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By Marcia Hardy in Sermons
exploring how a compassionate community can counter fear and anxietyAs I write, I’m very aware that what I’m thinking about this week may be very different from what we’ll be thinking about on Sunday, post- election night! Will we be in the depths of despair, or the heights of jubilation, or somewhere in between?
Our world is in caught up in ‘wars and rumours of wars’ which lead me to another set of emotions – fear, anxiety and powerlessness. How can we ever hope to respond to these situations?
We know that the gospels are full of reassurances and what we used to call ‘comfortable words’. Here’s a selection: you probably have your own favourites:
“And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for this must take place but the end is not yet.” (Matt 24: 6) “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid”. (John 14: 27)
“So do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34)
“When anxiety was great within me your consolation brought me joy.” (Psalm 94; 19)
However, these verses don’t do much to allay my current fears, which range from the threat of nuclear winter and/or the massive destructive effects of climate change; to the lack of political will to bring about the positive social changes our society needs to help those who are struggling with inadequate housing and health provision; to wondering how to pay the mortgage this month.
Wondering about the opposite of fear, I searched on google and found some unexpected answers.
I particularly like this one because it takes us on a journey:
“The opposite of fear is acceptance, which leads to curiosity, which leads to a sense of understanding and even empathy, which leads to feelings of safety, trust, and finally, love”.
Sixteen years ago, at Trinity College, after spending months studying depression, grief and other such heavy topics I wrote a paper exploring happiness, entitled “The Role of the Positive Emotions in the Pastoral Encounter”. Like the rest of my student essays, it’s been sitting unread in a file in my computer ever since. However, working on the principle that nothing’s ever wasted and I might learn something, I had another look at it during this emotional ‘roller-coaster’ week.
The list of emotions I explored back then included delight, appreciation, joy, generosity, hope, compassion, and love.
Under ‘compassion’ I found the following: Faber (1988) talks about the love which develops among a group which journeys together. He describes how the pilgrim group encourages each other, looking ahead to their destination, finding together a sense of freedom. He concludes: ‘where people return to the deepest source of life, they begin to live from humour and creativity. Both are essential components in an authentic life. They are also an expression of deep joy.’
...A compassionate community which can also experience grief fully, will be enabled to find real gladness, rather than a shallow optimism. Then they will really be able to sing joyfully.
This reminds me of a time in my life when I was teaching group dynamics and conflict resolution, where we frequently encouraged people to ‘find your compassion’. We hear this echoed in the words of a Sacred Circle Dance John and I used at our marriage in 1993. ‘Maybe this is the healing that we share this feeling and find a compassionate love, passing from my heart to heart to yours, passing from my heart to yours...’
‘Compassion,’ for Jesus, usually involves action, combined with love. In the gospels, we find many examples of this, such as: “When he came ashore he saw a great crowd and he had compassion for them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14: 14.)
Returning to my paper, I identified some ‘roles’ we can use to develop those positive emotions’.
They are: the comic; the artist, (including poet, painter, musician, dancer); the mystic; the gardener and the friend. As we journey together, we find and share these roles among us on our way to creating a truly compassionate community.
The poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, reminds us of that constant presence within our hearts and moving among us, which we often call ‘the comforter’. He has the last word!
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs - Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. (from ‘God’s Grandeur’)