Spirit of Compassion
June 27, 2021
Our theme for worship today invites us to consider the ways in which we may expand our compassion for our beloved planet and all of creation. We know that the language of compassion is found within every religious tradition and in every spiritual practice. Our capacity to suffer with another living being and to be moved to alleviate that suffering is vital to being alive. In recent years, we have heard people speak of compassion fatigue, of the idea that many are feeling overwhelmed by the onslaught of images and stories that speak to us of another’s suffering, of the suffering of living things, and of the suffering caused to our precious earth. At times, it may feel that we cannot take in any more suffering, no matter how well intentioned we are. When we are feeling overwhelmed, I imagine that our spirits are calling out to us, urging us to feel compassion for ourselves as we feel compassion for other living creatures. There is an immense sense of exhaustion that seems to permeate our lives and many of us need to be renewed and re-discover deep inner peace. And how do we best do that? What are the ways in your own life that you seek to be replenished? For many of us, the ability to step outside, to walk and hike, to sit on the beach or swim in a lake, to bike or go sailing, all of this allows us moments of respite, moments to recharge. And we come here, hoping that our time together may bring peace and renewal to our lives. Let us pray, O Creator of the beauty and life which surrounds us and that is within us, help us to quiet our hearts and minds and let our souls rest in you. Amen.
A couple of weeks ago, I was helping my daughter pack her car to travel to visit a friend out of state. As I walked back into the house, I heard a noise as she was backing out that sounded like tires on gravel, and as I turned around, I noticed a fairly large turtle making her way across the bottom of our driveway. I had this fear that our daughter might have grazed the poor turtle as she drove away, not knowing that the turtle was behind her car, so I ran back down the driveway to check on the turtle. I looked at her shell and feet and all looked fine, but I felt overcome with fear that the poor thing was injured. At one point, the turtle stopped on the grass and I stepped back, worried that I was making her afraid. I couldn’t see any visible signs of injury, so I stepped away and watched her slowly make her way into our neighbor’s front yard. I worried about that poor turtle and couldn’t get her off my mind, so not long after, out I went again to check on her. She had stopped farther down the grass and I realized that she was laying her eggs. When I checked later, she was long gone, but it was clear that she had left a large spot where she had buried the eggs. We don’t live far from the Mousam River and we have often seen the turtles come out of the river to lay their eggs. I left a marker at the site, as our neighbors often do, and I felt so relieved that all was well. And, when I spoke to my daughter later, she shared that she had in fact seen the turtle and had paused as she headed out to look at her. She would have been devastated if she had done anything to harm her.
More than a year ago, people around the world were deeply alarmed as we watched the wildfires across the Amazon in Brazil. More than 2,500 major fires burned across the region between late May and early November. I read that fires do not occur naturally in the Amazon rainforest. Specific conditions are necessary for fires to burn in a standing forest, namely a dry year alongside lots of ignition sources on neighboring lands. These sources, almost exclusively caused by humans, can arise from runaway agricultural fires, or from blazes set intentionally to clear land following deforestation, much of it illegal. (Mongabay.com) Although the majority of the 2020 fires burned on cleared lands, a startling new trend emerged—more than 41% of major fires occurred in standing Amazon rainforest. The scale of this devastation was impossible to take in, but many around the globe were filled with deep sorrow and a sense of powerlessness as the rain forests burned through vast areas of this beautiful land that we call the lungs of the earth. I have never been to Brazil, but I visited the rainforests in Costa Rica which were filled with so much beauty and so many beautiful birds and plants and other forms of life. I felt the awesomeness of God’s creation there and I could only imagine the suffering of so much wildlife in Brazil from these fires, not to mention the reality for the people who call that land home.
I mentioned Rev. Matthew Fox’s book on Creation Spirituality last week and will continue to draw from it in the coming weeks. He speaks about the mystery of creation and the ways in which it speaks to us of the immense grandeur of our Creator. “The etymology of the word mysticism is ‘to enter the mysteries,” he says. “What the new creation story is telling us all today is that we are surrounded by mystery: an elm tree that produces six million leaves every season is a mystery; so are our blood cells, which parallel the structure of the chloroplasts that make plants green, except that one atom in the molecular structure of blood is iron instead of magnesium. Every organ in our body has a nineteen-billion-year history that makes it a source of wonder and awe. What is sacred is what is awesome. When society lacks awe or mysticism, life becomes trivialized. As Rabbi Heschel has said, ‘Forfeit your sense of awe, let your conceit diminish your ability to revere, and the universe becomes a marketplace for you.’” (p. 30)
I’d like to pause and invite you to think about something you have experienced in creation that spoke to you of this mystery, that touched off in you a sense of awe for the beauty of creation. Would anyone like to share a place they visited or a moment of such awe in nature? What feelings did that time evoke in you? Were you able to feel that you had a glimpse of the mystery of creation? When we allow the mystery, the awe of a moment to permeate our beings, I do believe that it can provide a deep sense of peace and heighten our capacity to be compassionate beings, to feel connected to the One who has created us and all life.
In our Gospel reading today from Mark, Jesus is being questioned and yes, challenged, by a legal expert who it seems is impressed by Jesus, so he asks him, which of the commandments is the most important. I imagine that most of us know his answer at this point…” you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength….and You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” So often, we consider these beautiful words as we put a face on a neighbor in need, but this morning, I invite us to extend our definition of neighbor to all with whom we share the land…all living creatures. If we can begin to consider that our neighbors include all that lives and breathes outside of our windows and across our vast planet, we may develop a deeper sense of compassion for all creation. And as we feel compassion for other living creatures, we must also nurture compassion for ourselves in new ways. We too need to be tended to and cared for. We each have unique needs. This past year has challenged so many of us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We need time to pause and rest, to be cared for, and to be renewed.
To embrace the teachings of Creation Spirituality can actually enable us to recover the meaning and importance of compassion. “‘Compassion is the first outburst of everything God does,’ says Meister Eckhart, summing up the best of the spiritual traditions, east and west, north and south. We are called to compassion when we are called to be ‘sons and daughters of God,’ for God is ‘the compassionate one,’ as the Hebrew Bible teaches and as Jesus so well understood. Matthew Fox reminds us that, “Compassion is the essence of Jesus’ teaching, and indeed the teachings of all great spiritual figures from Mohammed to Isaiah, from Lao Tzu to Chief Seattle. Yet compassion has been sentimentalized and severed from its relationship to justice-making and celebration.” (Matthew Fox, Creation Spirituality, p.35) If we feel the suffering and pain of others deeply, we must act to help alleviate the conditions which cause such pain if at all possible. So too with our Mother Earth.
If you are feeling compassion fatigue at this point in your life, or if you are feeling apprehension of this time of transition from the long and wearying months of Covid, I want to share a liberating message of God with all of us today. God is calling us to be compassionate to ourselves, to spend time in the mystery with our Creator. Perhaps we need time for healing or to be replenished. Now is the time. So consider what you might do to fill your hearts and then when you are ready and feel able, consider what you may do to share the fullness of your love with other living creatures, with our neighbors, whether friends who live down the street or the turtles or birds sharing our precious space. Let us give thanks to our Creator for the mysteries of Creation. Let us give thanks for this invitation to stand in awe at the beauty of the earth and air, sea and sky. As Jesus said, ‘we aren’t far from God’s Kingdom…” Amen.
Bringing Words to Life
Mark 12: 28-34
One of the legal experts heard their dispute and saw how well Jesus answered them. He came over and asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
Jesus replied, “The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”
The legal expert said to him, “Well said, Teacher. You have truthfully said that God is one and there is no other besides God. And to love God with all of the heart, a full understanding, and all of one’s strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more important than all kinds of entirely burned offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered with wisdom, he said to him, “You aren’t far from God’s kingdom.” After that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.
This is a Word of God.
Thanks be to God.
All creation is a word of God.
All creation speaks volumes of God.