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DEEP THINK

CHRISTLIKE COMPASSION

From the June 2007 issue of The Christian Science Journal


I HAVE ALWAYS CHERISHED THIS OLD FRENCH PROVERB, this sweet reminder of God's tender presence: "God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb." And I treasure this verse not because I think God is involved in the minutiae of daily life (to the point of making sure a little lamb isn't caught in the wind), but because those words assure me that the nature of God—of infinite, divine Love—is to be love, everywhere, always.

And in a practical way, I ask myself, As God's image and likeness, how can I also express that "tender presence" in my daily life? What is it that moves us to temper the wind for others? How about compassion? Isn't that what prompts us to feel and show tenderness for our brothers and sisters? What, really, is this quality? Well, let's look at what compassion is not: it isn't empathizing or even sympathizing with pain or sorrow, nor is it expressing helpless pity for another's plight. Rather, compassion is the quality that impels us to shelter and to care, to bless and to heal.

In the Bible, the Psalmist speaks often of this wonderful quality, reminding us, "The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works" (Ps. 145:8, 9). And again, "Thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth" (Ps. 86:15).

One of the most compelling examples of compassion in the Bible is Jesus' healing of a leper (see Mark 1:40–42). This leper had fallen to his knees in front of Jesus, imploring him, "If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean."

One can only imagine how long it had been since that dear man had felt the touch of another's hand. Leprosy was by far the most dreaded disease in that era, and it was considered highly contagious. The leper would have been required to wear a special garment marking him as a leper, to ring a bell warning others of his approach, and to announce himself as "unclean," all the while maintaining the required distance from those around him.

Certainly, Jesus' action wasn't based on mere human sympathy. If one felt sympathy or pity, then it would be natural just to commiserate with the leper's situation, but nothing in that pity or sympathy would have lessened the fear of touching the leper. Nor, surely, was Jesus' touch in and of itself meant to do the healing. Perhaps we could say it was a gesture of recognition—recognition of our innate purity and innocence—and especially of that man's spotless integrity as a child of God. As such, Jesus' tender gesture was worth a thousand words! And as the Bible describes the scene, Jesus then assured the leper, " 'I will [heal you]; be thou clean.' And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him."

Through his humanity, through his words and his works, Jesus lived the message he brought to the world—the message that we are all children of God and that as His beloved children, we are endowed with the ability to know ourselves as our Father knows us. Although Jesus is no longer with us, the divine love he exemplified is. The power that "tempers the wind" is always present and available for everyone to realize and demonstrate.

Another aspect of compassion is that most people generally think of this tender quality as being a response to those in need. But what if we find ourselves caught up in a situation where compassion appears to be the last thing called for? Even the "winds of anger" can be tempered by compassion. Our need at such times is to dig deeper. Mrs. Eddy knew a lot about compassion. For example, she noted, "I make strong demands on love, call for active witnesses to prove it, and noble sacrifices and grand achievements as its results" (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 250).

Here is a small example of just such a demand, although I must admit it took me some time to recognize it as an opportunity! Years ago my husband and I attended a football game that would decide which team would move on to play in the final game of the season, the California Rose Bowl. We had seats in the end zone, so our field of vision was pretty much restricted to straight ahead. Seated directly in front of us were six men all decked out in bright red jackets, waving bright red pennants, and cheering at full volume—which was a bit disconcerting because the game hadn't started yet! We soon realized that all this premature enthusiasm was being fueled by alcohol.

The moment the game began, the fellow in front of me jumped to his feet—and stayed on his feet! My husband tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to sit down so I could see the game. The man did sit down but in a few minutes he was back on his feet again, waving and cheering. This didn't happen just once or twice, but over and over again with the exchange between husband and fan growing ever more heated. At one point, I put my hand on my husband's arm in an attempt to calm things down, but instead of the soothing words I intended, I heard myself exclaiming, "What a nasty man!"

Now wasn't that helpful! Actually, my own words served as a wake-up call. It was clear I needed a change of heart—and now! I asked myself what message God might have for me? You need to love this man, came the answer. He needs compassion, not disdain. Oh ...

Slowly, I turned my thought around. I remembered a familiar passage from Science and Health: "Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God's own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick" (pp. 476–477).

As I pondered that liberating message, the word that really stood out to me was view. I needed the correct view, the spiritual view, not the critical, condemnatory picture I'd been entertaining. I began by considering the "correct view"—affirming how precious this man was in the sight of God, how innocent and pure. And I went on to acknowledge that as a child of God, he loved good every bit as much as I did and that he was good. I also acknowledged that at that very moment his thought was just as susceptible to love as mine was. I closed my eyes and continued to pray about these concepts for several minutes. Then I looked again at that big red back. A huge wave of compassion washed over me. Why, I thought, he isn't a lion; he's a lamb!

That realization was so immediate and clear I could have hugged him! Pretty soon my lamb turned around. His face wasn't red anymore, and he appeared sober and calm as he held out his hand to my husband, "I want to apologize to you, sir, for the way I've been acting; I'm really not like that at all, you know—I'm a gentleman!" They shook hands, and then the gentleman swung around in his seat and held out his hand to me, "And you, too, ma'm! I hope you'll accept my apology."

I did, we shook hands and that was the end of what I have come to think of as "the lion in the coliseum."

Did my prayer in that situation qualify as compassion? I truly believe it did. It is so easy to dismiss another's bad behavior as pitiful at best! However, we always have that choice: to continue with the limited, material version of events or to strive for the Christly view—the compassionate view—that allows the beauty of holiness to shine through.

Why is compassion—love—so essential? The world needs compassion, because without the mitigating influence of love, the cold shoulder of indifference, of self-concern, would hold sway. Yet the desire to love, the need to love, is innate in each of us. When fear or pity creates a barrier—a false barrier that keeps us from extending the tender gesture or stifles our own confidence that anything can be healed—this false wall of exclusion could prevent us from expressing love. When this happens, our recourse is prayer, the kind of prayer that Science and Health describes as Jesus' humble "... deep and conscientious protests of Truth,—of man's likeness to God and of man's unity with Truth and Love" (p. 12). When we pray deeply in this way, we can break through the mesmerism that obscures the divine truth about God's perfect creation that is ever and always present.

Let me tell you a story about a time when I discovered how potent that "humble prayer" can be. I was flying home to California from the East coast. Before we took off, a very concerned flight attendant stopped at my seat to tell me that the seat across the aisle was being saved for someone who would be brought on after everyone else was seated. Eventually two burly airport employees carried a young man on and transferred him, ever so gently, into his seat. It was immediately apparent that this young man, who was unaccompanied, had no use of, nor control over, either his arms or his legs.

I immediately found myself wondering how on earth he was going to manage during the long flight across the country. How was he going to take care of himself? How would he eat and so forth? Because I was feeling so concerned I decided I'd better settle down and do some praying about the situation. It was a very simple little prayer affirming that he was not unaccompanied, that God was with him, and God was quite capable of caring for His own child. And since it was God who was doing the caring, the care would be complete. I didn't stop there, but went on to acknowledge that everyone in that plane—the entire flight crew and all the passengers—were all in our Father's care and that each and every one us was being supplied with intelligence and love.

Not long after I'd finished this little prayer, the flight attendant stopped by my seat again and whispered, "I don't know what we're going to do about him! He's helpless—how is he going to eat, how are we going to take care of him?"

Because I'd just finished praying, I was able to assure her with some modicum of confidence that this young man, his name was Peter, would be completely cared for. She sighed, "Well, you must know something I don't know."

We hadn't been in the air very long when Peter started talking to the woman sitting next to him. She had been reading a book, and I was struck by the fact that as soon as he started speaking she put her book away and gave him her undivided attention. In no time, the two of them were engaged in an animated conversation that continued until lunch was served.

I didn't think of it at the time, but later on I realized Peter was undoubtedly all too familiar with the concern his disability caused others and was doing his best to put everyone at ease. It was an act of grace, and surely the loving response from his seatmate was equally gracious.

Just before lunch, the flight attendant again stopped by my seat and whispered, "How are we going to feed him, how is he going to eat?" As it turned out, there was no problem because the dear woman next to Peter patiently and lovingly, one spoonful at a time, fed him his lunch. Just as I'd been affirming in my prayer, God was tenderly caring for Peter's needs, as well as everyone else's on the plane. This incident is such a sweet reminder that the quality of compassion is innate to every child of God.

In the early years of our movement, a great majority of people embracing Christian Science were Christians who knew the Bible. And because they were Christians, it is probable that most of them, like Mrs. Eddy, had been taught the doctrine of original sin. One of the sweetest things those converts to Christian Science must have gained from their new faith was the understanding that we are not born sinners, but the beloved children of God. Reading through the testimonies in some of the early issues of the Journal, I found ample corroboration for this conclusion.

For example, in one of the many testimonies I read, I recall a woman speaking of a remarkable series of physical healings, and concluding with something along the lines of this paraphrase: "All this physical help is, however, as nothing beside the knowledge that I have found God, that I have not sinned away my day of grace, that I am not a lost soul."

The world needs compassion, because without the mitigating influence of love then the cold shoulder of indifference, of self-concern, would hold sway.

Doesn't that tug at your heartstrings? How that dear woman must have rejoiced in her new-found understanding that God's grace is not the forgiveness of inborn sinfulness but divine Love's revelation of her own and everyone's innate goodness. Truly, "The miracle of grace is no miracle to Love" (Science and Health, p. 494).

Unfortunately, the compassionless concept of predestination is not restricted to theology. It also can be found in the secular world as caste systems, gender discrimination, and racial prejudice. But as is true with the false concept of being born a sinner, all limits melt away when we find our freedom in the understanding of our heritage as the spiritual, blessed children of a loving God.

In her memoir, Abigail Dyer Thompson, one of the early Christian Science workers, recalled how Mrs. Eddy identified compassion as a fundamental element in her own healing work. According to Thompson, Mrs. Eddy said, "I saw the love of God encircling the universe and man, filling all space, and that divine Love so permeated my own consciousness that I loved with Christlike compassion everything I saw. This realization of divine Love called into expression 'the beauty of holiness, the perfection of being' (Science and Health, p. 253) which healed, and regenerated, and saved all who turned to me for help" (We Knew Mary Baker Eddy, p. 68).

To me, this passage clearly elucidates the compassionate view—the sweet understanding of God's love for all His children—which provides the key to healing. And this view, this element of compassion in all we do, is ours to embrace and to practice in a world hungry for love.

♦


Ann Stewart is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher in Los Altos, California.

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