Thursday, August 11, 2016

Compassion and Prayer

For nearly five and a half centuries, The Imitation of Christ, written in 1418, has influenced many, many people, including me.  This little book has been translated into more than fifty languages, and next to the Bible, it is perhaps the most widely read book in Christendom (though I know many Christians who have never even heard of it, much less read it). The first line of the book is a quotation from Jesus, found in John 8:12:  “He who follows me will not walk in darkness.”  The book admonishes the reader “to imitate His life and example, if we would be truly enlightened and delivered from all blindness of heart.”

But how do we imitate Jesus, who lived in another time, without the benefits of our age?  We can imitate his compassion.  This compassion of Jesus, in my thinking, has always been one of the most important elements of his ministry.  “He was moved with compassion for the crowds…He was moved with compassion because they were distressed and dejected”…He was moved by compassion by the plight and the tears of the widow…he had compassion on a leper, on two blind men and on those who had nothing to eat. Jesus wept.  What made Jesus different in both his time and our own is his unrestrained compassion.  We could imitate and practice his compassion—letting our “hearts go out to them” who are poor, oppressed, downtrodden, and bound captives of an uncaring system.

We lack this kind of gut-wrenching compassion.  We are so focused on our needs and our wants that we have no time to feel anything for others.  But even if we did feel this compassion as Jesus felt it, what could we do about the situations that prompt it?  This is the question I’ve been wrestling with for years.  I can’t do much about many of those situations, but I can imitate another element of Jesus’ ministry that might have some redemptive influence.  I can pray as Jesus prayed.  I can pray out of my faith which I have “caught” from Jesus.  That faith suggests that prayer can open “the pores of the universe to something new,” that prayer has cosmic dimensions and redemptive power to bring about change, healing and peace.  For Jesus it seemed there were no hopeless situations.  There were only men and women who had grown hopeless about them.  I fear we have become those men and women who have grown hopeless, because we do not feel compassion and we do not know what to do about it when we do feel it.  

There is little belief in Jesus’ faith in the efficacy and significance of secret intercessory prayer these days.  Is it because we have not yet imitated his compassion?
"If we want a love that will protect
the soul from wounds, we must love
something other than God."
(Simone Weil)

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