Tuesday’s Word: compassion

compassion (n):  sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress
together with a desire to alleviate it

Compassion is more than feeling sorry for the victims of an earthquake.  It’s more than pity for sufferers of a disease of which you have no firsthand experience.  The sympathetic consciousness of another’s distress is key.

sympathy (n):  an affinity, association, or relationship between
persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects
the other

Compassion is relational.  It involves entering into another’s painful experience to the fullest extent you are able and living it with him, attempting to alleviate his distress.

alleviate (v):  to reduce the pain or trouble of something; to make
something less painful, difficult, or severe

 It’s important to notice that alleviating pain and distress is not synonymous with fixing or removing the source of the difficulty.  We may at times be called to alter circumstances that cause suffering, but often it is not within our power to do so, particularly in cases of physical or mental illness.  Compassion does not enable us to calm the storm; rather, it calls us to battle through the storm with the one who is in the midst of it.

 “If a man seems to himself to endure the horrors of
shipwreck, though he walks on dry land and breathes
clear air, the business of his friend is more likely to be
to accept those horrors as he feels them, carrying the
burden, than to explain that the burden cannot, as a
matter of fact, exist.”  ~ Charles Williams, Descent
Into Hell

Tuesday’s Word: silence

silence (n):  the absence of sound or noise

 I never thought before about the distinction between sound and noiseSound, the dictionary says, is anything perceived by the sense of hearing, while noise denotes an unpleasant sound.

We can, if we try hard enough, find places of temporary escape from noise, but it’s virtually impossible to go anywhere completely devoid of sound.  Even as I write this in the sanctuary of my study, I hear the hum of the computer, the clicking of the keys as I type, the dull roar of a lawnmower a couple houses down, the varied sounds of cars and trucks on the street below and an airplane overhead.

Absolute physical silence may be an unattainable quality for most of us, but sometimes, through an alignment of long practice of prayer and sheer grace, we are blessed to find a spiritual inner silence that calms and sustains us.

 “Silence is that moment in which we not only stop the
discussion with others but also the inner discussions
with ourselves, in which we can breathe freely and
accept our identity as a gift…It is in this silence that
the Spirt of God can pray in us and continue its
creative work in us…” ~ Henri Nouwen

 “At the extremity of prayer words vanish, or rather the
silence-become-word surpasses all that can be uttered.
Prayer becomes the silence of Love…” ~ A.I. Okumura

Tuesday’s Word: hope

hope (n):  a feeling of expectation and desire
for a certain thing to happen

It’s more than a passing fancy, more than a vague wish for something nice.  Hope, the real stuff, is full of desire, of deep, intense longing.  It’s founded on expectation, a firm belief that something will happen.  And it’s specific –  the desire and the expectation are focused on a particular object or outcome.

Hope can bide its time.  It can lie dormant for a season, buried deep, but it is always alive, always alert and watching for its moment to burst into blossom, into something visible and tangible and vibrant.

“Hope is a yearning rooted in reality, that pulls
us toward the radical biblical vision of a world
where truth and justice and  peace do prevail,
a time in which the knowledge of God will
cover the earth as the waters cover the sea…”
~ Katharine Paterson

Tuesday’s Word: presence

presence (n):

(1) the state of existing, occurring, or being present in a place or thing;

(2) a person or thing that exists or is present in a place but is not seen

Presence is a vital concept for me these days, as I’m traveling through yet another season of waiting and uncertainty.  I am blessed to have a small circle of tried and trusted friends who walk with me.

One of these dear ones reminds me, over and over, of the value of being present now and here, of neither dwelling on the past nor speculating on the future.  Ann Voskamp, in her book One Thousand Gifts, eloquently describes the kind of presence my friend encourages me to practice:

‘Time is a relentless river.  It rages on, a respecter of no one.
And this, this is the only way to slow time:  when I fully enter time’s
swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all
my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here.’

Another treasured friend gave me the lovely gift of presence in a very tangible way last week.  I was facing, with great anxiety, an unavoidably necessary test.  I gave her enough information to have a sense of what was going on and confided my fear to her, and although she was in the middle of her work day half a continent away, she made herself available to me throughout the afternoon and evening.  Her presence, even in physical absence, calmed and upheld me.  This is surely something of what Tara Brach puts simply and profoundly:  ‘The deepest expression of love is paying attention.’