Compassion: The Things We Carry

Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.

  • Fr. Gregory Boyle

Do you ever have that experience where multiple people from completely distinct areas of your life are recommending the same book, idea, movie, etc.?  Well, I have been listening to Tara Brach’s podcasts for quite some time, and she makes frequent reference to Fr. Gregory Boyle’s book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless CompassionThen my wife received an autographed copy from her parents, and each night as we both lay in bed reading she would alternate between laughing out loud and wiping tears from her eyes.  Now I find myself doing the same thing.

Sometimes I am so struck by a line or phrase in a book that I have to stop.  Read it again.  Put it down.  Read it again.  Sometimes even pray with it.  (I suppose I have learned this through the practice of lectio divina.)  I found myself doing this with the line quoted above.

Like many Americans (or perhaps like many humans), I struggle with my own prejudices and biases, some of which are based upon race and social class.  For the most part, I have at least become aware of when an unfair judgment is crossing my mind when I am waiting for the bus or I pass someone whose physical appearance or demeanor makes me uncomfortable.  The public awareness of violence – particularly directed toward black men – in our country, combined with my reading of Fr. Bryan Massingale’s Racial Justice and the Catholic Church, and Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ writings in the Atlantic, have made me particularly attuned to how I respond – often judgmentally – to racial differences.

But moving from awareness into new – and more accurate – beliefs and responses is another thing entirely.  Something about this quote above has helped me to envision a more compassionate response.  To stand in awe is to cultivate respect and potentially relationship.  To stand in judgment is to cultivate division and potentially violence.  (Or perhaps more accurately, judgment is already a form of violence that may manifest in more outward forms.)

As a friend of mine Michael Jaycox put it at a recent conference I attended, the privileged do not get to tell the oppressed how to carry their struggles.  With a little help from the grace of God, I hope to stand more in awe than in judgment.


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