Compassion in Community

January 26, 2011
Cheryl Woelk |

In the book Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, Henri Nouwen, with co-authors Donald P. McNeill and Douglas A. Morrison, describe the current society's obsession with news. All day long, people can access news about events locally and across the world. Media completely bombards society with stories of suffering, loss, and pain. Under this heavy blanket of sadness, when we are fatigued and overwhelmed by the hardships in the world, let alone our own difficulties, the authors ask, how can we show compassion?

The answer lies in community. In community, we hear the stories of suffering together, and can together continue to be compassionate. Each individual cannot be compassionate all the time. Human limits and weaknesses mean that people will sometimes act out of selfishness rather than compassion. Yet strength grows within the community that allows the group as a whole to continuously show compassion. When one person feels overwhelmed, others take over the ministry the individual had been doing and provide care for the fatigued person too.

In community, we also remember the human identity as compassionate people. The Dalai Lama suggests that violence and suffering "sell" in the media because the human community ultimately sees it as unusual. Good deeds and kindness do not make the news because they represent the human expectation. Violence proves a bigger sensation because it is unexpected. Human nature is compassion and we expect compassion in the human community.

It's the synergy effect: humans can do more together than we can do individually. Added to this is the power of the Spirit of the God of compassion, who empowers individuals and communities to go beyond their limits and human nature in caring for others. As the church, we remember our true nature as followers of Christ, not perfect, but able to open ourselves together to the suffering and pain of the world without being overwhelmed and respond with compassion as a faith community.

Author Name: 
Cheryl Woelk
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