an Advent meditation – more musing about mystery: a correction?

I believe, mysteriously, for this knowledge is beyond my reason’s reach, that…(we) are bound together whene’er we, in a spirit of compassion, share the experience of life’s labor, whether wrestling…with our difficulties…appreciating…life’s beauty, or…savoring the wonder of being alive.

This is where I ended yesterday’s post. Today, another thought.

Bound together in compassion sharing life’s experience one with another. Hmmm, offering compassion, being compassionate is not so mysterious, rather relatively easy for me to do with those who share my beliefs and values, and, I admit, those I like. Equally without mystery, it is not so easy for me to do with those I don’t like.

This came to mind in the fresh light of a new day as I mulled over an encounter late last evening with someone with whom I’ve had a long-running disagreement and share (if I can call it sharing) a mutual dissatisfaction, a personal dislike. My morning’s contemplation, I might have predicted (and not necessarily gladly!), stirred the remembrance of Jesus’ counsel, no, his command to love my enemies.

This is not mystery, but madness; straining compassion and common sense! Undeterred by my judgment, Jesus calls his disciples, calls me to repudiate reciprocity as a primary arbiter of my behavior: If I love and help those who love and help me, what credit is that to me?

Jesus implicitly demands also my rejection of retaliation: If I hate and hurt those who hate and hurt me, what credit is that to me? Yes, lex talionis, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21.24) may be at the foundation of the system of law. Yet my reaction to those who have wronged me is not to be in kind (as someone once said, if all followed this path, our world would be populated only by the blind and toothless!), but rather I am to be kind; again, loving my enemies.

Here, love is not an emotion, but an action. Jesus does not call me to feel good about being hurt, much less about being hated, or about those who hurt or hate me. Rather to the extent that I can discern it and decide to do it, I am to act in my enemy’s best interests.

Taken by itself, this principle advocates the wildest imprudence. I think of the heroic and extravagant acts of nonviolent resistance of Mohandas Gandhi, Václav Havel, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Malala Yousafzai – all peacefully challenging their oppressors who continued to wield with relish the weapons of repression.

Yet what Jesus, calling me to love my enemies, hints at is a new quality of life. Life with a renewed spirit of connectedness to others wrought out of our shared experience of redemption – being brought back, bought back from a life always uneasily balanced and easily tipped on the scales of reciprocity and retaliation. Life in which compassion can be offered mutually one to another, for each has a deep sense of having received it.

This – compassion – is mystery. Beyond the height of my reason to conceive. Beyond the depth of my feeling to create. But not beyond the embrace of my experience. And if, when experienced, then known. And if known, then capable of being shared.

Question. Can I recall an occasion of compassion, a moment when someone shared my suffering? Yes.

Question. Having known that experience, can I imagine offering compassion to another, even an enemy? Yes.

Hmmm, today, to the one with whom last night I shared the pain of yet another run-in, I will reach out. With compassion.