Compassion: The Heart of Our Faith

I’m grateful for Lisa C. Flores’ reflection today in Episcopal Relief & Development's 2012 Lenten Meditations, on the beautiful poem about the mind of Christ from the letter to the Philippians. In that passage, that poem, Paul tells those first Christians to have the mind of Christ, to follow Christ’s example, taking the form of a servant, entering into human likeness. Lisa artfully compares that ancient image with a more recent one from Henri Nouwen, who gave us language of the “wounded healer," a recognition of the solidarity of suffering to which we are called.

As I read this reflection, I wanted to add thoughts provided by Karen Armstrong, whose insightful study of comparative religion has led her to identify a common theme in the great world traditions. That common theme is represented in the word “compassion.” The word literally means “to suffer with,” and it is in evidence in the early poetry of St. Paul, in the story from the Talmud that described the Messiah being present to the suffering of the city. It is also visible in the ministry of Henri Nouwen, who taught the contemporary church so much about service – not out of a place of perfection, but out of our own wounds.

As we approach Holy Week, telling the story of Christ’s offering, we are given an opportunity to see how compassion lies at the heart of our faith. In the coming days, we recall how Christ suffered with us: how he went through the experience of betrayal and isolation, suffering under political and religious oppression, becoming a victim of unspeakable violence, his life ending with arms stretched out on the hard wood of the cross to draw us into his saving embrace. We are to have the same mind in us as was in evidence that first Holy Week. We are called to look around at the world in which we live, to take compassion to the city gates, wherever that may be for us. Lisa’s fine reflection challenges me to do that.

I’m personally grateful for the work of Episcopal Relief & Development, which expresses that compassionate intention in places I may never get to visit. But I don’t need to travel very far to find those needs, and I take today’s devotion as a call to do that. Thank you, Lisa.

The Rev. Jay Sidebotham is Rector at Church of the Holy Spirit in Lake Forest, Illinois. He is a member of the Episcopal Relief & Development Board of Directors and a contributor to the agency’s 2012 Lenten Meditations.

Photo courtesy of the Rev. Jay Sidebotham.

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