We are drawn to compassionate people. Yet, it isn't always easy to be compassionate. In his book, "The Roots of Sorrow: A Pastoral Theology of Suffering", Phil Zylla develops a way to talk about God and suffering. One of the movements that we must make if we are to try to talk about faith and pain is to move from indifference to compassion.

Compassion literally means, "to suffer with." But, Mr Zylla believes that this doesn't fully reflect what Christian compassion is.  It isn't simply to find yourself in a place where others suffer and to stand with them. He says that "compassion is the capacity to move toward suffering rather [than] away from it." He believes that in this regard, compassion isn't natural. He suggests that we are repelled by suffering. We prefer to move away from it rather than to it.

I understand what he is getting at. I would agree that we often avoid suffering of others. But, I also know that when we have a deep and abiding connection to the other, we are drawn toward their suffering. If our child is injured, we are drawn to them. If our sibling is in pain, we are impelled to move toward the pain. There is a desire to share the pain with the hope that our presence might help ease the suffering.

But Mr Zylla is right in that many cases we move away from suffering of those we don't know. We often don't know what to do and don't like to be somewhere that we are helpless. That is why it is often helpful to be part of organizations such as the church who create opportunities for us to be compassionate--to move toward suffering rather than away from it. With some guidance and some presence of others, we gain courage to share suffering with others.

What communities are you part of that help you develop your compassion? What kind of suffering are you willing to walk toward?  


Sometimes, when we are vulnerable and our eyes see, we discover gifts that opens our heart to hope. Saturday morning Deb and I went to our church in downtown Indianapolis to deliver some invitations to guests of our food bank. The  invitation was for our Easter morning breakfast which many of our friends from the street share with us.

As I stood and chatted with some of our hosts and some of our guests, I was reminded why I believe deeply in the church. There were 75 people shopping at our produce tables which had been supplied by Indianapolis Fruit (thanks to Deb's son, Collin Miller, who helped us connect with that wonderful resource for feeding the hungry). They then went into the market and shopped for canned goods that had been provided by members of Central and the Gleaners Food Bank. People come to the church for all kinds of nourishment.

And gathered with our guests were 20 adults and children who hosted the gathering, helping, visiting, providing coffee and cake while an orderly process of shopping was followed. While some waited, they went into the Thrift Shop where many purchased essential items of clothing for a small fee. Throughout the lower level of the church, ministry and community was happening.

Now I am not naive. I know that this is simply a small bandage on the wounds of our society where more people live on the edge of existence while a few expand their wealth beyond any description of decency. I know that a more just system of sharing the world's resource is absolutely essential not only for the survival of civilization but also for the fulfilling of God's desire for shalom. (And I have to say that I am glad that I am part of a congregation where people are gathering to act for justice for janitors, for those who need reliable public transit, for those who are excluded by laws from marrying the people they love.)

But, in the interim time before a more just society can emerge, I am glad to be part of community who does what we can to keep people from falling off the edge. My heart ached with hope as I shared that Saturday morning communion. I am thankful for small signs of God's love that I get to see.