Session 5 – Showing Compassion
During this session participants will:
- explore how our daily life/work can influence our spirituality and how our spirituality can influence our daily life/work
- engage with Christian and other traditions to see what light they shed onto our experience
- explore what being compassionate might mean in today’s world
- be encouraged and enabled to take compassionate action in that world, wherever we are in it
Ice Breaker Activity
Ask each member of the group to identify the greatest act of compassion they have received?
Opening Theme Prayer
Invite people to place prayers into the prayer box if they didn’t do so as they arrived (will be prayed for towards the end of the meeting).
Introduce the theme of the session and then lead the opening prayer:
Lord God, who has made us all into one body in Christ,
enable us to honour one another in our working and daily lives.
Help us to understand the ways in which we depend upon one another.
Teach us to bear one another’s burdens and share one another’s joy.
In our varied occupations enable us to serve one another with dignity and carefulness.
May we receive with gratitude the work of other people.
So continue your work of binding us together in your human family.
[Source: John Ogden]
This short clip offers a multi-cultural and broad ‘definition’ of compassion which seeks to transcend religious, ideological and national differences.
It’s produced by http://charterforcompassion.org and anyone can visit this website in order to sign up to the Charter.
We sometimes have a stereotyped view of what compassion is – simply thinking of it as helping people.
Did anything that was said in that video clip surprise you or broaden your idea of what compassion is?
Was there anything that you disagreed with or felt uncomfortable with?
What place does compassion have in our fast-paced world?
Are there any links between your ideas or experience of compassion and the contents of the two video clips?
What place does compassion have in the often hard-nosed business world?
Should/could there be more compassion than we currently see?
How human are we without compassion?
How far would we go to benefit another?
What are the consequences of acting compassionately?
In inviting us to think about where and we might meet Christ in today’s world, this passage raises the question as to whether we need to be able to ‘see Christ’ in our neighbour before we can ‘be Christ’ to our neighbour?
One surprising thing about this episode in the last few weeks Jesus’ earthly life is that the sheep didn’t appear to know that they were serving Christ by their actions. They appear to have no idea that their good deeds meant that they were inheriting the Kingdom prepared for them. They weren’t trying to earn God’s favour, they were just getting on with things, living the life of faith ‘naturally’. Does this say something about authenticity of our faith, our actions, our compassion?
There are some key identifying marks of authentic Christianity. Right near the top of the list of those characteristics is compassion. This passage from Matthew tells just how central the quality of compassion is in the eyes of Christ.
There’s a Snoopy cartoon which shows him sitting in the doorway of his kennel just before Christmas shivering violently during a winter storm. Charlie Brown and Lucy are walking by – all bundled up and warm as toast. They offer a greeting. “Be of good cheer Snoopy” says Charlie Brown. “Yes, be of good cheer” adds Lucy. And they keep on walking as Snoopy sits there with chattering teeth. The message of the cartoon is powerful. Compassion words without action can be exceptionally harsh. Compassionate acts flow from a compassionate heart. Snoopy would no doubt prefer a blanket over a greeting. A compassionate heart is a reflection of the heart of God.
We are all ‘tribal’ by instinct and by habit. We’re most comfortable with, and usually care most about, those who’re like us. But we live and work side-by-side with people of many different ‘tribes’. Among those people who’re different to us will be those who need our help. Christian faith reaches out beyond our tribal walls. Our neighbours are those who need us.
Although this reading is full of drama, it is also a story about ‘ordinariness’. Modern culture is increasingly obsessed with all things ‘spectacular’ but, if we’re honest, ‘ordinariness’ is possibly the only place that most of us can really make a difference in the life of another human being. For the most part, we have the opportunity to touch a life here, a life there. It’s through the quality of our character, not anything ‘spectacular’ that we may do, that we make a difference in another life. From that perspective, the Christian life is ‘nothing special’ – it’s a matter of simply living out the grace and mercy and compassion of God. This is why it’s so important to understand what we mean by compassion and to live compassionately.
Compassion is related to healing, in the wholeness sense. Henri Nouwen understood and exemplified the healing power of weakness. As a Yale professor, he was powerful, but as a volunteer who served the handicapped in L’Arche, he relinquished his power and became a healer. His insights on the subject are profound. This is taken from his book ‘The Wounded Healer’:
“Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people. The main question is not “How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?” When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.
Jesus is God’s wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus’ suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.
To enter into solidarity with a suffering person does not mean that we have to talk with that person about our own suffering. Speaking about our own pain is seldom helpful for someone who is in pain. A wounded healer is someone who can listen to a person in pain without having to speak about his or her own wounds. When we have lived through a painful depression, we can listen with great attentiveness and love to a depressed friend without mentioning our experience. Mostly it is better not to direct a suffering person’s attention to ourselves. We have to trust that our own bandaged wounds will allow us to listen to others with our whole beings. That is healing.”
Reflection on the Readings
You may have your own reflections on these passages, but if not here are some thoughts as a starter for teaching and/or discussion
Jesus’ compassion was shown as he went alongside people where they were. So why should our showing of compassion be any different? Compassion necessarily entails getting alongside people where they are. It is about listening to people stories and responding.
There is a long history of the Church and individual Christians identifying a gap, a need and getting alongside all many different areas such as education, health, prisons. The TV programme ‘Call the Midwife’ is a mid-20th century example – a church-led initiative, serving the needs of the community, offered to all by people within and without the church. In more modern times, we see initiatives such as Samaritans, Relate, and Street Pastors/Angels.
Spirituality is about the challenges of what I do and what I am – so is compassion.
Compassion is spirituality in action.
Mark seems to find natural avenues for compassion as he relates to people in the market on a regular basis. Alison’s compassion is more often offered in ‘emergency’ or acute situations. It’s also obvious from what she said that that she feels that her previous personal background and experience helps her offer compassion in an intense way. Her words link in to the image of Christ as the ‘wounded healer’.
- Do you identify more with Mark’s or Alison’s ways of offering compassion?
- Both have a passion for people but it manifests itself differently – Generally, do we as Christians have a passion for working alongside people?
- How do we work differently to offer compassion and bring about another’s wholeness?
- How do we show compassion and support those who are caught up with the difficult things, such as family problems, redundancy, etc ?
- How do people in cut-throat professions live and work compassionately?
- How can the Church support such people?
The next video clip provides a bridge from the discussion into worship.
Roger and Reddy very much see their compassion as flowing directly from their faith. The worship section starts with a prayer for God’s help in being compassionate.
Creator God, give us the gift of understanding and a compassionate heart. Help us to remember that we are all made in your image, and each and every person is special to you, regardless of position or ability. Help us when we find it difficult to be compassionate with some of the people with whom we live and work. Give us wisdom to get a right balance between compassion and the ‘rules’ of where we work or live; along with the insight to see beyond the job or role and learn to value the person. Lord, teach us to be Christ-like. Amen.
You may not be able (or even want) to sing in your group. You are free to choose whether you sing, or listen to music, or watch a video clip with this song in the background.
‘When I needed a neighbour were you there?’ by Sydney Carter
This is available on several CDs and is also downloadable from iTunes. There are also various online versions of the music alone with enough verses to sing to on the internet, one of which is at http://www.billysloan.co.uk/songs/when_i_needed_a_neighbour_were_you_there_were_you_there.html.
A recording of this song on ‘Songs of Praise’ can be viewed here.
A video version with mostly ‘Traditional Biblical’ images in the background can be seen here.
This video clip may be useful for meditation. It is a lilting and slightly different tune to the one we’re used to for the familiar words ‘Make me a channel of your peace’. The contemporary images are thought-provoking.
This was produced by humanity.healing.org which describes itself as a humanitarian, non-denominational, non-political organization promoting ‘spiritual activism’ as a means to ‘foster healing for the world’.
Read Colossians 3 v12-13
Invite the group to make a list together of the forgotten or largely unloved groups – the people few pray for – and pray for them.
When I come in the guise of the
Of the needy, the helpless,
The cold and the hungry,
The stranger, the lonely
Will you look away?
What will you do?
What will you say?
When I come close to home
In the need of a neighbour,
At times inconvenient,
In places and faces
That mask and conceal me…
What will you do?
What will you say?
When I come in the message
Of prophet and preacher,
In truths inescapable
Or words which dismay,
will you listen to me
And give me a welcome?
What will you do?
What will you say?
When face to face
At the end of the journey
We look at each other
Will you look away?
What will I do?
What will I say?
[Used with permission. All Year Round Kenneth Carveley (British Council of Churches, 1988) Abridged]
Continue in prayer using the topics in the ‘Prayer Box’.
Again, those who are confident in praying out loud should be encouraged to take a piece of paper and pray appropriately.
The leader should make sure that all requests are prayed for.
It is not always easy to be compassionate in the work place or in our daily lives. It is not always easy to see the individual rather than the job or the role, nor to see Christ in them.
What sort of difficult choices might or does being compassionate demand of us? And are there limits to our compassion – is there anyone we would struggle to offer compassion to? (Encourage people to be specific to their context as they think about these questions.)
As you think about compassion, also think about “Who is my neighbour?” In his video interview Clive said:
“Who is my neighbour? In serving each other, my neighbours are all around the world. Look at the shoes you wear, the car you drive, your phone, the food you eat…”
Encourage group members to take time this week thinking about who their neighbours might be, exspecially any that might be ‘invisible’.
We focus this week on our eyes. Begin by looking at yourself – your hands, your feet, the rest of your body. You mightn’t like all you see. Thank God for the bits you do like (there will be something surely?!) and offer to him in silence the things you don’t like. Then, with your eyes either open or closed as you feel most comfortable, used your mind’s eye to recall the things you’ve seen this last week. Reflect on the things you’ve seen at work, in your daily lives, through the media. Good things perhaps. Possibly things that you wished you hadn’t seen. And then move to those things you might see in work this week. Things you want to see – and things you don’t. And offer them all to God, who sees everything…….
After a suitable time of quietness, say the closing theme prayer together:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands on earth but yours,
No feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he goes about to do good,
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands,
Yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes,
You are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Blessing / dismissal
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord
In the name of Christ.