I was reading Joyce Rupp’s book, Boundless Compassion, and in the introduction she says this book “extends an invitation to grow in the kind of love that motivated Jesus to be a compassionate presence. This requires being in touch with how we think, feel, and respond to the suffering residing in ourselves and others, and how we interact with the extensive differences that trouble our world.” She also quoted South African archbishop Desmond Tutu who said, “we are fundamentally good. When you come to think of it, that’s who we are at our core…What difference does goodness make? Goodness changes everything…how we see the world, the way we see others, and most importantly, the way we see ourselves.”
Reflecting on what we continue to face within our current political challenges, the invitation Joyce Rupp speaks of stirred something within me. I am struggling, as many are, to discover where God is in this turmoil, this unsettling and unrest, the fear and insecurity and worry. Where is the love that motivated Jesus to be a compassionate presence and how will I recognize it in my everyday experience? What do I do in the midst of a conversation when the other person feels compelled to share her choices related to Covid safety and I hear it as her belief that “it’s not really all that bad”? So many things run through my mind and I might add they are not especially positive or helpful. I was experiencing a place of spiritual unfreedom and desolation.
That is the moment when I stopped and reflected on “the kind of love that motivated Jesus to be a compassionate presence”. The humanity of Jesus, the depth of awareness he must have had in relationship to God, the Father. It is more than challenging to find the words that cannot define the understanding of that relationship… one in being with the Father. I imagine the deep conversations in his prayer asking for guidance and direction when he was faced with similar challenges.
It was in those moments of unfreedom and of desolation, (of the not especially positive thoughts), as Ignatius would describe them, an awareness surfaced within me. The compassionate presence based in love is always a choice. It does not require a great deal of time, it is not a distraction, it is however an experience of love in mind, body and with the awareness of the movement of the spirit. It is a practice of presence, especially when it is challenging for us. Many have heard practice makes perfect. This practice of presence is not about perfection; it is about intention and choice. I believe Jesus, in his humanity, knew he had choices too, and his lived example of a loving and compassionate presence is a treasure to embrace.
So in these challenging times, it is a choice to remember archbishop Desmond Tutu’s words, “we are fundamentally good. When you come to think of it, that’s who we are at our core…What difference does goodness make? Goodness changes everything…how we see the world, the way we see others, and most importantly, the way we see ourselves.” We have a choice to look for the fundamental goodness in ourselves, and others because that goodness “changes everything”. We can be the “kind of love that motivated Jesus to be a compassionate presence” to those we encounter on our life journey. It is our choice to make.
We are not perfect yet we are enough, we are loved and not judged, and we are welcomed back each time we stray. What is happening in these challenging times can become a distraction from the practice of compassionate presence. Maybe, just maybe if we remain in the present, we will experience the depth of God’s presence in ways we would never have imagined and that presence is our consolation, our place and moment of inner freedom.