Monday, October 11, 2004

Hail to the grief.......

I was listening the other night to a beautiful Warren Haynes acoustic cover of the U2 song "One," and it got me thinking about an issue that I feel is very relevant for our life together in Christian community. There's that deeply affecting line in the song that goes ...."but I can't keep holding on to what you got, when all you've got is hurt..," and its the line that always hits me right in the gut when I here it. So, why does it me so hard? Well, the answer's very simple but very difficult. It hits me hard because it reminds me of how often I hide behind my own hurt in order to avoid being intimately encountered by other human beings.... (There's More) Tragically, one of the net results of managing my relationships in such a way is that it makes it almost impossible for me to have genuine heartfelt compassion for other people, or appreciate the beauty and wonder of everything else that God has made. The needs and concerns of others so easily get lost or suffocated in the morass of what I feel like I didn't get when I needed it, how others have continually mistreated or slighted me, and the general impossibility of anybody else understanding what "I" am going through. And, in my own craftily composed experience of self-curvature, compassion is almost always the first and worst casualty of the holding onto hurt mentality.

In Matthew 9:35-38 we read that "Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest..."

Now there are many things that strike me about this passage, but one in particular leads me back to Bono's bothering line about my own lack of compassion stemming from the holding onto hurt attitude. And the thing that really busts me in the bowels here is that Jesus is talking, at least in large part, about reaping a harvest of compassion so plentiful that there aren't enough workers to bundle it all up and get it to market! Not only that, but he's making this statement right after another tiresome and especially vicious harangue from the religious leaders of his day. A harangue that would have given him a far better reason to hide behind the hurt than I've ever found. But instead of getting tripped up by their empty self-referential ego rhetoric, Jesus seizes the opportunity to tell his disciples about a harvest that is rooted and established in compassion, in the constant striving to put one's own personal feelings to the side for the sake of moving vibrantly toward others, particularly those who are in the greatest need. And this makes me wonder if one of the biggest struggles that we face as the people of God in America is a lack of opportunities to meaningfully reap this harvest of compassion, to be involved in the lives of other people in a way that makes lasting change happen? How different would the church look if more of its witness for Christ was expressed in people making gut wrenching sacrifices for the sake of moving in compassion toward other people, especially people who are different from us and make us feel uncomfortable (the people from whom we probably have the most to learn!)?

Lastly,in an I-should-have-expected-it cosmic turn of events, I found out that the verb that is used in the above passage (and many others) for compassion, comes from the greek word splancha , which basically means the "inner" parts or "viscera" of one's body. Hence, I now know why Bono's words have always hit me right in the gut, since they literally strike at the core of what it means to have compassion. It is a grinding, often unpleasant, acid reflux producing, churning in the stomach, is compassion, and Jesus calls us to go and reap a harvest of it, which harvest he has planted and expertly cultivated by showing us how to love one another.

So, in the words of a great Steve Vai tune, may we ".....Let the might of (y)our compassion arise to bring a swift end to the flowing stream of the blood and tears....."


geoff said...

another gem, william. thanks. i was browsing a book recently called "Compassion" (by McNeill, Morrison, and Nouwen - yes, Henri). They suggest the latin root of compassion means "to suffer with" (from the words pati and cum). i am also inclined to "self-curvature" and have some very well rehearsed scripts that keep me at centre stage. thanks for stepping into my drama and reminding me about the healing-nourishment that comes when we lean into the world of those around us with Christ's compassion. thanks also for your encouraging words yesterday. they were timely and gracious.

billy said...

I love the image that you used of "leaning" into someone else's life with the compassion of Christ. If only we could think more often in category's that are so deeply embedded in metaphors of embracing or reaching out to each other with gestures of affection. In my opinion, using images like this really have a way of keeping our dialogue grounded in our shared humanity, and make it much harder to objectify or attempt to aggressively conquer other people and their viewpoints/perspectives. I've noticed elsewhere on the blog a discussion of David Abrams book the Spell of the Sensuous, and your use of the image of "leaning" reminds me of the spirit of what I felt Abrams was trying to say in the book. Granted, there are indeed problems with his perspective from a Christian worldview, but I think its still a wonderful and inspiring book. His attempt to show how language is ultimately rooted in our relationship with the natural world (whether or not we choose to accept this) and should not be unduly abstracted from it, seems to me to echo what I heard you saying when you used this visually compelling image. At any rate, thanks for being a great friend and brother-we've chewed a lot of dirt together, and I'm forever grateful for your companionship