Every time there is a natural disaster, a hurricane, tornado, wild-fire, or an earthquake, the news is filled with stories of loss and heart-rending stories of survival. We also hear many stories of how human beings have gone out of their way to help others. These acts of compassion become the heart and soul of life, restoring our sense of hope in humanity.
Nearly every day we hear a story in the church office from the individuals and families who come to us looking for food and Kroger gift cards. The stories are tragic, but they are also stories of hope. When people come to the food pantry our only restriction is that people don’t abuse it, that they’ll take what they need, and leave enough for others. And for the most part that is what happens – people take care of their needs and leave enough for others.
We are a Community-Centered Church, feeding people in mind, body, and spirit. The food pantry, Blessings in a Backpack which feeds hungry kids during the school year, and working with Good Shepherd in Liberia to build a school, are just a couple of the ways we are living out the Good News that Jesus speaks about in the Gospel this morning, having compassion for our neighbors near and far; feeding people hungry for physical, spiritual, and intellectual nourishment.
Karen Armstrong’s book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, which we read together in the summer of 2011, describes compassion as the root of all of the world religions. She writes that about three thousand years ago a phenomenon happened that moved across the globe and in and through every religion of the day. This phenomenon resulted in what is known as the Golden Rule – do to others what you would have done to you. From Christianity to Judaism to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Zoarastorism, Confucianism, and Taoism, all of the main religions of the world adopted a primary belief and saying that grounds the faithful in compassionate living.
Armstrong writes that compassion begins by one acquiring the ability to have compassion for one’s self. There is, she writes, a disorder in western culture that stems from our inability to truly care for ourselves. It is grounded in an inability to recognize our feelings and to understand how our unconscious feelings guide our behavior. Developing the capacity to become self-aware, which includes an honest understanding of our strengths and our growing edges, is crucial to self-awareness. In addition, when we have the capacity to truly understand ourselves, and have some compassion for ourselves, we are able to take responsibility for our misdeeds and to make amends.
For example, we have a tendency to dislike and even attack others who actually exhibit the very qualities that we struggle with in ourselves. I know that as soon as I start to feel anxious and critical of another person it is probably because that person is behaving just like me. When I develop the ability to understand what and why I am the way I am, when I develop the capacity to manage my anxiety because I understand it better, when I have compassion for myself, then I am able to develop the capacity to have compassion for others and their behavior.
As we hear in our reading this morning from Mark (6:30-34. 53-56), Jesus feeds people. He feeds them with real food, bread and fish, bread and wine….. He feeds them with love and prayer. He feeds them with compassion and healing. Jesus also feeds himself. He goes off alone to pray, feeding his spirit so he can then care for and feed others. This morning we are reminded to take the time to care for ourselves and to become as aware of our behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes, as we can be in order to not be driven by unconscious, and therefore often destructive energy. We are reminded to treat others as we would like to be treated, with compassion, loving God, self, and others as God loves us.