Tuesday, March 15, 2005


Karen Armstrong, in her book, Buddha (2001), described an early experience of the boy on page 66:

Left alone by his nurses in the field during ploughing, "he noticed that the young grass had been torn up, and that insects and the eggs they had laid in these new shoots had been destroyed. The little boy gazed at the carnage and felt a strange sorrow, as though his own relatives had been killed. But it was a beautiful day, and a feeling of pure joy rose up in his heart."

Ah! what an archetype! Suffering brings compassion brings joy. The little boy did not know it, but his compassion brought him closer to heaven where joy is born.

Armstrong suggested that we may all "have experienced such moments". Well, maybe. Reflecting on my own life, I find a strange comparison:

As a young minister visiting the hospital (a part of my pastoral duties), I commented to the chaplain that these visits made me feel 10 feet tall. "Yes", he said, "It's easy to be a tower of strength in the hospital."

40 years later things seem a little different, a little more complex: the joy is there, but it's a little better understood; there's no finer experience in life than to help someone, even to give a cup of cold water to a thirsty person.

Thinking theologically it's the joy of knowing you're doing God's will. Like the little boy in the field this overrides powerfully any sadness you may feel at the pain you're trying to relieve.

We are members one of another. What hurts someone else, hurts me, and vice versa. "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep" (Romans 12:15).

Weeping and rejoicing all have their end in joy. I don't do God's will very often; but occasionally I do, and it always brings joy. Praise be to God.


Ruthie said...

This is a wonderful reflection - thanks for sharing your thoughts Larry. When I told my mum I wanted to be a psychologist, her response was, 'Won't it be a bit depressing listening to other people's problems all day long.'

And I have to say that it isn't for me. To be fair, I'm currently working in research and all my clinical experience has been very well supervised and ultimately the results aren't my responsibility so its a lot less stressful for me than for a qualified person.

However, I really treasure being with people no matter how distressed or vulnerable they may be. To be allowed to enter someone's world is a privelege, and one that I hope I never come to take for granted.

Those friends who are with us through hard times are the most precious. Being present to another's pain, or having someone be present to your's is very precious - it builds a connection and a deepens a relationship like nothing else can - and in that love, there is joy.


Larry said...

You know, Ruthie; we all long for intimacy and dread it. What I love about Quakers is that they (most of them) have a great capacity for it, so you can in fact travel all over the country and achieve immediate intimacy with new Quakers.

Of course it's a matter of degree. Some people are terribly shut up within themselves; others are perfectly transparent. Most of us are some where between.

But the good book says, now we know in part, but then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known. Scary no doubt, but that's our future.

Meredith said...

Thank you Larry for this reflection on Compassion.

I agree with Ruthie that "Being present to another's pain, or having someone be present to yours is very precious - it builds a connection and a deepens a relationship like nothing else can - and in that love, there is joy." This is so true. It was true for me in my own experience following a very difficult loss, and it is true now as I am on the other end of the helping relationship as a nurse/therapist.

I think you're right Larry - we all long for intimacy. When I experience intimacy I feel a very close connections to God. It would almost seem that God is integral to intimacy. When we connect with love and compassion, there seems to also be a very real Presence in our midst. And this Presence radiates a pervasive warmth, light, and Love. It is in our willingness to be intimate, to console, to nurture, to witness, to simply be with another in distress that we are gifted by this encounter with Spirit.

Blessings to you, dear Friend.

Marjorie said...

Thanks for sharing this beautiful post, Larry.

Thich Nhat Hanh talked of how anger can also lead to compassion -- I'm working on this...