I took some time away from social media recently. My heart was heavy and my mind conflicted over what I have been seeing. Good people with good intentions are destroying the fabric of community. I know as they read this, my conservative friends and family are nodding and saying, “Yes – those evil liberals…” At the same time, my more liberal friends and colleagues are shaking their heads and saying, “Of course, those ignorant conservatives…” What is so sad is how no one sees how they are trying to steal the moral high ground and in the process are destroying the very culture we are fighting over. It’s gotten so bad that people I once considered wise leaders in my profession are destroying their brand and reputation with diatribes and rhetoric. People I once shared ideas and laughter with are pointing fingers and questioning motives. I tried to protect myself from the pain this caused me. I left groups, stopped following feeds, ignored the news, stopped watching comedic monologues, and finally stepped away completely to ground myself and consider whether I wanted to stay connected at all. But a voice of reason spoke into my life and I’m writing to share what I believe is an answer.
Cynthia Bourgeault is an Episcopal minister, a contemplative Christian, and a thought leader in the area of Centering Prayer and compassion. I listened to a presentation online that she shared at a conference called The Heart of Compassion. She talked about how true compassion is different than pity or charity. She reminded us of a story Jesus told about a Pharisee who prayed, “Thank God I’m not like other men,” and then quoted another common phrase, “There but for the grace of God go I.” She suggested we drop part of that sentence and recognize that, “There… go I.”
All of us live in a world where power differentials and hierarchies rob us of true Compassion. When we’re commanded to ‘Love our neighbor as ourselves’ we mishear it as “Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.” But there is no comparison in that command. In giving that command, Jesus showed us that we are equals. We ARE our neighbor. When we see this, we will have compassion. Doing good will proceed when we see and experience the oneness.
So often we think we have to become angry about wrongs committed by others, but fail to see our attachment to ego. Anger skews compassion and connectedness into self-centered, divisive, hierarchical do-goodism. Bourgeault quoted Gerald May as saying, “As attachment ceases to be your motivation, your actions will become reflections of compassion absolute.”
Attachment is the thumb over the camera lens – the blind spot in our desire for what is good and right in the world. Move aside just a bit to let go of attachment, and we see that the Ultimate Reality (which I call God) is ordered, structured, relational, personal, and ultimately compassionate. When you are pulled into the intimacy of compassion, judgment and role playing fall away. Only the heart can see the Truth. The mind, governed by our attachments, will never see the world as a coherent, unconditional whole. The heart, the seat of our spiritual perception, when aligned with and governing the mind, will allow us to truly do good and create change with action that flows effortlessly out of compassion.
Thomas Merton had an epiphany when walking on city streets one day. He realized that he was moved with compassion for every person he saw. Every barrier of race, or status, or politic fell away. He realized that he was part of that human family that is loved ceaselessly by God; one with every man, woman and child. He was moved from division and any sense of moral high ground to true compassion because he was seeing for the first time with new eyes. He said, “I have no formula for that seeing, but the gates of heaven are everywhere.”
I do not expect this page to convince anyone to change their opinion, or to stop the angry noise that hurts my heart. But seeing myself as one with everyone, and seeing everyone as part of the collective whole embraced by God’s love, has convinced me to let go of any sense of division or other-ness. My aim is to respond to the rhetoric and finger pointing with love. I no longer have to be right (or left) or angry or fearful or even hurt. Love is the only thing that will heal our hearts and our community. So, you will continue to see me on social media, and I’ll keep reading your posts – well, some of them. And I will hold you in my heart with love. For your hurt, your anger, your frustration is mine. And the person or corporation or policy you are angry with — that is me too. And I will do all I can to be love. Because love is the only solution.