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Compassion – A Reflection

November 16, 2022
Stella teaches me how to chill and simply be.

With all of the political upheaval in the nation and world… with all of the division and fear… with illegal/immoral military actions in Ukraine and other places in the world… with all of this, it would be far too easy to slip into despair and lose hope in humanity. It is at times like this that I find myself reaching back to the writings and the thoughts of Thomas Merton. As I have said many times before in previous blogs, his prophetic words over sixty years ago speak volumes to the world situation and life today.

In the preface to the Vietnamese edition of his book, No Man Is an Island, he wrote the following about compassion: Compassion teaches me that my brother and I are one. That if I love my brother, then my love benefits my own life as well, and if I hate my brother and seek to destroy him, I seek to destroy myself also. The desire to kill is like the desire to attack another with an ingot of red hot iron: I have to pick up the incandescent metal and burn my own hand while burning the other. Hate itself is the seed of death in my own heart, while it seeks the death of the other. Love is the seed of life in my own heart when it seeks the good of the other…. (Thomas Merton: Essential Writings, p. 114)

In the military where I was a chaplain for 26 years, I would hear time and time again language that was meant to dehumanize the “enemy.” This language has been used for centuries and it was supposed to make it easier to kill a non-human “them” instead of killing another human being. Sadly, that language has become a part of political, social, and religious rhetoric. I can’t help but imagine that Merton would weep to see how this insanity continues today. I believe that he would also embrace Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words from his sermon, “Loving Your Enemies”: Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Am I a dreamer? Perhaps I am. But to paraphrase John Lennon in his song “Imagine,” I hope I’m not the only one.

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