Compassion in hostile environments.

Grace and acceptance towards one another.

In recent weeks, there have been many conversations about what is most important in the world. For me, my Christian faith earths me in God’s love, Jesus’ teaching challenges how I live each day, and His Holy spirit encourages and remakes me. But there is also the wider question about what general qualities are most significant in human relationships, and how to care for our planet. How do we discover and then express this?

We are still in pandemic mode, with so many still getting the covid 19 virus, so many isolating, hospitalised or sadly dying. And the consequences of the backlogs in social care, education and health care especially leading to long waiting lists, lack of resources and shortages of staff. Our society seems fractured, and the pandemic has accentuated and accelerated injustice, isolation and multiple crises. We need many wise people to manage well, to direct resources, and to plan strategically.

However in much planning, there sometimes seems to be a lack of basic humanity and compassion. Souless bureaucrats have power but are not always listening to people on the ground, as to what is most needed. Fulfilling quotas and keeping to timetables, does not always reflect that we have done our best to listen to the needs of, and to support the individual in front of us.

I love this quotation from Henri Nouwen: ‘compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear and confusion and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.’

Jesus showed compassion to the sick child, the woman who was ill, the man with leprosy. He spent time with those on the edges of society, the person who collected taxes, who was a rebel, who prostitued themselves for money. Jesus had a heart and a message for all. He offered them a way back to God, to cleansing, forgiveness and a new beginning.

In our society, we have been through so much in recent years, it seems that we are exhausted, at times numb, on automatic pilot. It is easy to think that the wellbeing of others is not our responsibility. However if we follow that model then we create a harsh world where self preservation and convenience are our only concerns.

May we look to God for answers, to the life and ministry of Jesus for our models. ‘when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ Matthew 9:36. May we too show compassion to others, by praying, listening, giving a safe space, and affirming and supporting each other.

Gracious God, sometimes so much has happened to us, that we become hard hearted, for we are hurting and sorrowful, and we find it hard just to survive. We protect ourselves by covering ourselves with a hard shell. Lord Jesus, look upon us with compassion, and soften our hearts with your abundant and undeserved grace, acceptance and love. Help us know the depth of your care for us, so we in turn can show similar compassion to others. Holy spirit, each morning, may you fill us with tender love and empathy for others, so we can see them through your eyes, and show compassion, Amen

We think of the lyrics of Graham Kendrick’s song ‘Beauty for brokeness’

‘ Friend of the weak, Give us compassion we pray, Melt our cold hearts, Let tears fall like rain, Come change our love from a spark to a flame’ Amen.

More bridges- bridges of connection.

All different kinds of connection!

I have been reflecting a lot recently on different ways to connect. In my last blog, I was thinking of the importance of listening and prayerfully making space, but there is so much more to connection.

There are qualities that make deeper connection more possible, openness, love, empathy, compassion. People have such different life experiences, incredibly varied ways of thinking, different priorities, that we need many ways of relating to others.

I was privileged to be a chaplain in a special educational needs school, and I learned so much about different types of communication, whether it was makaton, dancing or using all the senses. I loved it, and felt at home, as we were all being and learning together.

In this time of lockdown, I worry that so many are becoming isolated, and we are forgetting how to communicate. For many people they have lost their confidence, their ability to relate. And for people who have experienced trauma and sadness, this is intensified.

And so I think we need to build many types of bridges of love and connectivity. I have been reading about ‘trauma informed’ care often spoken about in education and in medical settings, about helping people to feel safe, to be gentle, to give options, to explain things well, to promote healing and empowerment.

When I hear of this, it seems as natural as breathing. Why haven’t we been doing this all the time? And what does it mean for our society, and also in a spiritual dimension. We talk of churches as places of sanctuary, places of safety and healing, but how often is this really the case?

As we start to think a little more about the future, how can we promote healing to a society stressed out and anxious after lockdown, traumatised by experiences of suffering and grief? We need to offer a wide variety of ways to enable people to connect and experience safety and love.

I started to think about many of these themes, because of my late husband’s ptsd symptoms and brain injury. And I think how we support individuals, and how we operate as a society, says so much about who we are. We have a choice to pursue divisive and negative rhetoric, or a language that uplifts and offers opportunity for safe self expression.

It says in 1 John 4:19 ‘we love because He first loved us.’ God revealed the full extent of His love in Jesus, how he challenged corruption, loved the person on the road side, healed the sick. How can we continue that kind of work today, as it has never seemed more important?

Let us pray, Gracious God, so many are tired and stressed, lonely and traumatised. Yet You look upon us with tender mercy, and long to pour out your healing balm. Forgive us Lord Jesus, that we are so rigid and narrow in our form of communication, where we often judge others, rather than appreciate their difference. Enlarge our minds and our hearts, through your holy spirit, to connect with others with empathy, with creativity, so we can build bridges of acceptance and love with others, Amen.

Coming home at Christmas?

This is a photo of our wonderful dog Gabriel welcoming me home. Yes, he is in fact standing on the dining room table. Yes, I had only been to the bin. But there he is welcoming me back to the house, with excitement and enthusiasm!

We have an image, about what it is like to be welcomed back home. It is a bit like the movie images, of a harmonious family sitting round the dinner table, synchronising forkfuls of delicious food, with a place setting with your name on it. But it is seldom exactly like this.

This year, we are all so conscious that we can meet up with a few loved ones at Christmas, under the new regulations. But it is so hard. Many people are opting not to visit, as they think this is the best way to keep loved ones safe. Others are travelling or planning, but are worried as to who to invite or not, and how that might be received. There are strained relationships and worries as to what to do. It is so complex, as to what to do for the best.

When we celebrate Christmas, we remember that we are celebrating the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ. His birth brings Hope, Love, Salvation, Forgiveness, Joy. It is a beautiful time, whether we celebrate it alone or with others

And if we are celebrating alone, for whatever reason, we remember the story of the Prodigal Son. He was far from home, he turned away from his family and went and did his own thing. But when he decided to go home, his Father was watching for him, and celebrated with the best robe and a feast of celebration, for the one who was lost was found.

This reminds us, that actually we are never by ourselves, for God welcomes us into His presence with a tender love and care. And this Christmas, my prayer is that every person will know that message of grace and love, wherever they may be.

There is a beautiful song called ‘ You came running’ by Laura Story which reminds us that in Luke 15:20 it says: ‘ while he was still a long way off, his Father saw him, and was filled with compassion for him, he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.’ The Father sees his children, and he runs to welcome us. What extraordinary grace and undeserved love. When we are with God, we are always spiritually home.

Let us pray, Gracious Father, when we feel lost or alone, thankyou that You are looking out for us, and long to welcome us back to you. Lord Jesus, Saviour of the world, You came as the Word made flesh, to open up the door to eternal life, to all who place their trust in You. Holy spirit, prompt us to keep returning to You, to know that You never turn us away, and that we can be reconciled with Yourself. In the midst of disrupted plans, and empty places this Christmas, may we know how much we are loved by You, and find peace, Amen.

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