Dear Henri, In All Things Compassion? – Week 8

Solitude_Yatrides_Creative Commons

"Solitude"_Yatrides_Creative Commons

Dear Henri,

Mia is a beautiful young woman. It's difficult not to be infected with her laughter, even if you might just want to wring her neck at the same time. Never in the same space twice for more than three seconds strung together, Mia bounces from feeling to feeling, emotion to emotion and circumstance to circumstance with little common sense to back her decisions.

Having said that, Mia's had it rougher than most youth in the world. Abandoned repeatedly, shuffled around, denied healthy family, she's found herself only looking out for "Mia". What else is there to do? Who else is there to look out for? Relationships shatter, become drunk on alcohol, or simply vanish.

"Solitude is the furnace of transformation" (Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, p.25). 

And such a furnace! 

Had I known what solitude would have demanded of me, I would have turned around and asked God for store credit on a new life. 

You're right, you know.

I have invisible conversations with my 'enemies'; anger and greed bubble to the surface; and I am confronted with the worst of myself and the best of Jesus. It burns. It blisters.

Mia's not my enemy, but lately I've run out of ways to get through to her. I've had invisible conversations with her in my own solitude. Most of the youth I develop deeper relationships know that I have certain boundaries. I am trustworthy and loving, but a part of that love is to disclose any threats or actions of self-injury/suicide to parties more capable than myself.

Another one is bullying.

Yes, Mia has been through the wringer that is life. Yes, she has some developmental delays. Yes, the odds are against her. Yes, she's been abused, hurt and judged. But when that hurt turns into anger and she publicly slams her own enemies as "Sluts!", "Whores!", "Fuckin' Bitches!", claiming she's so strong being able to walk away from ugly situations, I shudder. She knows where I stand on bullying, and how easy it is to burn our enemies to make our own hurting selves feel better.

She doesn't seem to care at the moment.

"Here we reach a point where ministry and spirituality touch each other. It is compassion. Compassion is the fruit of solitude and the basis of all ministry. The purification and transformation that take place in solitude manifest themselves in compassion.

Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it. [emphasis added] As busy, active, relevant ministers, we want to earn our bread by making a real contribution. This means first and foremost doing something to show that our presence makes a difference. And so we ignore our greatest gift, which is our ability to enter into solidarity with those who suffer.

It is in solitude that this compassionate solidarity grows" (Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, pp.33-34).

Hurt people hurt people.

Like I've never lashed out before?

Poetic_Seyed Mostafa Zamani_Creative Commons

"Poetic"_Seyed Mostafa Zamani_Creative Commons, representing "Silence"

Mia will learn, as we all do, that by trampling on the people around us we create more brokenness, distance, pain, and suffering. I don't wish this for her. In fact, I want to yank her back from this behaviuor to save her from another lifetime of angst. But perhaps it is my yanking that will more likely cause a broken neck.

True, it's not right to bully. But Mia's deeper needs are love: love born of solitude, silence and prayer when a person has been stripped naked before her Creator, and has given birth to compassion. 

So where does the spiritual become tangible, Henri? Do we, as these New Monastics, simply ignore the bad behaviour around us? Do I leave Mia to take her lumps?

Or is there more?

There's got to be more!

True, riding her butt about public slut-shaming will probably cause a lot of eye rolling (my mom would quickly interject here about how I was especially proficient at this practice; she called it "looking for my brains"). But what else can I offer Mia that would sink deeper, past the nasty catty-ness, to that broken place where a little girl is weeping for a family?

"Over the last few decades we have been inundated with a torrent of words. Wherever we go we are surrounded by words: words softly whispered, loudly proclaimed, and or angrily screamed; words spoken, recited or sung; words on records ["Records", Henri??? I believe we call it "vinyl" now; ha!], in books, on walls or in the sky; words in many sounds, many colours, or many forms; words to be heard, read, seen, or glanced at; words which flicker off and on, move slowly, dance, jump, or wiggle. Words, words, words! They form the the floor, the walls, and the ceiling of our existence" (Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, p.45).

I remember being 18 and no one knew better than Erin. I was so eager to prove myself, for good or really really bad, that any words of wisdom were tossed out (especially if they came from my parents). But what I craved for to my very bones were words of love: "I love you, Erin", "We need you, Erin", "You're so special to me, Erin". I seemed to be able to hear those words in the relationships around me, but not to me, just me.

Maybe I couldn't hear those specific words for all the other words.

Maybe Mia doesn't need more words.

Maybe Mia needs presence. Am I getting close, Henri?

Prayer Flags_Hogle_Creative Commons

"Prayer"_Hogle_Creative Commons
  • "The prayer of the heart is nurtured by short simple prayers.

  • The prayer of the heart is unceasing.

  • The prayer of the heart is all-inclusive." (Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, p.80).

If I'm reading you as you intended us to hear you, I don't think you're writing as a doctor would a prescription. That would be crazy out of character for you, Henri. Rather I think your passion for simplicity demands we understand the depths of the human heart and our connection to Christ through the clearest possible lens. Even then — even now — it's not so easy. 

Unceasing, huh?

The Desert Abbas and Ammas knew this?

Christ knows this?


… where've I been??? Geez!!

A dangerous but persistent line of liturgy that stays with me — simply won't let me go — is the phrase: "Listen to our prayers, not our words". 

I think such a plea is close to where you're trying to hit the mark.

Mia needs to be loved. So do I.

But unless I've entered the furnace that is solitude, chosen silence over words, and engaged in prayers of the heart, my compassion will only be worldly pity. Compassion is born of hard times of coming face to face with my own sinful nature, dismantling a need to judge (oh how I NEED to judge!), my need to prove my enemies wrong (but they are so WRONG!), and my need to make sure my own self is protected before I reach out (but I NEED distraction!). 

Compassion appears to be a tempered creature, rising from the ashes of who I once was, into a truer, more honest image of Jesus. And though I am not Jesus the Christ,…

… I am His sister. I am His daughter.

I am His.

Unless I walk His way, I cannot offer Mia much more than what the world already does: strike out at your enemies, take all you can get, do it all for yourself, care only for yourself, step on your enemies to get ahead… yaddy-yaddy-yadah (did you ever watch Sienfeld, Henri?).

Can't say I'm all peaceful-like and compassionate towards Mia in the most perfect sense. I'm still sorely tempted to smack her upside the head when she plays the victim to me, all the while digging her nails into the flesh of others. Perhaps I, myself, am still in the furnace.

It burns.

It blisters.

That in itself should create a compassion for Mia born not out of anger or greed, but of the painful refining of God.

Until next time, Henri,

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