Sustaining Compassion

Photo: Indielou Dougnon, right, is a director for The Luke Society in the Kayes region of Mali.  He travels to villages and hamlets to do vaccinations and pre/post-natal care and evangelism, in addition to the urgent care conducted at his clinic in Aite.

(This piece was originally written for the blog for The Luke Society.)

The wonderful journal of Christian spirituality, Weavings, is discontinuing its print editions after many years.  They chose to make compassion the subject of their last four-volume series, which I see as a helpful subject in a time when contention and violence appear to be increasing.  Whether these problems are actually increasing or not, the perception for many is that we live in an increasingly fearsome world.  Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise, as the eyes of many of us in the more affluent countries are being opened to the suffering that countless millions in our world have faced for as long as they can remember.

I especially appreciated an article in the Weavings latest edition by Jay M. Hanke (“Compassion as Spiritual Formation” in Vol. XXXI, No. 4, p. 33-37).  Rather than trying to put his thoughts into my own words, I will quote him at length after a brief introduction.

Hanke first makes the case that as disciples of Jesus Christ, we need to establish compassion as our ongoing stance, not just participate in activities sporadically that make us feel noble but do not address the ongoing needs in our world.  He tells us that, in conforming to Jesus’ compassionate nature, we need to not only act with love, but also to rely on the divine power given to us when we act in Jesus’ name.  This reminds me of what Jesus said about “abiding in the vine” in order to bear much fruit (John 15:5).  Without his divine power offered to us, we will struggle to sustain a compassionate way of life over time.

“To let in the person of the Risen Christ and his teachings as the Living Word, to let in the Spirit’s persuasive presence is to let in the power that fuels lasting compassion. Compassion starts with Jesus’ command to love God, self, and neighbor—not as an occasional virtue but as core for all of life (Mark 12:29-31).  Compassion attains this high priority in our lives when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the powerful touches of our graceful God.”

“My compassion for another builds a new relationship and transforms both the other and me.  Jesus’ self-description metaphor of the gate (John 10:8-9) is a call to all the stages of our spiritual formation: Jesus is the gate inviting us into the sheepfold, wherein we are brought to wholeness and nurtured in our faith-journey.  And yet Jesus is also the gate pushing us out of the sheepfold, to be the body of Christ in the world, to be so unraveled in God’s drama of love that acts of compassion flood a hurting world.  Is it not the genius of God’s plan, that the church, the Body of Christ, would ‘embody’ Jesus’ sustained and radical compassion as the centerpiece of its ministry?  Is it not the first task of the church to love well—not as the world loves?  Is it not the core distinctiveness of the body of Christ first to be sustained by the Spirit, in order that our compassionate response to the needs of others might also be sustained?  When the church loses its center on the living Jesus and is not open to the sustaining power of the Spirit, the church gets stuck, tired of caring, too focused on survival, too busy with building little kingdoms, and too distracted with busy-ness which drains both its ‘passion’ and its compassion.

“By God’s grace, our hope is anchored in the faithfulness of God at work in the church as Christ’s body—a hope that sporadic trickles of compassion will become a deep and steady stream, even as the prophet Amos could see, flowing like mighty waters (Amos 5:24)!”

I pray that all the Luke Society directors, staff, and supporters will know deep joy in the convergence between God’s healing power and your acts of compassion.

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