Homily on Compassion
Delivered for the Multifaith Service to Open Common Ground Week at University of the West on April 3, 2017
We saw the young man sitting on the cold concrete tucked in a doorway. His sign said “We FREEZE at night. Anything helps.” In his lap he cradled a large pit-bull dog, her body limp with trust, sound asleep, insulated from the cold ground by his narrow form.
My heart cracked open. I looked to my partner. I saw concern on his face, too. But we didn’t slow down.
I would have to dig in my purse for cash. We were late for our reservation. “We’ll stop on our way back,” we said to each other. On our way back from a good, warm meal, they were gone.
This is not compassion.
Compassion is not the feeling of the heart cracking open. Compassion is not concern for the suffering of another.
Compassion is the young man holding his dog so that she didn’t have to lay against the cold ground.
Compassion is not what we feel. Compassion is what we do.
Just feeling sadness and then hurrying on by is not enough to call compassion. This feeling can spur us to compassion, but compassion itself is in the act.
We have been trained out of compassion by our busy lives, by deadlines and reservations and crowds of people also walking by indifferent to the young man and his sign.
I will regret walking by without stopping for the rest of my life. I will wonder what happened to that young man and his dog for the rest of my life. Months later, I still remember it vividly – this time, like so many other times, when my compassion failed.
Today we have the opportunity to train in compassion. During this week of Common Ground, we have many opportunities for compassion. We have the chance to serve others, to serve our community, and to act from a heart broken open.
This week we can share food, art, charity, and service with one another. Every culture has these things. Beyond all our differences, these are things we hold in common.
Every culture values compassion. And every culture struggles with it. Every society tries to make us too busy for compassion. And every religion says, slow down and act compassionately.
The only way seven billion people can survive together on this planet is if we help one another. Do not be too fast for compassion. Do not think you’ll have another chance. Compassion is now, only now.
Thank you for joining us to train in compassion this morning.