Compassion and Contemplation

Jesus in his solidarity with the marginal ones is moved to compassion.  Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness.  In the arrangement of “lawfulness” in Jesus’ time, as in the ancient empire of Pharaoh, the one unpermitted quality of relation was compassion.  Empires are never built or maintained on the basis of compassion.  The norms of law (social control) are never accommodated to persons, but person are accommodated to the norms.  Otherwise the norms will collapse and with them the whole power arrangement.  Thus the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as a public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the entire numbness of his social context. — From The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann

Say that I am musical and attend a concert.  From one point of view I am totally passive.  Indeed, unless I am passive, unless I cease from activity in the usual sense, the music is wasted on me.  But after the concert is over I find that I am quite tired, happily tired no doubt, but tired nonetheless.  My tiredness shows that my passivity in the concert hall was also a deep form of activity.  To receive and take in the music was spending of energy.  So also in the prayer of contemplation, when the mind and the feelings are quietened and we become passively receptive in the presence of God, our passivity is a deep and costly form of activity.  It is action of the highest human order which always consists of letting go and letting God take on.  And when at prayer we are thus receptively passively active so that we let go and let God take on, then it inevitably colors and gives wings to all we are and do.  That is why, at regular times, we should cease from action in the more superficial sense in order at prayer to find that receptive passivity…  And this in turn gives the depth of God’s own love to what we do in the ordinary sense in the wordaday world. — From Tensions by H.A. Williams

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