Compassion

July 15, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

I met a monk, and I think I saw Jesus too. 

During our stay at Jhamtse Gatsal, a children's community in northeast India, Lobsang, our blue-jeaned monk friend asked if we'd like to visit a nearby village. On the way, he explained there were two fathers who, for more than a year, had been requesting their young daughters be considered for placement in the community. He was thoughtful, I noticed. Careful. He is impassioned for the less-fortunate because he was left to be raised in a monastery. He desires to orchestrate a better life for children whose story parallels his. 

We drove for a couple hours, arriving at a village of beautiful, traditional structures built into a mountainside. The Himalayan views dazzled. After several inquiries, we were welcomed into a small, dark, cool room where the kettle began to boil and generations of family members filled the space. We didn't understand the soft conversation, but as our numbers grew by one village member after another, we could see this decision affected more than one family. I realized this trip was necessary for Lobsang to assess the validity of the situation; he needed to be with them, to meet the family, to experience the home. This trip had been unannounced; there couldn't have been any special preparation. 

A second meeting, further up the mountain, went much like the first: sitting with the father, talking, listening, and asking. And then, Lobsang invited the families to visit the community. 

Prayer flags crisscrossed the countryside as if connecting communities. Religious symbols in this region represent the belief that inner peace is attained by understanding the suffering of the world. Flags are a visual reminder of a hope for compassion.

Understand the Need
Compassion derives its meaning from the Latin, compati, meaning to suffer with. I profess deep sympathy for those whose circumstance prevents a healthy quality of life without help. However, I cannot claim empathy for those sufferings because I have not experienced such dire need. So, how can I possibly wear compassion (1), authentically suffering with others? 

Go. See. Talk. Listen. Spend time. Discern.

In that small, dark room where communities intersected, I wondered what the young daughter was thinking. Did she sense her father's urgent desire for a better life for her? Did she know someone who understood her plight was among them? Was she frightened? How, I wondered, do such arrangements flourish? Maybe it is not so ironic that the Latin, compati, is also where compatible derives its meaning—to be capable of living together in harmony.

Alter the Cycle
Understanding the need seems only a prerequisite component of compassion. How many times has Thanksgiving or Christmas rolled around with opportunities for "charitable giving"? We soothe our conscience by claiming an Angel from the tree, or contributing to a ministry serving the underprivileged. But is this true compassion? Is it occasionally the opposite? In his book, Toxic Charity, Robert D. Lupton explains how good-intentioned people may be causing more harm than help. He says, "the poor end up feeling judged, looked down upon, only worthy of charity and handouts that end up making them more dependent instead of learning skills to help themselves." Empower the poor, he advocates. (2)

True compassion alters the cycle. That's what was about to happen in that room. The children's community would equip the daughters with skills for healthy living and for contributing to the betterment of their world. They would eventually be able to return to their community armed with help to meet dire needs. 

It took more than a year to discern this need, and this was just the beginning. I saw how authentic compassion is a serious, long-term commitment. In these region, lives are at stake. 

Sometime during this trip, I walked behind Labsong who gently guided one of the community's children through a bustling maze of street vendors and morning hustle. I was reminded of how Jesus, maybe in a similar setting, gathered the children to himself, put his hands on them and blessed them. He understood their need. His blessing would effect change. (3) 

I saw it with new eyes; compassion is beautiful.

References

1. Col 3:12 Msg — So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion...

2. http://fcsministries.org/books/toxic-charity/

3. Mark 10:14-16 — "Don't push these children away..." Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.

 

 


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