Communities of Passion and Compassion
From the ‘Joy in Enough’ Retreat, at Noddfa, November 2014 led by Mary Grey
Saturday Morning: Communities of Passion and Compassion
- Called to be communities passionate about life. Double meaning of passion. Bearing up God in the world. Compassionate. Voluntary assumption of suffering for the sake of the wellbeing of the planet
- Only by being passionate about life, the survival and well-being of all forms of life, can we sustain our commitment. And engage with the many forms of suffering and pain of the world.
- Tease it out further. On the one hand, there is the suffering that is part of the pattern of life- there will be illness, death, failure, loss, bereavement…Culture’s difficulty with this results in denial of death, pushing its frontiers back by trying to live longer, seek perpetual youth by artificial means. Separation from nature and nature’s cycles is a symptom of this. Denial of the body’s reality of ageing, manipulating the body in a thousand ways. Explanations of pain and suffering in terms of blame, punishment..
Then there’s another sort of pain and suffering inflicted through oppression, violence, injustice, and structures of injustice. The response to this has got to be different – protest, prophetic resistance, taking responsibility for justice, compassionate action, solidarity.
Joanna Macy, a Buddhist, deals with the grief about environmental destruction as a mode of mobilising political action:
Experience the pain. Let us not fear its impact on ourselves or others. We will not shatter for we are not objects that can break. Nor will we get stuck in this pain for it is dynamic, it flows though us. Dropping our defences, let us stay present to its flow and express it –in words, movements and sounds.
But, she means, experience the pain through being passionate about life and the relational core of life. Touching that relational core we touch our vulnerability. (Quote Carter Heyward- our strength lies in our vulnerability) Being passionate about life allows lament, cries of grief, embracing of the tragic.
- Yes this means a call to voluntary simplicity and austerity as a countercultural lifestyle. The focus now is not so much on sacrifice, asceticism, renunciation, (even if these are part and parcel of what follows), but the deliberate adoption of a simpler life-style that does not depend on exploiting poor communities and overuse of resources. Sacrifice is probably the wrong word, because the outstanding hallmarks of this lifestyle are, first, that it is not purely altruistic: people actually want to do this. It is part of a joyous and passionate affirmation of life for all. Many of you will remember the words of the young laywoman Jean Donovan, who was raped and murdered by the military in El Salvador, along with the Mary Knoll Missionaries. When writing to her parents in Ireland, in the context of increasing danger, she said how happy she was in El Salvador: ‘why, there are even roses in December!’1 The same spirit emerges from Arundati Roy’s powerful text, The Cost of Living, written as protest against the Narmada Dam scheme in India. A mystical appeal to other kinds of truth, other kinds of dreams than the dominating ones, rings out:
To love. To be loved. To never forget your own significance.
To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places.
To pursue beauty to its lair.
To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple.
To respect strength, never power. To try to understand.
To never look away. And never, never forget. 2
Following on from this, it is a life-stance that actually brings happiness and flourishing, because it is in truth one that enables survival and peaceful co-existence, overagainst the dominant global order based on bringing excessive wealth to a small minority. The emphasis on truth is one highlighted in Gandhi’s teaching. Arundhati Roy is not explicitly a Gandhian, but from her text there is a conviction that the realistic facing of the power of truth is the only starting point
the community dimension of Christ’s setting his face to confront the power of the system. Christ-and-community embodied the struggle for truth and justice. The struggle that appeared to end with crucifixion was a protest against all crucifixions, against the necessity of the violent putting to death of the innocent, poor and vulnerable.
As Beverley Harrison wrote in a widely-quoted passage:
Jesus’ death on the Cross, his sacrifice, was no abstract exercise in moral virtue. His death was the price he paid for refusing to abandon the radical activity of love.. Sacrifice, I submit, is not a central moral goal or virtue in Christian life. Radical acts of love….are.. Like Jesus we are called to a radical activity of love, in a way of being that deepens relation, embodies and extends community, passes on the gift of life…..To be sure, Jesus was faithful unto death, He stayed with his cause and he died for it. He accepted sacrifice. But his sacrifice was for the cause of radical love, to make relationship and to sustain it, and above all, to righting wrong relationship, which is what we call ‘doing justice’.3
In a similar way, Rodolfo Cardenal quotes his Jesuit colleague, Ignacio Ellacuria, murdered by the government soldiers, as saying,
To liberate means to take the crucified people down from the Cross. But the world of oppression and sin cannot tolerate that the people be taken down from the Cross.4
I leave you with these lines to meditate on:
- Adrienne Rich, poet: – “not to suffer needlessly but to feel”
- Gillian Rose, philosopher: “Hold yourself in hell but don’t despair”.
- George Eliot, novelist: The highest ‘calling and election’ is to do without opium and live through all our pain with conscious, clear-eyed endurance. (SL, p.254)
- Sermon in the Mount: Blessed are those who suffer persecution for justice sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5)
thanks to Mary Grey for allowing the publication of her notes
1. See the film, (CAFOD)Roses in December.
2. Arundhati Roy, The Cost of Living, (New York: The Modern Library 1999):104-5.
3. Beverley Harrison, ‘The Power and Work of Love’ , in Making the Connections, ed. Carol Robb, (Boston: Beacon 1986):18-19.
4. Rodolfo Cardenal, ‘The Timeliness and the challenge of the Theology of Liberation,’ in Reclaiming Vision: Education, Liberation and Justice, op cit.,21.
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