Recently, as perhaps never before, identity has become very important. Countries are rejecting refugees because of this, they have no identity. Where we live, what we eat, what type of vehicle we drive, the clothes we wear and where we worship are all a part of our identity – an extremely small part. And yet, wars are fought and people die because of these material things that truly represent not one molecule of who we really are.
Every religion, every spirituality discusses how we should treat others and none of them – that’s right, NONE of THEM, encourage hatred, killing, turning one’s back on another. Even those associated with witchcraft and black magic use the phrase “and harm none”. What they do all preach is compassion. Where in the world has compassion gone?
The book “My Neighbor’s Faith” is a collection of stories gathered and written by Jennifer Howe Peace, Or N. Rose, and Gregory Mobley. One was written by Laurie L. Patton and relates her experience while on a soul-searching sojourn in India. The year was 1983 and women were encouraged to be all that they could be, to celebrate and demand equality. Laurie decided to find herself in Varanasi, a devout Hindu location where young American students were encouraged to immerse themselves in the Indian Culture. They wore the traditional saris, silver toe rings, and the accepted number of bangles or bracelets. Hindi was the preferred language, though, and Laurie opted for silence rather than speak and make a mistake.
In her story she tells of being considered the quiet one and about her friendship with another Westerner, a young man she calls Dan. One day Laurie and Dan take a motorbike trip, planning to have some quiet meditation while visiting the local Buddhist temples. Laurie packed a book and some crewel embroidery to help occupy her meditation periods and the two set off. Four hours into the trip they ran out of gas. Dan hitched a ride into twon with a passing lorry while Laurie stayed behind with the motorbike. Indian life in the form of ox carts and rickshaws passed by her as she sat on the side of the ride in anonymity.
Suddenly Laurie heard a rustling in the nearby sugarcane fields just beyond the road. Two women, one near her age and the other twice as old, stood assessing the scene, their saris frayed, evidence that they were workers from the fields. They paid little attention to the motorbike and, after exchanging a few words with each other in the local native dialect, came and sat, one on each side, beside Laurie. No words were exchanged as Laurie realized they had simply come to sit with her. AS time passed, Laurie reached into her backpack and retrieved her embroidery. She mad a simple French knot and then offered the cloth and needle to the older woman who attempted the same stitch. Her first attempt was a failure but she laughed and persevered, with Laurie’s help. Then the younger woman tried. Her first attempt was perfect. Another piece of cloth was found in Laurie’s backpack along with more thread and another needle. The woman taught Laurie a stitch or two and the embroidery commenced. Soon, however, the lorry and Dan returned with more petrol and as the lorry approached, the women smiled to Laurie and then returned to the fields.
Less than five words had been spoken between the women. Their language was the embroidery, their presence compassion. These two women perceived Laurie’s vulnerability and offered support in the form of simply sitting with her. Sometimes the most important evidence of faith is not what we say but merely our presence.
The compassion of presence is a teaching found in all religions and spiritualities. It might be a simple “How are you?” and then staying to hear the response. It might be the sharing of an activity, something quite common and humdrum but necessary. How did your living yesterday show compassion? What can you do today to live compassion?