The St. William Mandala of Justice with Compassion evolved from the meditation of Marcy Allman, a parish member and co-facilitator with Lois Luckett of the parish Committee on Compassion. Her design and its explanation are featured on the back cover. The Mandala is being used as a working model to help the parish remain faithful to its 10-year commitment to grow in compassion and to become a more deeply compassionate force in the larger community. The artistic rendering on the front cover was created by committee member Michael Whiting for this publication. Other members of the original group were Anne Walter, Sharan Benton, Ellen Buche, Sharon Cooke, Jim Luckett and Ryan Renoud.
Marcy also edited the following summary and reflection on Karen Armstrong's TWELVE STEPS TO A COMPASSIONATE LIFE, which the group studied to begin its exploration of the question, "What would it mean for St. William to grow in its compassion as a faith community?"
The articles originally ran as a monthly series in the Sunday parish bulletin, and were accompanied by an invitation to read and reflect on their implications, both personally and for the community. We extend this same invitation to our readers, and have left blank spaces for personal application. We also encourage the reading of Karen Armstrong's full text.
The Committee is grateful to Mickey Scheetz for her invaluable assistance with editing and format. September, 2015, Louisville, KY
Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life
By Karen Armstrong
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
TWELVE STEPS TO A COMPASSIONATE LIFE
by Karen Armstrong
Summary and Reflections offered by St. William Committee on Compassion
Introduction to the Series
Like an intriguing, colorful nest of matroyshka dolls, St. William Church sits as a compassionate congregation within a compassionate city, within an international movement toward a compassionate world, a model which springs from Karen Armstrong's wish for a better world. In November 2007 she won a TED grant worth $100,000 to pursue an "idea worth spreading."
Ms. Armstrong perceives a chief task of our era to build a global community of mutual respect, and observes that religion is more often an obstacle than an aid to this end. As a renowned scholar of world religions, she recognizes a common thread among us, the recognition of compassion at the heart of a true spirituality, which brings one into relationship with a transcendent reality and is lived according to some variation of a "golden rule."
Having gathered the wisdom of thousands of people around the world through a multi-lingual website, a Council of Conscience comprised of leaders of six major faith traditions met in Switzerland in February 2009 to compose the final version of a CHARTER ON COMPASSION, which was launched that November. The following year Armstrong published Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, a book recommended to our parish for personal and small group study.
St. William parish leadership drafted a statement in 2013 and formed a committee to study and promote a ten-year process of becoming a more compassionate community of faith. On March 9, 2014 a Parish Assembly focused on our Commitment Statement, to be approved and signed by the community on Pentecost Sunday, June 8, 2014.
These articles were first presented by the Committee on Compassion, as a monthly series printed on the back page of the Sunday bulletin 2014-2105. The intent was to inform and involve the parish in ongoing reflection and action to pursue our 10-year commitment by "examining our structures, our current ministry and our future plans to become a more deeply compassionate force in our city." (from the St. William Statement of Commitment.) It is now available in this format for review by parishioners, for new members and for visitors.
Whereas the Sacred Scriptures teach of a God who is merciful, compassionate, ever-present, and cares for all people and all creation as God’s children;
Whereas Jesus and the Gospel call us to care for the widow, orphan and stranger, the imprisoned, the hungry and naked,
indeed for all the anawimof God (the “least of these”);
Whereas we choose to live simply in a complex world, committed to the healing of our global home, and believe that God continues to create the Universe in the present moment and calls us to be life-giving and reverent participants in the ongoing experience of creation;
Whereas the Catholic Christian tradition has nearly two thousand years of striving to live these values in our world;
Whereas St. William has a long history of outreach in accordance with our Mission Statement:
St. William is a peacemaking community of faith,
inspired by our rich tradition of peace and justice,
and empowered by our joyful celebration of Word and Sacrament.
In that spirit, we continue to be voices that challenge
one another, our church and our world.
We commit ourselves and our resources to serve the poor and oppressed
far and near and to eliminate the causes of violence and injustice.
We open our hearts and our doors to all people
and hold in high esteem God’s creative diversity.
Whereas the St. William parishioners have created outreach ministries that respond to the needs of the elders, poorly-housed,people with inadequate income, developing world artisans through Fair Trade, farmers and families in Nicaragua, young people, and inmates and have stood up for peace and against wars, and undertaken many other advocacy processes;
Whereas our members study the peacemaking and nonviolent efforts of Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Thomas Merton and many more, in order to become nonviolent peacemakers ourselves;
Whereas we humbly recognize our need to transform our own language and actions that are not always non-violent, inclusive and just;
Therefore, we declare St. William to be a Compassionate Congregation, as a part of the Compassionate Louisville movement, and commit to a ten-year process of examining our structures, current ministries, and future plans in order to become a more deeply compassionate force in our city.
1226 West Oak Street, Louisville Kentucky 40210, Phone 502.635.6307, www.stwilliamchurch.org
THE FIRST STEP
Learn about Compassion
Karen Armstrong states that the purpose of this program for deepening compassion is "to bring forth the compassion that exists potentially in every human being so that it can be a healing force in our own lives and our world." This may depend on "retraining our responses and forming mental habits that are kinder, gentler, and less fearful of others."
As a scholar of world religions, Armstrong extends an invitation to explore the history and wisdom of many faith traditions and the particular place of compassion in their teachings. She specifically focuses on the Golden Rule as expressed in each one, which served as common ground for the Charter of Compassion. While acquainting the reader with various perspectives, she also emphasizes the value of reviewing one's own tradition for familiarity and resonance. In all cases, she describes the compassionate imperative as one of Love in Action.
Recognizing the power of primitive instinctual reflexes, sages in many places and eras understood that it was possible to re-orient the mind by putting a distance between thinking and instinct in order to find peace. In each instance they were living in societies that were witnessing "intense political conflict and fundamental change," much like our own times. "...in every case the catalyst for major spiritual change was a principled revulsion from the violence that had reached unprecedented heights as a result of this upheaval."
During what may be called the "Axial Age," (900-200 BCE) a "religious revolution" occurred in four regions of the world. Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism emerged on the Indian sub-continent. Although leaders of spiritual and psychological transformation, they were also aggressive warrior peoples until the sages began to separate violence from ritual and espouse the ideal of ahimsa (non-violence, doing no harm). They "explored the complexity of the mind, discovered the unconscious long before Jung and Freud... (and) above all, were bent on finding the atman or true 'self,' where they might find unity with 'the All’."
After studying under many teachers, Siddhartha Gotama, the future Buddha, shifted his emphasis from trying to quench his humanity to cultivating the emotions that brought release of the mind--compassion, joy and gratitude. He strove not only to overcome violent impulses, but to encourage loving kindness; more than to avoid lying, but also to speak in a reasoned, clear and accurate manner; and beyond resisting theft, to gain freedom and pleasure from living simply. His meditation practice led him away from the constrictions of selfishness toward an expansive concern for all other beings. "The Buddha's crucial insight was that to live morally was to live for others." In China, rather than focusing on the psychology of compassion, the sages concerned themselves with its implications in the social and political realms. Confucius revived ancient rites "as a means of controlling egotism and cultivating compassion."
These had previously been applied as a remedy for the extravagance and destruction of nature by the nobles, but the virtue of self-restraint was giving way to a new market economy and to "the aggressive pursuit of luxury wealth and power," often by violent means.
Confucius believed that restoring the family practices which taught honor and respect for the dignity of every human would apply equally to political life. "Do not do to others what you would not like yourself" eliminates feelings of opposition in the public sphere. If leaders behaved toward one another and their states in this way, war would be eliminated; the Golden Rule would make it impossible to invade someone else's territory. Working for the welfare of the people while laying aside self-interest would provide a more compassionate model of leadership in the world.
Confucius taught practices to be applied "all day, every day" that offered the opportunity to transcend self and to experience the sacred dimension of life, within and without, i.e., immanent and transcendent. Confucius died with a sense of failure as he watched China descend into the epoch of the Warring States, wherein the passions of the old brain were married to the new technology in an unprecedented level of violence, even toward the elderly, women and children.
All three monotheistic religions which emerged in the Middle East stressed the importance of compassion, as they faced periods of warfare and economic exploitation. Yet, none was pacifist, allowing war in self-defense. "After the destruction of the Temple (in 70 CE), only two of these (Jewish) sects survived--the Jesus movement and Pharisaism.”
The rabbis of the new Talmudic age transformed Judaism into a religion of the book, adding new scriptures to the study of the Torah over the next several centuries. "Compassion was central to their vision," summarized in this way by Rabbi Hillel, "What is hateful to yourself do not do to your fellow man (sic). That is the whole of the Torah and the remaining is but commentary. Go study it." Although other beliefs and practices were still considered important, selfless concern for others, expressed in specific action, was central to any viable spirituality. Love of neighbor was understood to include the whole human race, not just the tribe.
By now the resonance with Christian teaching is clear, expressed throughout the scriptures, as in the Beatitudes; in the great commandment of love, announced by Jesus; in Paul's letter to the Corinthians; and by theologians such as St. Augustine, "who insisted that scripture taught nothing by charity."
The Prophet Muhammad was born when tribal warfare had reached a level of chronic retaliation, but his tribe had begun to establish a commercial economy that depended upon trade with other tribes. They established Mecca as a sanctuary where violence was forbidden, allowing any Arabs to trade without fear. However, the desire for wealth began to corrupt the value of protecting weaker members of the tribe. Muhammad "articulated a compassionate ethos to counter its aggressive capitalism.... Not one of you can be a believer unless he (sic) desires for his neighbor what he desires for himself." The Qu'ran proposed patience, mercy and forbearance, remaining calm and not hitting back if struck; care of the poor, disadvantaged, orphan and widow, even if hungry oneself; and behavior that was always gentle and courteous...walking gently on the earth, and replying "peace," even when insulted.
As we attempt this First Step, to "Learn about Compassion," we can appreciate the contribution that other traditions have made throughout history and let go of preconceptions that have allowed us to consider them as "other." We can also see that the pursuit of compassion transcends time and place, a challenge in a new way for each age.
THE SECOND STEP
Look at Your Own World
In the second step to a compassionate life, Karen Armstrong invites us to "read the signs of the times," as St. John XXIII also urged, but in light of the great teachings of the past. First, she suggests that, like most major prophets and teachers before us, we take ourselves (mentally) to a desert place or mountain top to gain perspective.We are to avoid the zeal of the reformer and observe our communities with compassion, noticing strengths, weaknesses and potential for change.
Since ancient times, the family has been understood as the first school, the crucible in which we face lessons of love and selfishness, compassion and forgiveness on a daily basis. An honest assessment of each one's family experience, past and present, is a necessary starting point. What are the signs of strength and resilience? What matters still need forgiveness or reconciliation? Is anyone excluded from the circle? Are decisions and responsibilities shared equitably? Do all members in need receive compassionate care?
Next, consider the workplace, if it is other than the home. To what extent does the Golden Rule guide policies and procedures? Are workers treated with respect, dignity and fairness or merely viewed in terms of the bottom line? Is any consideration given to impacts on local environment and social issues or to global concerns?
In our nation, in both domestic and foreign policy, how are we striving to make the world "a more just, fair, safe and peaceful place"? And "what would a compassionate modern nation-state look like?" To what extent do we follow the wisdom of Confucius, that in political life we should seek to establish ourselves and others?
Armstrong urges a dispassionate examination of all institutions in light of an ethic of compassion. In government, to assess social and penal systems, health care and environment; in finance, to acknowledge the effect of greed and inequity; in relation to people outside our borders, examine remnants of tribalism, territorialism or fear of "outsiders."
In education, we need to consider the methods and resources that are forming our children by assessing them in terms of inclusion of people across the socioeconomic spectrum, with honesty about historical incidents or patterns that may have created inequities. The atmosphere in which children learn is also significant, where safety, respect and caring guide effective policies for order and cooperation.
Armstrong cautions her readers not to be overwhelmed by this process of observation and assessment, but to join with others in fruitful discussion in order to make thoughtful decisions about how each person can use his or her own gifts and talents to effect some positive change, however small, believing that "every man or woman in the street can become a force for good in the world."
THE THIRD STEP
Compassion for Self
Rabbi Albert Friedlander recalls that he learned to love himself as a young child in Nazi Germany. By about the age of eight years, he realized that he must not accept the anti-Semitic propaganda which surrounded him. He concentrated on his good qualities and vowed to himself that he would use them to build a better world. He had intuited the wisdom of the commandment in Leviticus to "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Yet, very few people have had religious instruction that developed this idea or taught how to cultivate self-love. In societies that emphasize success there is little acceptance of shortcomings and failures, which can feed self-dissatisfaction. In colonized countries, and where slavery exists, people internalize the negative images visited upon them by the ruling classes.
"The Golden Rule requires self-knowledge; it asks that we use our own feelings as a guide to our behavior with others. If we treat ourselves harshly, this is the way we are likely to treat other people. So we need to acquire a healthier and more balanced knowledge of our strengths as well as our weaknesses." As Rabbi Friedlander did, each person may begin by making a list of qualities, talents and
achievements, and then recognize flaws with equanimity and humor.
While it is equally important to take responsibility for misdeeds, it is also helpful to understand that many missteps are driven by feelings lodged in the reptilian brain, particularly fear. Working for higher awareness through practices of meditation and mindfulness can prevent old automatic responses and provide opportunities to develop more effective ones. Dealing with one's own fears and patterns can lead to greater compassion for self and others.
A balanced view of self and others recognizes the impact of genetic, familial, educational and environmental factors, which are inherited rather than chosen. Acknowledging that there are also hidden aspects of the personality can prevent unfair judgment of self or projection onto others of less desirable traits. Collectively Jews, Christians and Muslims have at different times in history accused one another of atrocities and persecutions which they themselves had perpetrated.
Shining a light into the darkness of such delusion frees individuals and groups to comprehend the commonality of human suffering and grief.
"In Buddhism, compassion is defined as a determination to liberate others from their grief," which must be preceded by admission of one's own pain. The trend to emphasize only positive thoughts needs to be balanced by the willingness to shed tears. The following practice might help:
"During this step, look back on the events that have caused you distress in the past: death of a beloved person; loneliness; fear; rejection; betrayal, the unkind word; failure.... Inhabit those moments fully and then send a message of sympathy to your former self...not to wallow in self-pity...but to feel empathy for others."
Step Three also suggests a perspective that recognizes the impermanence of all things, whether joyful or sorrowful. Being able to see the incompleteness in each situation, the silver lining in each cloud, or the disappointment that can accompany most blessings, can prevent envy of others on the one hand, and frustrated expectations on the other. Although suffering is common to the human experience, much of it can be prevented or lessened by realistic expectations, a healthy sense of self and a genuine concern for others.
An invitation to a form of meditation is offered as a means of discipline that helps take greater control of one's mind and channel destructive impulses creatively. It can be practiced sitting, walking or during other daily activities, and begins by simply imaging feelings of love, friendship and compassion.
"When your mind is filled with love, send it in one direction, then a second, a third and a fourth, then above, then below. Identify with everything without hatred, resentment, anger or enmity. This mind of love is very wide. It grows immeasurably and eventually is able to embrace the whole world." (Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love.)
A regular practice such as this offers freedom from hostility and fear, thus expanding the capacity to love self and others, particularly when the same loving regard is extended to oneself. It begins with the warmth of friendship toward self; then remembers past suffering, inflicted by self or others, and responds with compassion for self; surfaces the capacity for joy and simple pleasure; and then gazes upon the self with non-attachment, recognizing both talents and failings, like all other beings. "It is only in the context of a kinder attitude toward ourselves that we can consider the importance of transcending the ego." Most religions agree that compassion depends on putting the self in its proper place, recognizing others' interests, concerns and sufferings, alongside our own.
Armstrong quotes St. Paul's familiar teaching on Love (Cor. 12: 4-7) to demonstrate the need for self-restraint. (Editor's note: this passage can be applied on a deep personal level by substituting the word "I" for "love" throughout.) (I am) patient and kind; (I am) never jealous; (I am) never boastful or conceited; (I am) never rude or selfish; (I) do not take offence, and (I am) not resentful. (I) take no pleasure in other people's wrongdoing but delight in truth; (I) am always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes. Free of self-
destructive emotion, one is more able to become a fulfilled and mature human being.
Setting the self aside takes courage, yet with commitment to lifelong practice, can bring great joy and freedom.
THE FOURTH STEP
Empathy begins in recognizing the reality of suffering in the world, rather than denying or avoiding it. At age 29 when the Buddha was confronted for the first time with the specter of suffering and death, he left his protected environment to help bring serenity, creativity and kindness to the sorrow of others.
While Western Christianity teaches that the crucified Christ represents atonement(not held by the Greek Orthodox Church), Peter Abelard (12th c.) suggests an alternative understanding, that gazing upon the crucified Christ allows one's heart to be broken in sympathy, which is the root of the interior compassion and instinctive empathy that are redemptive.
In ancient Greece, citizens came to watch the tragedies "in order to weep together, convinced that the sharing of grief strengthened the bond of citizenship and reminded each member of the audience that (s/he) was not alone in personal sorrow." Aeschylus, in fact, portrayed suffering as not only inherent in human experience, but also essential for wisdom. His play Eumenides reveals the passage of humankind from brutality to civilization by way of the rational process of law, rather than instinctive drive. Euripides subsequently demonstrated that reason not tempered by compassion and empathy can lead to a moral void in which inhuman acts can be "logically" rationalized. Later, Aristotle claimed that rational powers were essential for the detachment needed to look beyond one's own self interest and view tragedy with empathy.
Armstrong thus situates her exploration of empathy in historical and cultural context, and emphasizes the roles that art and literature can play in expressing and cultivating compassion, particularly in developing the imagination needed to open oneself to the pain of another and to question preconceptions or prejudices.
Turning to the east, she finds that the Tibetan term for willingness to grieve with others is translated as "the inability to bear the sight of another's sorrow." "It is this," the Dalai Lama explains, "that compels us not to shut our eyes even when we want to ignore another's distress."
Remembering one's own suffering with clarity and compassion for self provides another window into empathy for others. The desire to prevent others from experiencing the pain one has suffered, or to relieve its consequences, has driven countless acts of intervention, service and care.
The chapter closes with a specific meditation practice designed to increase the quality of equanimity that enables one to relate to people impartially. Imagine directing "the four immeasurables" toward yourself -- friendship, compassion, joy and even-mindedness. Sit with that intention until you are aware of its effect on you. Now choose three distinct persons in your life--one to whom you are close; another to whom you remain quite neutral; and a third whom you find difficult to like. One at a time, call them into your awareness by name, and picture them sitting with you. Imagine their qualities, their contributions to your life; consider their sources of pain or suffering, known or unknown.
As you did for yourself, direct toward each your friendship, compassion, joy and even-mindedness. Desire that they may be free of pain and be willing to aid them in this quest. Recognize that you and they have faults as well as qualities. Notice if your attitude has shifted regarding any of them, thus moving you toward greater impartiality. Resolve to find a small concrete act of friendship or compassion that you may extend to one of the three people you have considered, or to someone else who crosses your path. Be patient with yourself, simply returning to this practice occasionally to see if a space has opened for a new perspective. Afterwards, notice if you have a different level of empathy for the failings and sufferings of others.
THE FIFTH STEP
"The purpose of mindfulness, one of the practices that brought the Buddha to enlightenment, is to help us to detach ourselves from the ego by observing the way our minds work...Mindfulness is a form of meditation that we perform as we go about our daily lives, and is designed to give us more control over our minds so that we can reverse ingrained tendencies and cultivate new ones."
By taking a step back we are able to observe ourselves with an enhanced awareness of feelings, behaviors and interactions with others. This practice is not meant to increase self-consciousness, scrupulosity or guilt, but rather needs to be undertaken with kindness, patience and detachment. Becoming one's own witness or observer provides an opportunity to notice primitive emotions and automatic patterns of response, in order to change them if they are not effective or life-giving.
Through mindfulness practice, it becomes apparent that much suffering is rooted in feelings such as anger, resentment or envy, and is therefore caused by ourselves rather than others. If self-centeredness increases, one's perspective shrinks; then both compassion and creativity diminish as well.
Growing awareness can also expose the nature of acquisitiveness. As each desire is satisfied a new one arises; resulting in a perpetual sense of disappointment or frustration. A calm, dispassionate assessment of this vicious cycle can expose the transience of desire, and the accompanying impatience with those who seem to be "in the way" of acquiring what is wanted.
Seen in the most mundane daily activities such as driving or shopping, the enhanced self-awareness of impatience or reactivity can help one become more tolerant and less judgmental. Thus, clear and honest self-acceptance opens the way to greater compassion and acceptance of others. This mindfulness practice resonates also with Jesus' command to love others as ourselves.
Mindfulness reveals that the cause of much human suffering comes from within, and therefore can be relieved by changing old patterns. It does not need to be a source of regret about the past, or of anxiety for the future. Instead, by helping us to live in the present, mindfulness can provide a strong grounding for action that is timely and appropriate. With each new insight or level of awareness, we have the opportunity for growth in freedom and compassion, and thus can discern a wider range of options.
THE SIXTH STEP
There are in our existence spots of time,
That with distinct pre-eminence retain
A renovating virtue, whence, depressed
By false opinion and contentious thought,
Or aught of heavier or more deadly weight,
In trivial occupations, and the round
Of ordinary intercourse, our minds
Are nourished and invisibly repaired.
With this poem as setting, the author introduces Step Six by telling a detailed story from her own life, when a small act of kindness provided encouragement and comfort during a particularly difficult period. This "spot of time" has continued to buoy her up at bleak moments over the years. In quoting William Wordsworth she emphasized that every action, however small, whether kind or unkind, may take on greater proportions in another's life than were ever intended or foreseen. With this in mind the Mindfulness practice described in the previous step, can guide one in offering each statement and each action with an intention to increase the goodness and kindness in our world "all day and every day." (Confuscius)
Practicing Mindfulness draws one out of a self-focus and into a more sensitive awareness of others. An antidote to selfishness, this practice can help to "step outside oneself" in order to let go of old habits and form new thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Grounded in genuine humility and self-care, Mindfulness can gradually lead to "the permanent selflessness of a Buddha or a sage." Neither sentiment nor doctrine, this is a method which requires practice. By this means, across centuries and cultures, people have found a fuller sense of existence and connection. (Editor’s note: in Field of Compassion, another book studied by small groups at St. William, this practice is described as becoming one's own "witness," seeing the self as both subject and object, thus leading to a healthy level of detachment or objectivity.)
Although anyone can achieve this level of awareness, it is a slow and gradual process over a lifetime. The author suggests a three-step daily approach:
"First, make a resolution to act once in every day in accordance with the positive version of the Golden Rule, 'treat others as you wish to be treated yourself’ and...look for an opportunity to create spots of time in somebody's life.” (Editor’s note: at some point you may also like to consider what some refer to as the "Platinum Rule" whereby you look for ways to treat others as they would like to be treated, with heightened sensitivity to their different preferences.
"Second, resolve each day to fulfill the negative version of the Golden Rule, 'do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you.' Each time you succeed in avoiding a hurtful word or action you will experience an ekstasis, a transcendence of the ego.
"Third, make an effort once a day to change your thought patterns: turn negative energy in a more kindly direction...(replace) resentment with gratitude...and see in your own hurt or anger" the suffering that may underlie another's unkindness.
At the end of the day it is valuable to review your resolution, seeing grace in the moments of fulfillment, with compassion for the times when you missed the mark, and gratitude for your increased awareness. When the three steps have become habitual, you may "up your game," aiming for two, then three, etc., until you gradually ease into a new way of being present within yourself and with others, and of taking action from this more centered stance.
THE SEVENTH STEP
How Little We Know
In Step Seven Karen Armstrong describes a practice she began early in her career as a religious historian, based on "a science of compassion." Her research showed that the validity of her work would depend on her ability to enter "in a scholarly, empathetic way into the historical period" she was studying. Each day as she worked at her desk she would practice setting aside her twentieth century knowledge and mindset in order to enter into the viewpoint of a different time and place, stretching herself until she could imagine thinking, believing and acting like the people of the era in question. She was gradually learning "to make place for the other."
As this attitude of empathy became habitual her concept of religion changed dramatically, and her realization that in personal relationships, it is rare to consciously "make place for the other." Recognizing Western culture as highly invested in knowledge and opinion, she came to see the obstacle this attitude poses to true understanding and compassion. With an emphasis on science and technology, modern culture can easily lapse into the illusion that ultimate knowledge is within human grasp. Yet, some of the wisest scientists have discovered the value of "unknowing," which previously had remained more in the realm of philosophy.
Typically Armstrong takes a trip back through history to recapture the ancient wisdom which underlies modern progress. While the scientific method follows a process of proving and disproving theories and continually exploring new ground, philosophy continues to pose the same perennial questions to be pondered by each generation in the context of its contemporary challenges. Religion, also, when it does not become too dogmatic, serves the valuable purpose of asking the deeper questions and holding the seeker in a state of wonder about what can and cannot be known.
A respectful regard for the limits of human knowledge has existed within the Western rational tradition since Socrates proclaimed that the only way he could be considered wise was to know that he knew nothing. Through dialogue he led people to see the level of their ignorance and to understand that wisdom is not about accumulating information in order to reach immutable conclusions. He and his followers found that it was only when they were stretched beyond their own intellectual limits that they caught a spark of illumination. Yet, in America today the glut of talk shows, phone-ins, blogs, etc., has unleashed a flood of opinions, often flowing from a drought of knowledge.
Socratic dialogue was engaged not only to subject opinion to rigorous scrutiny, but also to create a more authentic self, interrogating one's deepest beliefs to avoid living a "superficial, unexamined life." Concurrently in China
Zhungzai led his followers into doubt and uncertainty in order to let go of preconceived ideas. He particularly cautioned against an egotism which leads to identifying with one opinion over another, and attempting to change others to that point of view. He created a story about a teacher and disciple to illustrate the need to let go of what is known, to show that advancement in practice results in the abandonment of understanding, so that one might transform by “sitting quietly and forgetting.” Zhuangzi encouraged what he called "Great Knowledge," which is "broad and unhurried.” (Editor’s note: contrast to today's apparent value of superficial and quick)
As unenlightened persons we will "cling to our certainties, likes and dislikes, deeming them essential to the sense of self (and) alienating ourselves from the great transformation' of the Way, because the reality is that we are all in continual flux, moving from one state to another." By "sitting quietly and forgetting" oneself, by setting aside prejudices, opinions, needs and desires, it becomes more possible to be truly present to another, to see the mystery of the individual and to act as a mirror.
In the scientific realm the certainties of the Newtonian system were exploded by quantum mechanics, which "unveiled the universe as indeterminate and unknowable." Physicists have embraced this "unknowing," expressing a sense of awe and wonder in contemplating the vastness of the universe and the role that humans can play in discovering ever new aspects of it.
The wonder and transcendence of the human being has been a thread woven throughout history, in most religions, and in such movements as Renaissance humanism. A profound respect for the mystery of each person ought to prevent the presumption of knowledge of another's motives, intentions and desires, to the extent of seeing a certain 'sacrilege' in attempting to manipulate or use others for one's own agendas.
"The aim of this step is threefold: to recognize and appreciate the unknown and the unknowable; to become sensitive to overconfident assertions of certainty in ourselves and other people; and to make ourselves aware of the numinous mystery of each human being we encounter."
TO PRACTICE: first, call to mind experiences that touch you deeply and carry you beyond yourself. Spend a little time in contemplation and notice how difficult it is to put this encounter into words. Second, observe the "aggressive certainty" of many conversations. Consider how hard it is to hear someone erroneously pontificate about an area of your expertise. Notice if you are guilty of similar assertive inaccuracies. Can you say "I don't know"? Third, ponder how you are different from others. Delve down into your deeper, essential self; recognize your own complexity, and the difficulty of trying to know and be true to yourself. Notice your own contradictions, and then take a step toward giving up the illusion that you can talk knowingly about someone else. Sit quietly and forget what you thought you knew about yourself or another. Open your mind and heart to be in the presence of mystery, "blending away into the great transformation."
THE EIGHTH STEP
How Should We Speak to One Another?
This chapter was pivotal for the Committee on Compassion. We saw it as an essential intersection of theory and practice, and an element which we could directly address as a parish. In planning and preparing two assemblies for the parish we leaned heavily on Armstrong's ideas about communication methods, and in particular her challenge to us to set aside our own preconceived notions, to listen deeply, to be open to hearing something new and to prepare ourselves to be changed. In striving to be a more compassionate community of faith we have many opportunities to hone these skills.
Once again our author provides rich historical background, in this case revealing that our contemporary style of aggressive discourse is rooted in ancient Greece. Debate was an important sport of the day, wherein citizens learned to present arguments against opponents, by discrediting them and their positions in order to win. Socrates came to dislike these methods and offered instead a form of dialogue between friends, who were willing to "answer in a manner more gentle and more proper to discussion." Socratic dialogue was considered a spiritual exercise designed to help participants discover their profound ignorance and prepare to be profoundly changed. "There was no way anybody could win"!
Plato considered his teacher's method a communal meditation requiring hard work rooted in kindness and compassion, designed to "make room for the other," never pushing another into a position of discomfort or conflict, and always open to yielding to the other.
In China Confucius also espoused friendly interaction, which he deemed necessary to maturity. Cooperation depended upon a "softness and pliability," rather than rigidity, in a spirit of "cohumanity." Likewise the Buddha taught kindness and courtesy, in contrast to the "chronically quarrelsome" nature of the royal court. He believed that knowledge was a process of self-discovery, a search for truth within, not dependent upon "hearsay or taking truth on trust."
Armstrong observes the contrast to contemporary dialogue, which is by nature competitive, not so much focused on seeking truth as defeating, even humiliating an opponent, with malice often intended. Few can admit to doubt or error, or to the possibility of the opponent having a valid viewpoint. This aggressive stance cannot lead to creative solutions or to transformation, but serves only to more deeply entrench existing rigidity and bitterness. It is a consequence of over-identifying with one's ideas and feeling personally attacked if any opinion differs. The Buddha instead recommended starting where the other person is, allowing oneself to imagine and sympathize with the other perspective, and then seeking mutual understanding.
Four questions can help guide an attempt to establish more compassionate speech:
* is our goal "to win the argument or seek the truth?"
* are we ready to change our views if the evidence is sufficiently compelling?
* do we "make a place" for the other"?
* are we really LISTENING?
True listening requires an alertness not only to the words spoken, but also to the unspoken message. For example, if there are angry words, what might account for the pain behind them? What do body language and tone of voice convey? What might explain underlying intentions or emotions?
"Language is based on trust." The starting point for successful communication is the mutual assumption that the other is speaking the truth as he or she understands it. Looking for a context in which a statement makes sense follows what linguists call the "principle of charity," which stands in stark contrast to picking apart another's statement, using it partially or out of context to bolster one's own argument. The burden of finding "truth and reason" in the position of the other falls upon the dedicated listener whose goal is understanding.
"The 'principle of charity' and the 'science of compassion' are both crucial to understanding discourse and ideas that initially seem baffling, distressing and alien." Re-creating the entire context of the speech and then pushing oneself to understand what is meant allows for the empathy needed to "make place for the other." According to Armstrong, it is an "ethically problematic position" to ignore the "compassionate imperative" to strive to understand others.
However, she does allow that at times integrity would require one to be assertive, resisting passivity or indifference in the face of injustice, discrimination or cruelty. The challenge is to assert a clear opinion with understanding and compassion, rather than hatred and contempt. St. Paul's familiar description of the elements of love as Christ lived it offer a guide.
In more recent times, Gandhi modeled a method of "compassionate assertiveness" in advocating nonviolent resistance aimed to change rather than punish. He interpreted Jesus' "turning the other cheek" as courage in the face of hostility, a means to transform hatred and contempt into respect, without complying with injustice.
In practicing Step Eight, awareness of one's own communication patterns is an essential starting point, often rooted in the family of origin. What was the style of communication in your childhood home? Which patterns or habits have you continued or changed? Do you place greater value placed on cooperation or competition? Do you listen with care? Do you make your own points with kindness or cruelty? Do these "points" further the goal of mutual understanding or widen a gap? Are you honestly open to learning something new or changing your mind?
THE NINTH STEP
CONCERN FOR EVERYBODY
Having identified the essential elements of a compassionate way of living, Karen Armstrong broadens the field of application. For, if this virtue only applies to one's family, tribe or religious community, then the other can become the enemy and great harm will ensue. "Concern for everybody" unequivocally acknowledges the inherent equality of all human beings and undergirds the well-being of humanity. As a global community, with an evolving understanding of the interconnectedness of all beings, humankind can no longer survive a chauvinism which considers one's own group as superior to all others.
With historical perspective, Armstrong concedes that tribalism meant survival in inhospitable circumstances and lauds the great political achievement of the Prophet Muhammad when he called his followers to recognize pluralism and diversity as God's will. The twentieth century demonstrates that our global society cannot survive war, genocide and terrorism. "We have a duty to get to know one another, and to cultivate a concern and responsibility for all our neighbors in the global village."
The Dalai Lama notes that any advantage of winning in the past ceases to apply in an interconnected world where harm to another or to our planet will only serve to increase one's own suffering. (Editor’s note: Martin Luther King Jr. preached that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere;" demonstrators against apartheid in South Africa chanted, "an injury to one is an injury to all;" and national boundaries are becoming irrelevant, rather an illusion, now that we have viewed the Big Blue Marble from space!)
Yet, alongside this increasing awareness of the oneness of all creation, there is a growing fear-based reaction which is taking the form of entrenched religious orthodoxy, ideological rigidness, misguided patriotism, and terrorism. For the first time in history, all levels of development and "modernization" are exposed by mass communication, resulting in clashes of various intensities. "Somehow we have to find a more mature and compassionate way of negotiating these conflicts." (Emphasis added) While there must be new solutions for this new age, ancient wisdom from the sacred literature of many traditions may guide us. Around 1400 BCE, the Hebrews were instructed, "If a stranger lives in your land, do not molest him. You must count him as one of your own countrymen and love him as yourself--for you were once strangers yourselves in Egypt." (Lev. 19:18)
Immigration has become a lightning rod for much fear and defensiveness in many countries. Former colonial nations ought to remember the damage they did to the cultures they overran; immigrants can bring an openness and sensitivity to the values of their new land; and both groups have much to learn by listening deeply in order to "make place for the other."
Armstrong invites the reader to apply the insights from several steps for self-reflection and small group discussion regarding issues identified in Step 9:
How often do you hear “the principle of charity” at work, versus the “me-first” attitude of the old brain?
Notice if you become “puffed up” with righteous aggression, anger, disgust or a desire to wound when a “tribal feeling” is stirred within you?
When you or your friends are critical of another nation...make a list of what you know for certain (not from hearsay) about its history, culture and current circumstances.
Consider your source of international news. Are conflicts reported objectively and their background explained? Do you hear both sides of a dispute?
If you work in media or in education do you accept a responsibility to make sure that (you provide) accurate, balanced and respectful information about other peoples?
When you see violence reported, do you judge the anger and rage of the participants or wonder what distress has inspired these reactions, like the deprivation and despair of living in abject poverty, surrounded by violence?
Do you recognize the long-term affects that sustained injustice may have on a group of people? If they have learned to despise themselves or their occupiers, they may have difficulty cultivating respect.
We should ask how our own nation has contributed to problems (elsewhere) and realize that, in our global world, if we ignore the pain of other peoples, it is likely that at some point this negligence will rebound on us. Is there evidence that this is already happening?
To move from reflection and discussion into Mindfulness, Armstrong suggests a Buddhist exercise which helps internalize the interdependence to which we may be blind. Begin by walking around your home, and imagining all the people who provided materials and labor: timbers, bricks and plumbing; paint, fabrics and furniture. At breakfast consider those who grew and harvested coffee, tea, fruits, wheat or other grains. If you commute to work pay closer attention to all the engineers, skilled and unskilled laborers that built and maintain infrastructure. As you sit with this heightened awareness, give thanks for all the hard work, insights and achievements of others who have helped to shape your life. Gaining this broader view by “letting go of ’tribal egotism’ can become a spiritual practice.”
The story of Muhammad’s Night Journey also illustrates the surrender of both personal and tribal ego. When he travels to Jerusalem, the holy city of the Jews and Christians, he exemplifies transcendence of the tribal group for the sake of harmony and peace. “Once you have glimpsed the divine, all human-made distinctions disappear.”
THE TENTH STEP
The Tenth Step is short on content and long on application. Author Karen Armstrong combines the message of Step Seven, How Little We Know, with Step Nine's Concern for Everybody, to assign the challenge of increasing knowledge of another culture or religion. Admitting that we must rely to a great extent on "experts" in media and government, she also cautions that many of them are still stuck in a limiting and dangerous tribal worldview. Therefore, each of us has a moral obligation to make the effort to expand the knowledge and understanding of others, which might then call forth greater compassion.
Part one of the assignment is to examine our own myopic views of nation and religion. Through a meditation practice which helps move us toward greater impartiality and "even-mindedness," we can identify our blind spots and develop a broader perspective. "We are striving for an equability that can look at world problems without undue attachment to our national self-interest and that can transcend religious or cultural chauvinism in an appreciation of others."
Next, choose a foreign country or religious or cultural tradition that intrigues you, in order to activate or cultivate an interest in a "stranger." Occasionally read an article or book, watch a movie or listen to music about the stranger you have chosen, until it becomes a familiar presence to you. Ask what it is teaching you, which customs or methods may be more effective than yours, and what you or your culture have to offer in return?
Have fun with this exploration by enjoying the "stranger's" cuisine, following the favorite sport, learning songs or dance steps, celebrating a holiday or holyday or attending a religious service. Consider learning the language, sampling the poetry or literature (original or translation). (Editor’s note: you may wish to seek new friendships through local refugee services, cultural centers or the English Conversation Clubs of the Louisville Free Public Library.)
Learning the history that has brought a people into this time and place can expand one's understanding and compassion, particularly when sources tell the story from another perspective than that of U.S. interest. We need to be willing to go beyond sound-bites and stereotypes, in order to change our "private geography," our convenient but limited perceptions. We can expand our appreciation of the qualities and contributions of others throughout history, and become more forgiving of the flaws and mistakes of the past. (Editor’s note: we might also add an element of personal reflection by becoming more attuned to the costs and risks of our own ancestors who left so much behind in order to begin a new life. How does this open us to greater compassion for our contemporary refugees and immigrants?)
Finally, Armstrong urges what the Buddha called “a healthy distrust of hearsay.” She recommends engaging in a Socratic dialogue with oneself by choosing articles or books of opposite points of view, and seeing how one’s thinking may be altered. She offers an extensive bibliography from which to choose, with a strong emphasis on Islam and the Middle-East, since this area of the world has ascended to center stage in our current era. Step Ten ends with the suggestion to include this early Buddhist poem in one's spiritual practice:
Let all beings be happy! Weak or strong, of high, middle or low estate, small orgreat, visible or invisible, near or far away, alive or still to be born--May they all be perfectly happy!
Let nobody lie to anybody or despise any single being anywhere.
May nobody wish harm to any single creature out of anger or hatred! Let us cherish all creatures, as a mother her only child!
May our loving thoughts fill the whole world, above, below, across--without limit; our love will know no obstacles--a boundless goodwill toward the whole world, unrestricted, free of hatred or enmity.
Whether we are standing or walking, sitting or lying down, as long as we are awake we should cultivate this love in our hearts. This is the noblest way of living. (Sutta Nipata 1.18)
THE ELEVENTH STEP
The theme of RECOGNITION develops through the recounting of numerous stories across many ages and cultures, beginning with Christina Noble. She was a child of the streets of Dublin in the 1950's, neglected, abandoned, abused and raped. The baby conceived of that attack was taken from her; she left the country and had three other children by an abusive husband whom she eventually left.
Years later Christina had a powerful, disturbing dream of children running from a napalm bomb, beseeching her for help. She remembered having longed for just one person to see her suffering when she had been on the streets, and recognized that she had to be the one person who would help the destitute children of Vietnam. When she made her first visit there in 1989, two little girls caught her attention, but when one of them reached for her hand, she tried to withdraw. Once again she had a moment of RECOGNITION, seeing this girl as the child of her dream, and as no different from the desperate child she had been herself. She established an orphanage, a foundation and the Medical and Social Center of Ho Chi Minh City within two years of her first visit to Vietnam.
Armstrong connects this story with many of the steps she describes on the way to living a compassionate life-- cultivating a more empathetic outlook, responding at times to imagination rather than logic, and allowing one's own pain and suffering to unite with that of others. The Tibetan Buddhists describe this process as acquiring "the inability to bear the sight of another's sorrow." Yet in the age of mass communication, with its torrent of painful images, it takes courage and intention not to turn away, become overwhelmed, or retreat into one's own suffering. Instead, exposure to global suffering can offer an opportunity for spiritual growth and an insight into an appropriate response.
The following steps may provide a means of recognizing a personal connection with the suffering of others and finding a way to focus one's concern:
1) welcome the images and allow them room in your consciousness of "the other"
2) make the effort to exclude no one, to develop "concern for everybody"
3) if a particular image catches your attention, spend some time with it; recall it later
4) think of this image when you feel sorry for yourself, or when you feel grateful
5) begin to think of the person as a friend, making him or her a presence in your life
6) direct thoughts of loving kindness and compassion toward them in meditation
7) be open to an active response of some kind that will help alleviate another's pain
Becoming more aware of universal suffering does not require everyone to set off across the globe. Step Eleven emphasizes the willingness to witness suffering and not turn away, and then to remain alert to the specific opportunities that present themselves within one's own region, neighborhood or family. Each person has a unique gift or insight to offer this world; none is insignificant. Practicing the awareness that allows one to recognize a personal mission can bring satisfaction, fulfillment and happiness. In fact, the author claims that an "ekstasis" may arise as a result of setting aside self-preoccupation in order to embrace the pain of another.
In three biblical stories Armstrong illustrates the power of RECOGNITION to transform a life. Abraham recognized God in the three strangers who appeared by his tent; he instructed Sarah to provide lavish hospitality, in a serious departure from the typical fear of foreigners; and the Divine Presence is confirmed in the promise of a child to be born to the elderly couple within the coming year. "This myth suggests that if instead of excluding the stranger we welcome him (sic), overcoming our inertia, reluctance, fear or initial repugnance, we will have an intimation of the transcendent Otherness that some call 'God.'"
For Yaakov (Jacob) recognition of "the face of God" does not dawn until he wrestles throughout the night with a mysterious stranger. The dreamlike struggle dramatizes the fight within himself, with his brother, whom he had cheated, and with his God. Armstrong suggests that anyone identified as the enemy becomes like a second self, setting up an internal and external struggle which can only be resolved with the intervention of something greater. When Esau and his twin are reconciled, Yaakov connects the ecstatic relief and gratitude he feels with the previous night's RECOGNITION, "For I have, after all, seen your face, as one sees the face of God, and you have been gracious to me."
A third story of recognition and hospitality appears in the Gospel of Luke when three friends encounter a traveler on the road to Emmaus. The stranger expounds some startling teachings along the way, yet the friends invite him for a meal. It is then in the breaking of the bread that they finally recognize the risen Christ. Thus, the Messiah may be encountered in his words, in the breaking and sharing of bread and in welcoming the stranger, particularly when there is openness to changes in perception.
Armstrong concludes Step Eleven by paralleling Yaakov's bruising struggle with the stranger to the common spiritual journey. "Although wounded by the encounter, he has been blessed by his assailant and is walking toward his erstwhile enemy in the light of a new day." May we all be blessed with the grace of RECOGNITION in each encounter with the divine, in whatever form the appearance takes.
THE TWELFTH STEP
Love Your Enemies
The Golden Rule is the illuminating thread which weaves its light throughout Karen Armstrong's Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, culminating in this chapter on loving one's enemy. For Christians this most difficult of principles was expressed by Jesus in such teachings as "bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you; turn the other cheek; give away your cloak and your tunic; lend without expecting repayment; forgive seventy times seven," and many others. He offered a more courageous and openhearted attitude and greatly expanded the "limited retaliation" concept of the Torah, which allowed only "an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth."
The realization that survival depends on "yielding" to the other is ancient and universally taught, though not seriously embraced. One of the oldest expressions of such prophetic thought is found in Homer's Iliad, when he describes the personal reconciliation of Achilles and Hector after they had inflicted great mutual sorrow and loss: "In the midst of a deadly war, the shared suffering and pity of it all had enabled each man to transcend his hatred and see the sacred mystery of the enemy." (Editor's emphasis) Yet, that brief moment of empathy did not end the war, for another dimmer thread that weaves through human history is the failure to remember.
Several centuries later, Greek literature offers another early understanding of the need for empathy. In Aeschylus's Persians, written just eight years after the Athenian triumph, the audience is asked to weep for the enemy who has wreaked havoc on their city, to see the conflict through the others' eyes and to feel their sorrow. As in the Daodejing, there was no triumphalism or gloating in victory.
Laozi had offered this wisdom toward the end of the Warring States era in China, 3rd century BCE. He "pointed out that no matter how good his intentions, violence always recoils on the perpetrator," and that when one group tries to force its will on another, the reaction to this coercion will normally cause the opposite result. Paradoxically, to yield to the enemy is more likely to hasten the decline and fall, and therefore is actually a more self-protective stance. He also emphasized a style of leadership which required maturity and discipline, wherein the ruler did not try to impose his will on the people, but "takes as his own mind the mind of the people." The only person fit to rule is one who has overcome selfishness, "who honours the world as his self." Daodejing 13
Laozi did believe that sometimes taking up arms was a regrettable necessity, but within the limits of restrained aggression, which would lead to de-escalation. Armstrong describes warfare as both "integral to human history" and a phenomenon which has been resisted by wise teachers throughout the ages and across cultures.
The commandment of expansive love that Jesus preached seeks no personal benefit or reward. It includes caring for "enemies," rather than driving them to despair. In modern times it has become painfully clear that those who believe they have nothing to lose may resort to desperate, even self-destructive actions. While leading a resistance movement against the oppression of British colonialism Ghandi expressed a love of the English people, as well as the Moslems and Hindus of his country. In contrast he taught, "A love that is based on the goodness of those whom you love is a mercenary affair."
Inspired by Jesus and Ghandi, Nelson Mandela left twenty-seven years of brutal imprisonment without bitterness or recrimination, but rather with a desire for reconciliation. Likewise, the Dalai Lama continues to preach love, compassion and forgiveness in his life of exile from his battered homeland. During the turbulence of the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., was never persuaded to approve violence in retaliation for the brutality of attackers or police. Following Jesus' example of forgiveness for his executioners, Dr. King insisted, "Only goodness can drive out evil and only love can overcome hate." "Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it."
What is this love of which these leaders and teachers speak? Certainly not a love of sentiment or romance. When Jesus exhorted his followers to love their enemies, his reference point was the passage in Leviticus to love one's neighbor as oneself. In this ancient book of the law, love was a legal term, whereby leaders pledged loyalty, help and support to each other. The modern comprehension of the world as a global village provides a new opportunity to accept all peoples as neighbors. The health of the planet and human survival may depend on a pragmatic application of this law of love.
As with previous chapters, Armstrong offers a practice to reinforce the lesson of this Twelfth Step. Having directed "friendship, compassion and sympathetic joy" to oneself, to a neutral person, and to someone of dislike, it is time to identify an Enemy, someone or some group who poses a threat to livelihood, safety or deeply-held values. Starting with self, identify the anger or hatred evoked by this person or group and realize that an inability to engender compassion can result in becoming "twinned with the enemy" to a point of resemblance.
Remembering that each "enemy" has a story of ideals and of suffering, consider these questions: "Does your enemy have a history of oppression, exile, exploitation or persecution? Has your nation (or group) contributed to this? Consider the flaws of your own people: Is your hatred another instance of the splinter and the plank? Aim at an impartial, fair-minded assessment of the situation in the cause of peace. Try to wish for your enemy's well-being and happiness; try to develop a sense of responsibility for your enemy's pain." This "supreme test of compassion" helps remind us that "the enemy is our other self; we are bound together by enmity and a shared predicament."
A Last Word
In her closing comments, Karen Armstrong refers to numerous examples throughout history where problems were not resolved and violence continued. However, “this does not mean we end on a depressing note. It is rather a reminder that an attempt to become a compassionate human being is a lifelong project.
“You will have to work the twelve steps continuously for the rest of your life--learning more about compassion, surveying your world anew, struggling with self-hatred and discouragement. Never mind loving your enemies— sometimes loving your nearest and dearest selflessly and patiently will be a struggle!
“I hope I have shown in this book that compassion is possible, and that even in our torn and conflicted world some people have achieved heroic levels of empathy, forgiveness, and 'concern for everybody.'”...we should remember that...if we persevere, we too can become a force for good in the world.”
Armstrong offers a final example of being a positive presence in the world: “A person who is impartial, fair, calm, gentle, serene, accepting and openhearted is indeed a refuge...offering a humanity that makes (others) feel that life is endurable...People flock to such individuals because they seem to offer a haven of peace in a violent, angry world. This is the ideal to which we aspire, and it is not beyond our capacity.”
May we all be blessed with faithful companions on our journey toward greater compassion. Amen.
ST. WILLIAM MANDALA of JUSTICE with COMPASSION
When the Pastoral Planning Council first began to design the Assembly at which the St. William community would make a decision about its membership in CLOUT, there seemed a need to find a new way to think about how the parish acts to fulfill its vision and mission. Some parishioners believed that the only way to do justice and to be voices of challenge was to be involved with CLOUT. There were others who were confident that there were many different ways of being faithful to those ideals. Then a third element entered the picture--the signing of the Statement on Compassion, which invited a new form of dialogue and presence in acting for peace and justice.
Inspired in part by a vision of twelfth century mystic Hildegard of Bingen, the MANDALA of JUSTICE with COMPASSION emerged as a new symbol of the parish mission and a vehicle for the community conversation. Hildegard described her spiritual vision in these words, "I saw a great wheel spinning from the east to the north and to the west and to the south, and back toward the east and to the One who is on the throne. The power of God extends to the four corners of the earth encircling every creature in God's embrace...In time the work of the Holy One will be finished, the encircling of creation completed."*
In the direction of the bright orange morning sun arise Alternative Structures and Support Systems to replace or supplement those structures which are insufficient for people's needs. Examples are parish Outreach Ministries such as JUST CREATIONS, GuardiaCare, NEW DIRECTIONS HOUSING and Friends of Esquipulas.
To the north the violet spiral of wisdom represents Education and Formation, the lifelong formation and spiritual growth which are necessary to assure that all actions spring from a deep grounding in faith and contemplation. CrossRoads Ministry, small faith groups, children's Liturgy of the Word, sacramental preparation programs, Peace Camp and Peace School are examples.
The verdant green of the west represents ACTIVISM, which encompasses Lobbying, including letter-writing and personal conversations; Demonstrations; and Civil Disobedience which may lead to Arrest.
"And in the south where justice inflames the hearts of believers," bright red signifies DIRECT ENGAGEMENT WITH INSTITUTIONAL LEADERS. This describes the contribution and methods of CLOUT.
The centerpoint of the Mandala is the compassionate heart of Divine Love, the Godde of relationship, radical equality and all-inclusiveness who inspirits and graces the church of St. William in prayer and action. The golden rays remind us that we gather as a community of faith for the sustenance we need to go forth in the four directions bringing light and healing to our world.
*Let There Be Light, by John Kirvan,.ed, Ave Maria Press, 1997.