The Compassionate Life
One hundred and forty-seven young people perished…because of the cowardice and fear of one man. Another one hundred young people, whose only crime was trying to be the best that they could be, for their country, their culture, and their families, were injured. An estimated five hundred others, classmates and friends of those injured or killed, will forever live with the memories of this horror. Four men who mistakenly thought they would achieve status carried out the orders of one man. While their acts were despicable, they had at least had the conviction to do what they misguidedly thought was their calling. The man planning and ordering this horrific, evil act of cowardly lies was hiding, safe in the cocoon of his ego, living out his stupid fear and greed.
History is full of men and women who strayed from the status quo. Gandhi was often imprisoned both in South Africa and in his homeland of India as he fought against the lack of civil liberties. He never sent someone else to preach his beliefs; Gandhi spoke his own words and led his own peaceful protests. Nelson Mandela fought his own battles and served his own prison terms. Martin Luther King, Jr. also fought for the rights of all people and he too found himself sometimes fighting the law as he strove to live within it and seek peaceful change to it.
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness….” These are the opening words of the USA’s first official document, the Declaration of Independence. In explaining what he helped to write, Thomas Jefferson said: “Everyone would agree that each of us is born without governmental permission or involvement. It is evident our very lives come from nature or God. The government does not breathe life into anyone.”
One of the hallmarks of all spiritualities and religions is the call to be compassionate. Like many English words, the word compassionate is a combination of two words. One is “com” which roughly translates as “together” or “with”. The other is “pati” which is a derivative of the Latin word “passus”. “Passus” has several meanings which include passion, passive, and patience. The English words which are derived from this combination are equally different – compadre (not technically English but so well-known that the Spanish is now an English word understood to mean “friend”), compassion, companion, and our word for the day – compassionate. While it may seem like these words are different, they really are not. It is the context that differs.
A companion or compadre is a friend, someone who is patient with you, feels deeply for you (passion) and who bears all your foibles as well as your delightful moments. A friend is patient with you as you go through life, is there to bear with you and feel for you. What a friend does not do is send you out into a dangerous situation alone. A friend is not ashamed to admit they know you. A friend is not secretive in bearing witness to being your friend.
The leader of the attacks in Kenya and the one who is cowardly encouraging other such attacks while hiding his face is neither a compassionate believer trying to further the religious tenets of Islam nor is he a friend, leader, or mentor to the four men told to carry out this attack at the university. He is a coward. Nothing in his supposed faith advocates sending people to their death because they are brave. When asked, the students who believed the Christian doctrine proudly stood fast, letting their faith give them courage to die for their convictions. Their weapon was a strong character and even stronger core of belief. Their killers assassinated them behind masks and needed guns to show their faith, a faith which deplores the use of violence and bloodshed. The killers were the traitors to their religion, not those killed or injured. The evil they fight is not in their perceived enemy but in the hidden faces of their leaders. These men may present anonymity to the world but their God, their Allah will know their names.
This evening some Christians will gather to end the wake they observed, commemorating the crucifixion and death of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth. The Easter Even service will begin in silence with solemnity being the garment all will wear. Then a bell will ring out, joined by many others. Drums will proclaim the heartbeat of faith that death could not kill. True faith never dies and will not ever be eliminated by the acts of evil deeds.
The compassion of the faithful will color the world that lives. Death and destruction last for a short while but are soon simply a part of the cycle of life. Just as the winter bears witness to the blossoming of spring, so will the death of the faithful give rise to greater witness. The Latin “com” and “pati” literally means “to bear”. On this day, in Kenya and across the globe, many will grieve for the beautiful souls whose lives were ended all too quickly. Death, however, will not defeat those faithful. Tonight many will ring the bells of faith to give witness to all. One cannot claim to be a Christian and hate. One cannot speak of the Koran and then use defiling actions in the name of Allah.
There will be times when our souls come under attack and our beliefs challenged. Living a faithful life is not easy, nor is the fight for human dignity. Even while imprisoned, though, Gandhi, Mandela, and Dr King, Jr. proved that faith continues and grows. In death our faith can grow stronger. The compassionate call of all religions and spiritualities is the heartbeat of man being heard. True faith never dies, never kills, and never discriminates. True faith bears witness to love and life.