Sunday 4

Joy is hidden in compassion.  The word compassion literally means ‘to suffer with’.  It seems quite unlikely that suffering with another person would bring joy.  Yet being with a person in pain, offering simple presence to someone in despair, sharing with a friend times of confusion and uncertainty … such experiences can bring us deep joy.  Not happiness, not excitement, not great satisfaction, but the quiet joy of being there for someone else and living in deep solidarity with our brothers and sisters in this human family.  Often this is a solidarity in weakness, in brokenness, in woundedness, but it leads us to the centre of joy, which is sharing our humanity with others.

Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey (43) 

Finding a quiet joy as the Presence reflects back the glory of my own colours today is not the final destination of a JoyPilgrim.  All the great spiritual leaders of all faiths, past and present, agree that Joy is truly found in community, in the deep compassion of ‘being with’ those we find ourselves next to, known and unknown to us, physically or virtually.  Today, I will need all my courage: today I seek to see and salute the colours of others.  As the poet John O’Donohue writes,

Human presence is a creative and turbulent sacrament, a visible sign of invisible grace … Nowhere is there such intimate and frightening access to the mysterious.  Friendship is the sweet grace that liberates us to approach, recognise and inhabit this adventure.

(cited in Brian Draper, Spiritual Intelligence (121)

In the Book of Joy Douglas Abrams, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama set out over the course of a week together to explore where Joy might be found for every person on the planet.  The Dalai Lama insists that we are all ‘same person, same human being’ so he invites us: ‘come and stand next to me and let’s laugh at me together, then we can laugh at you together’ (221).  He explains that the Buddhist principle of mudita means to cultivate a ‘sympathetic joy’, which asks ‘how are we?’ rather than ‘how am I?’; it is a mutual act of compassion fully recognising our human interdependence (140).  Archbishop Tutu explains the corresponding South-African concept of Ubuntu:

It says: A person is a person through other persons.  

Ubuntu says when I have a small piece of bread, it is for my benefit that I share it with you … you realize in a very real sense that we’re meant for a very profound complementarity.   It is the nature of things.  You don’t have to be a believer in anything.  I mean I could not speak as I am speaking without having learned it from other human beings.  I could not walk as a human being.  I could not think as a human being, except through learning it from other human beings.  I learned to be a human being from other human beings.  We belong in this delicate network.  It is actually quite profound.

Unfortunately, in our world we tend to be blind to our connection until times of great disaster.  We find we start caring about people in Timbuktu, whom we’ve never met, and we’re probably never going to meet this side of death.  And yet we pour out our hearts.  We give resources to help them because we realize we are bound up together.  We are bound up and can be human only together. (60)

I can only fully be me, if I let you fully be you.  Whether we recognise it, admit it, practise it, we are all interconnected.  How I am with an-other will affect how that person is with a lover, a friend, a stranger, a culture in their turn.  It seems that Joy is to be found in sameness not specialness.  My ego longs to find its’ own significance, but as long as I confuse my significance, my purpose, with importance, or success, or outcomes, I will find I am separated from others, from myself, and ultimately, from the Beloved Who Waits.  Just as God is with me in all, so I in my turn need to ‘be with’ all.

One river gives

Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.

We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.

We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,

We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,

Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,

But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,

Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.

Together we are simple green.  You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you

What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

‘When Giving is All We Have’

Alberto Rios

you gave me pink.  Canon 7D. f10.1/250. ISO 3200.

Published by Kate Kennington Steer

writer, photographer and visual artist

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