The Logos Of Christian Mysticism
Our word ‘compassion’ comes from ‘com’ meaning ‘with’, and ‘passion‘ meaning ‘suffering’; so to practise ‘com-passion’ actually means ‘being willing to share in the suffering of others with others.’ John describes Jesus as the ‘logos’ – or the final word – in any discussion about compassion. Paul writes: ‘You should have exactly the same attitude as Christ: “For he who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but he stripped himself of all privilege, emptied himself, and made himself nothing, in order to be born by nature as a mortal. And, having become a human being, he humbled himself, living the life of a slave, a life of obedience, even unto death. And the death he died, on the cross, was the death of a common criminal“.[i]
Christ did not stay in heaven. He moved to earth, into our community, and ‘dwelt among us’, as one of us. He lived the same life that other people lived, experiencing the same hassles and the same hardships as everybody else. He wasn’t full of himself. But ‘emptied himself’ of his agendas immersed himself in the lives of others, and allowed their concerns to fill his conscious-ness. In their common struggles, he made himself available to the people as their servant, seeking to do all he could to help them live their lives to the full. When it came to the crunch, he did not cut and run. He was prepared to ‘lay down his life for his friends’. If we want to practice Christ-like compassion, we need to take the same approach Christ took and follow in Christ’s footsteps.
Step One – Lets Select A Place To Live
All communities are located in a place. For thirty out of the thirty-three years of his life, Christ lived in a place called Nazareth. For us to practice compassion in a community, like he did, we need to live in the place where our community is located. People who expect to move in 5 years are 25 per cent less likely to actually get involved in their community. So if we really want to get more involved in a community, we will need to live in that community for more than 5 years.[ii] It will also help us to get more involved in a community, if we will not only reduce the times we move, but also the amount we commute. Every 10 minutes not spent in commuting increases the likelihood of community involvement by 10 per cent – for both the commuters and their families.[iii]
We may feel called to be involved in all kinds of communities – an extended family, a friendship network, an apartment block, a nearby suburb, a country town, a city slum, a neighbourhood centre, a church group, a theological seminary, a mission agency, a workers co-op, a trade union, a professional association, a social enterprise, a small business, a big company, a sports club, a local school, a heath clinic, a government department, a reading circle, a theatre troupe, an arts collective, a welfare agency, or a political party – but whatever kind of community it may be, we will need to find a way to be really, truly, continually present to the people in that place.
The easiest way for most people to find more time – and energy – to be present in a place is to switch off the TV. There are three reasons for this. Firstly, TV takes time. On average people now watch television four hours per day. Secondly, TV induces passivity. The more people watch TV the more likely they are to want to rest and/or sleep. Thirdly, TV provides a sense of pseudo-community through soap operas like Neighbours. Consequently each extra hour a day of watching TV reduces community involvement by 10 per cent. If we stop watching Friends, chances are that we will find we will have time – and the energy – to make more friends [iv] Ñ
Step Two – Lets Connect With The People In That Place
Many followers of Christ focus on the last three years of his life, and forget the first thirty years of his life. After all, they say, it was only in the last three years that he did anything. They say he didn’t do anything in the first thirty years of his life. However I would like to suggest that it was the connections that he made with people in his first thirty years that provided Christ with the options that he pursued in his last three years. During the last three years he addressed the needs of the community, but it was the first thirty – when he developed connections, was taught the language, learned the culture, picked up the stories circulating around town, and deeply heard the people who were hurting – that gave him the right to speak about the issues that affected the community.
We must not try to be different from the people around us; but discover the similarities we share in the humanity that runs as blood through our veins. We all get sick. We all get tired. We all grow old. Nevertheless, we all want to love and be loved. And we all want to live life to the full before we die. We can enter into these common struggles with people in our community like Christ did.
We need to bond with a few people and bridge to a lot of people. Bonds are strong inward-looking connections, like marriage, that of necessity are exclusive. Bonds produce deep, ‘thick’ trust’, and are essential for nurturing and supporting one another, for ‘getting by’. Bridges are weak outward-looking connections, like movements that of necessity are inclusive. Bridges produce broad, ‘thin trust’, and are crucial for co-operating and campaigning with others – for ‘getting on’. We need to bond with people in our friendship circles and bridge to strangers outside our circles of friends.[v]
Now, there are two traditional ways of building bridges to strangers outside our circle of friends that the Jews refer to in Yiddish as ‘schmoozing’ and ‘maching’. ‘Schmoozers’ take an informal approach to bridging. ‘Schmoozers’ like to visit family, drop in on friends, invite newcomers over for a barbecue, or take old-timers out on a picnic. ‘Machers’ tend to take a more formal approach to bridging. ‘Machers’ are more likely to attend a workshop on community, start a community group, and implement a community project. To connect with a wide range of people we need both ‘schmoozers‘ and ‘machers‘, and we need to be both ‘schmoozers‘ and ‘machers‘. Interestingly, Robert Putnam, the social researcher says, ‘schmoozing‘ ‘peaks among young adults, enters a long decline as family and community obligations press in, then rises again with retirement’; while ‘maching’ is relatively modest early in life, peaks in late middle age, and declines with retirement.’
So most of us will do more ‘schmoozing’ when we are younger, more ‘maching’ in middle age and more ‘schmoozing’ as we get older.[vi] But all the way through our lives we need to make sure we make a priority of ‘schmoozing’ – as it enables us to connect with people much more personally.
Step Three – Lets Choose To Empty Ourselves For Others
If we really want to be there for others, we will need to choose to ‘empty’ ourselves of our preoccupation with our own thoughts and feelings time and time again, so that we can actually create the psychic space within ourselves to respond compassionately to their joy and anguish.
Some of us will need to ‘empty’ ourselves of the games that we play – silly games, like ‘the piety game’. The object of this game is to convince ourselves and others of our virtue. It is not concerned about meeting people at their point of need. It is about using their needs to make them look bad, and/or make us look good, by comparison. It prevents any genuine encounter with others in which we can come to together on the basis of our basic needs. Christ criticised people playing ‘piety games’. (Matthew 23:23) So, if we are to practice real compassion, like Christ did, we will need to ‘empty’ ourselves of our proclivity for playing such tactless, tacky games.
Others of us will need to ‘empty’ ourselves of the goals that we aspire to – serious goals, like ‘proselytisation’. Some of us have misinterpreted Christ’s call to ‘evangelisation’ as a call to ‘proselytisation’. The goal of ‘proselytisat-ion’ is for us to convince as many people as possible to join our cause. In seeking to accomplish our goal, we tend to treat people as faceless targets – ‘potential trophies’ for us to ‘win’. We do not treat people as people. If we meet their needs, it is not so much to ‘help them win’, but to ‘help us win them over’. Christ advocated ‘evangelisation’ – sharing the good news of God’s radical commitment to a sacrificial concern for the welfare of the other – but Christ totally repudiated ‘proselytisation’ – precisely because it did not demonstrate God’s radical commitment to the sacrificial concern for the welfare of the other. (Matthew 23:15)
So, if we are to practice real compassion, like Christ did, we will need to ‘empty’ ourselves of any propensity we have to use others as a means to an end in accomplishing the goals we aspire to.
All of us will need to ‘empty’ ourselves of the images we have of ourselves to relate to others. Paul says that, in order to relate to us as our equal, Christ had to empty himself of the image that he had of himself as ‘God’s equal’. And, in order for us to relate to others, we will have to empty ourselves of any images we may have of ourselves that would prevent us from responding to them appropriately. Many of us will need to empty ourselves of the image we have of ourselves – as ‘big’ people – in order to relate to ‘little’ people. As long as we are obsessed with the secret ambition of becoming a ‘great’ man or woman of God – the next Doctor King or Mother Teresa – we will never be able to respond compassionately to the ordinary men and women around us. So,
if we are to practice real compassion, like Christ did, we will need to ‘empty’ ourselves of any ‘big’ ideas we may have about ourselves, simply to be there for others as their ‘little’ brother or sister.
Step Four – Lets Not Expect To Be Served, But To Serve
Christ said ‘I have come not to be served, but to serve’, and to give my life as the price I’m willing to pay to bring life to people in the community. Thus Christ became a ‘servant’ of the people. The word ‘servant’ used to describe Christ is not a ‘paid public servant’ but ‘unpaid personal servant’. So if we are to serve the people – like Christ did – we need to be ‘amateur’ servants of the people.
The notion of an ‘amateur’ comes from the Latin word ‘amator’, which in English means ‘love’, which in this context means ‘someone who does something for the love of it.’ Hence, anyone who serves others for the love of it, is an ‘amateur’ at heart. Because their heart is on fire with a desire to help people meet their needs in any way they can. The ‘amateur’ may be a ‘professional’, but is never a ‘mercenary’. An ‘amateur’ will never sell their services to those who can pay the most, but provide their services – like Christ did – to those in most need – the people whom he referred to as the ‘least of these’ – whether they get paid a lot, paid a little, or paid absolutely nothing at all.
If we are going to serve people by helping them solve their problems in a way that they would regard as ‘good news’, we would do well to be mindful of the steps in any ‘good’ problem solving process. The first step is to help people define their problem; the second step is then to help them identify all possible solutions to the problem; the third step is to then help them select a specific option as a solution; the fourth step is to then help them implement the solution to the problem; and the fifth step is to then help them reflect on the results of their effort to solve their problem. We always need to help those involved in the process discuss whether the option selected is really solving their problem or whether there needs to be some modification to the programme. Sometimes the whole programme will need to be scrapped and the whole process started again. Before starting again it will be important to discuss what was learnt from the previous effort. Why did it fail? Were we treating the symptoms or the cause? Did it fail because the solution was wrong or because we failed to implement it properly? Experience shows we will often need to help people to ‘try, try, and try again’ before they eventually succeed. However, there are some problems that will never be resolved successfully, no matter how hard people try. Our role as a servant is to use our knowledge and skills to help people deal with their problems as best we can.
Step Five – Lets Embrace The Inevitable Suffering Involved
If we are going to have any hope of bringing life to people in our community, we, too, must be willing to pay the price; by dying to ourselves in the midst of the inevitable frustrations, tensions, difficulties and conflicts that work in the community always entails. There is no easy option. If there were, Christ would have taken it. He was a messiah, not a masochist. Christ took the hard path because it was the only path he could take that would lead to the practice of compassion. And, for those of us who would follow in his footsteps, there is no other way than to open our heart and risk suffering the heartache and the heartbreak of real involvement in peoples’ lives.
But we need to monitor our capacity to give ourselves sacrificially to others ‘gladly’, so that we do not do it simply out of a sense of duty which will turn into bitterness with the passing of years in tears. We need to continually ask ourselves the question – ‘what can I gladly sacrifice today to show compassion to people in my community, that won’t make me bitter if it is not reciprocated?’
Suggestion for Reflection and Action
Sit in silence and ask yourself the following questions. Take the time to write down your answers.
- What is the community that I feel called to live in more (faith)fully?
- How can I connect with the people in my community more effectively?
- How can I empty myself of to make more time and space for others?
- How can I best use my knowledge and skills to serve other people?
- What can I gladly sacrifice today to show substantial compassion to people in my community, that won’t make me resentful, bitter or twisted, if it is not reciprocated, appreciated or acknowledged?
Ñ There is still a great deal of debate about the value of choosing to live our lives in cyberspace. The best-case scenario is that the net will turn out to be like the telephone, which reinforces the community networks that we are developing. The worst-case scenario is that the net will turn out to be like television, which adversely effects the development of community networks. Even if the net turns out to be like the telephone rather than the television, the latest evidence would seem to suggest that at best the net will complement, but not replace, communities in real time and place.
Excerpts from Dave Andrews’ Out And Out: Way-Out Community Work Melbourne: Mosaic, 2012
[i] Philippians.2 v 6-8
[ii] Robert Putnam Bowling Alone Simon & Schuster, New York, 2001.p205
[iii] Robert Putnam Bowling Alone p 212- 213
[iv] Robert Putnam Bowling Alone p222,237,242,228
[v] Robert Putnam Bowling Alone p23,136
[vi] Robert Putnam Bowling Alone p92-94