I sat down to read from Henri Nouwen’s Here and Now this morning, and was stopped dead in my tracks by an essay titled “From Competition to Compassion”. In the midst of recent circumstances and conversations, Nouwen speaks with an authority that brings conviction. What makes compassion so difficult when it really counts? Why are we so moved to competition instead of compassion? What does this look like in the church? In youth ministry? Nouwen’s essay is worth the read on this Monday morning:
If there is one notion that is central to all great religions it is that of “compassion.” The sacred scriptures of the Hindus, Buddhists, Moslems, Jews, and Christians all speak about God as the God of compassion. In a world in which competition continues to be the dominant mode of relating among people, be it in politics, sports, or economics, all true believers proclaim compassion, not competition, as God’s way.
How is it possible to make compassion the center of our lives? As insecure, anxious, vulnerable, and mortal beings–always involved, somehow and somewhere, in the struggle for survival–competition seems to offer us a great deal of satisfaction. In the Olympics, as well as in the American presidential race, it is clear that winning is what is most desired and most admired.
Still, Jesus says: “Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate,” and throughout the centuries all great spiritual guides echo these words. Compassion–which means, literally, “to suffer with”–is the way to the truth that we are most ourselves, not when we differ from others, but when we are the same. Indeed, the main spiritual question is not, “What difference do you make?” but “What do you have in common?” It is not “excelling” but “serving” that makes us most human. It is not proving ourselves to be better than others but confessing to be just like others that is the way to healing and reconciliation.
Compassion, to be with others when and where they suffer and to willingly enter into a fellowship of the weak, is God’s way to justice and peace amont people. Is this possible? Yes, it is, but only when we dare to live with the radical faith that we do not have to compete for love, but that love is freely given to us by the One who calls us to compassion.
Nouwen, Henri. Here and Now (Crossroad Publishing, 1994): 134-136.