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During Advent, imagery from the prophet Isaiah often paints pictures of valleys being lifted up and rivers flowing on bare heights; visions of restoration that offer comfort even in the midst of exilic suffering.
Compassion, one of our Ursuline core values, urges us to recognize our shared participation in suffering, and to respond in some way to bring comfort. Whether it be mirrored through self-compassion for ourselves, or extended to others and our Earth community, it speaks of restoration and new life.
Our own common grief these days heightened by societal violence, mean-spirited civil discourse and our own personal afflictions reminds us that to know compassion we must also know sorrow. In her poem, Kindness, Naomi Shihab Nye says it like this:
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say it is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.
(Source: Naomi Shihab Nye.The Words under the Words: Selected Poems. Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995.)
This year may our Advent preparation awaken in us a spirit of compassion. As a form of kindness may it befriend us and go with us into our homes and into our workplaces. May it raise its head in our society as we ready our hearts and our world for its deepest longing, the birth of Emmanuel, the God of all compassion.