Four Essential Attitudes of Compassionate Service
Blessed are those who mourn…
Blessed are those who are merciful…
Blessed are the peacemakers…
Blessed are you when you are persecuted…
In a world of bullies and tyrants, abuse and neglect, these are attitudes worth considering! Especially given the Source!
At 65 years of age, I observe that most people cannot see beyond their own lives, nor do they have a particular desire to do so. They are selfish! Which is a good news, bad news story. Selfishness has helped to preserve our lives through the millennia, good news; selfishness has also helped to propel a quality of historical violence, war and alienation which is unimaginable! Over 100 million murdered in the 20th century for absolutely no reason. Bad news!
Confucius observed many years ago, that the myopia of selfishness is the cause of all of our suffering, our violence, both to self and others. Until we can move our awareness to truly encompass family, community, the nation, and "all within the four seas," we shall be the victims of our own selfish regard. More importantly, we are helping to perpetrate a violent world. Think about it!
Jesus provides the way out of that narcissistic trap of selfish regard through the last four of his momentous eight beatitudes, the Eightfold Path of Jesus.
I have an acquaintance who once shared: "I don't do charity." He said that it is just not on his radar. He spends his time fishing, shooting and travelling and is worth many, many dollars. Jesus provides a number of parables about such wealth, as a symbol of such narcissism, suggesting that such an attitude is not the way to the kingdom. Indeed, it leads in a very different direction.
I have discovered there are many, many people like my acquaintance who do not have much regard for others, even those in desperate need. I tell my students that the world is "on fire" and "all hands are needed on deck." Selfishness is destroying the tender fabric of our economics, our politics, our environment, our very bodies. It is time to join the fire brigade; and, Jesus demonstrates the Way, four attitudes leading to a better world!
First, we must learn to be tenderhearted, to mourn, to open our hearts to those who are suffering and in difficulty, which would be most people. This is a seemingly easy task since there are so many who are in pain. And yet, most people shroud their identities with fear, anxiety and anger, not allowing the pain of others into their awareness. My experience suggests that such awareness opens a space in which God might step in and help transform us, in God's image.
Our exercise in this first step is to really allow ourselves to open to the suffering of others, to mourn.
Second, we need to extend the gift of compassion, mercy, which our mourning has given birth to. As the prophet Micah suggests, we should "love mercy" so that we might "act justly," thereby "walking humbly with God." Compassion or mercy are impossible to a heart incapable of mourning. Only a broken heart, broken by our mourning for others, can possibly hope to experience the fullness of God's unconditional love.
Our exercise in this second step is truly extend the love of God to others in compassion, in mercy, to say: "I wish you well," with the fullness of our hearts.
Third, we are each and all called to be peacemakers, to be an ambassador of "matchless goodwill," with helping hands. Peacemaking is not an easy step; but, a necessary condition of a better world for everyone. Peacemaking implies that there will be conflict along the way, both personal and collective. Our chosen avenue of service reflects our capacity to be a peacemaker. How is your peacemaking touching your inner conflicts, your family conflicts, your community conflicts, your national conflicts, the conflicts occurring globally? As Teresa of Calcutta suggests, it is vital that we serve in our own backyard, and pray for the world while we do it. As Albert Schweitzer suggests, real happiness ensues only in a life of dedicated service.
Our exercise for the third step is to discern what our life plan of service will be, this begins with compassion and caring for ourselves, but extends through the family to community, through community to the nation, and beyond all borders and walls.
Fourth, and lastly, comes the suggestion by Jesus that those who step in the waters of peacemaking will, by definition, experience some level of persecution. In my 65 years on the planet, even in the most exhilarating levels of service, I have experienced from people that I would not have expected a surprising level of persecution. People who have indicated trust to me have sometimes been the ones to persecute and demonstrate ill will. As painful as these experiences have been, I can say that they have produced only a larger capacity to mourn for those individuals and for their willingness to engage in mean behavior.
Within the fourth step lies the exercise. Jesus did it while on the cross, "forgive them, they know not what they do." To extend lovingkindness to all beings, friend and foe, is the height of compassionate service and the depth of spiritual bliss. Even in the height of his agony on the cross, Jesus could experience the depth of bliss associated with the Father's love.
And, so we see, how the circle of compassionate service finds its fulfilment in these four essential attitudes. Jesus taught a religion of love of God and service to all humanity. We experience God's love within the holy walls of worship; and we are privileged to act as God's ambassadors in compassionate service. This dual affection gives rise to a life well-lived, dedicated to the glory of God!