them. I remember the Long Island Catholic man who came to turn in DNA evidence only to discover his missing [...]

SPIRITUAL FORMATION: The Vow Of Compassion by Jean-Yves Leloup

December 8, 2014

From Compassion and Meditation What is the vow of a person who is animated by compassion?  Is it wise to devote one’s life to the welfare of all beings?  Is it even rational to make such a vow?  Is it not a dream, or even a form of megalomania, to make such a vow?  What are the motivations and justifications of this vow, both personal and impersonal? We might concern ourselves with the welfare of others because we discover that our own welfare is thereby increased.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  To open to others is a way of opening our heart, as well as our intelligence.  It is perhaps the best means of “going beyond ego.”  On the path of the bodhisattva there is a very personal motivation: our own [...]

COMPASSION: The Inscrutability Of God

December 10, 2013

I have come to a decision.  A most unusual decision, to be sure, but one, nonetheless. Let me begin with yesterday.  Yesterday I had been thinking about this post for days and days, and yet, when I sat down to map it out, I realized that there was a frontispiece of a kind that belonged to this post. So I wrote on the love-in-hate conundrum that is the birth of Jesus.  Why not a bejeweled castle on top of the highest hill, surrounded by rings of angels, singing their hearts out? Why the dirt? Back to my decision. I find that love is not an emotion.  It is something very different indeed. Hear me out. Let’s just put love up against other emotions and see what we see. Anger, say.  Anger functions in a direct, straight line.  You [...]

FRIENDSHIP: Compassion and Reverence by Carmen L. Caltagirone

July 30, 2013

From Friendship As Sacrament The compassion of others is but another way through which we come to more deeply know and experience the love of God.  When we experience an enticement to go out of ourselves, to risk ourselves, and to become one with another human being, compassion happens. Jesus was the enfleshment of the father’s compassion.  The incarnation was deeply personal in that it ushered God’s compassion onto the human scene in a whole new way.  God, the Father’s compassion became flesh in Jesus, and so now it must become flesh in us.  Our basic mission as God’s people is to articulate the nature and extent of God’s compassion which is freely given to us.  If we receive it with open arms it will enrich us to such a [...]

LOVE: The Significance of the Word

June 24, 2013

When I was a quite young lady, perhaps a bit too young for this experience, I volunteered to teach reading to illiterate prisoners at a state prison. 90% of the prisoners in my prison were illiterate. One of my students, I quickly learned, had a classic dyslexic disorder, a disorder that had been treated by his schoolteachers as laziness, sullenness, and having a disruptive and disobedient personality. I was impressed, however, by how a little focus and effort could straighten out his seeing problems.  His basic reading problems. Other problems didn’t appear to be quite so easy to address, however. He would show up to class almost always wearing jeans that had a split near his crotch, allowing me brief, if untantalizing, glimpses of [...]

LENT: Tuesday of the Third Week in Lent, by Henri J. M. Nouwen

March 5, 2013

From Show Me The Way Then the master sent for the man and said to him, “You wicked servant, I canceled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me.  Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow-servant just as I had pity on you?”  And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt.  And that is how my heavenly father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from  your heart. (Matthew 18:32-35) God’s compassion is not something abstract or indefinite, but a concrete, specific gesture in which God reaches out to us.  In Jesus Christ we see the fullness of God’s compassion.  To us, who cry out from the depth of our brokenness for a hand that [...]

LENTEN FIRE: Thursday After Ash Wednesday

February 15, 2013

From Becoming Fire: Through the Year with the Desert Fathers and Mothers  The Mirror of Sins Abba Macarius said: If you look into a mirror to observe yourself, it will inform you of your beauty or of your ugliness.  You cannot hide anything from it nor will it lie to you in any way; no, it produces a lifelike image and reflects back your own image and reproduces all your features and characteristics: if you smile, you see what sort of a smile it is; it will show you that your black hair is black and your gray hair is gray and it will real you to yourself and show you what you really look like. It will be the same at the place of judgment, from which one cannot flee.  There it is not a mirror made by human hands but deeds laid bare that [...]

POETRY: Compassion (Three Poems)

January 9, 2013

Painting of a White Gate and Sky For Betsy There is no one in the picture so you must enter it. Your dress held together with bent pins. You must enter with your heart of gray snow. There is no one in the bank left corner so you must stand there. You with your wrists chained, with your stomach locked up. You with emptiness tapping sorrow’s code in its cage of bone. The steps are grown over with sharp blades. No one has been there. You are the first one. Desperate, proper, your heels leave deep punctures. You with breath failing. You with your mother’s ring. With your belt undone. You with your mind of twisted ferns. There is no one at the gate so you must stand there. You with your picked-over heart. You with shoulders of cracked [...]

COMPASSION: An Entomologist’s Dilemma by Margaret Erhart

August 29, 2012

From Turning Wheel Every day this Buddhist kills something.  Many things.  And not just thoughts.  Creatures.  Sentient living beings.  Butterflies.  Robberflies.  Beetles, wasps, bees, spiders, anything soft-shelled or hard that moves, flies, creeps, scuttles, or runs for its life.  If I can catch it, I do, in order to kill it.  In order to record what lives here, and in what numbers, and what it’s eating, and what’s eating it.  In the interest of science, I carry a special jar for killing — a killing jar, it’s called.  (When it comes to language, I feel the least I can do is not equivocate.) The jar contains ethyl acetate.  Cleaning fluid.  I put the hard-bodied insects in the jar and usually I watch them struggle [...]

DETACHMENT: The Path To Compassion

March 13, 2012

From John of the Cross: The soul must always be inclined not to the easiest thing, but to the hardest; not to the tastiest, but to the most insipid; not to the things that give the greatest pleasure, but to those that give the least; not to the restful things, but to the painful ones; not to consolation, but to desolation; not to more, but to less; not to the highest and dearest, but to the lowest and most despised; not to the desire for something, but to having no desires. No desires for ourselves, that is.  Just a desire to be open to God in all things. It is an impossibility, to be sure, to desire nothing for ourselves.  And certainly there are times in our lives when we think such an intention to be nothing short of insane.  How can [...]

HEALING: Compassion’s Touch

January 26, 2012

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another. – Thomas Merton I went to college at the University of California, otherwise known as, Berkeley.  When I was there, the school year was divided into three: three ten-week trimesters.  This meant that not too many days after the course began, work on the mid-term paper and research for the mid-term exam also began. I was an English major.  A ten-week term meant, essentially, that for each English course that I was taking I had to read a book, or the equivalent, from that course every week.  That’s one book by Dickens, another by Faulkner, some Milton, and [...]

PRAYER: A Novena To The Sacred Heart Of Jesus For The Virtue Of Compassion

January 26, 2012

Author unknown O my Jesus, you have said, “Truly I say to you, ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.”  Behold I knock.  I seek and ask for the grace of feeling compassion for my friends and loved ones. O my Jesus, you have said, “Truly I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”  Behold, in your name, I ask the Father for the grace of feeling compassion for my enemies. O my Jesus, you have said, “Truly I say to you, Heaven and Earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.”  Encouraged by your infallible words I now ask for the grace of feeling compassion for myself. O Sacred Heart of Jesus, for whom it is impossible not to have [...]