Compassion partially means that “I confess my own humanity and acknowledge the heart connection I have with all who share the human condition.” It has been interesting to both experience how this value permeates all aspects of the JSC year and watch as my understanding of heart-connection acknowledgment evolves. When we first entered the program, it struck me as a simple and pretty common-sense statement. But as I’ve learned more about that heart connection and what it means, I realize that the statement isn’t a “one-and-done” admission of something abstract. Acknowledging my heart connection with others isn’t a truth to recognize and move on. It is an action statement that can be daily reaffirmed – a commitment to be conscious of our empathetic selves and our connections to others as we go through our lives.
When speaking with my housemates, supervisors, or even enemies, moving to this empathetic state means listening to what they are saying with full attention and allowing their words to penetrate and make me feel. Sometimes, that can be scary. After all, I need to figure out what my response is going to be! How am I going to counter their point, display my own intelligence, or even just uphold an illusion that I care and am listening? What if their words make me feel pain? Maybe their experience is difficult to give my full attention to because it is too close to my own, difficult past. Or maybe what they are saying, if I let it sink in, will hurt and offend me. It may trigger feelings that are not pleasant. How much easier is it to pick apart the content of their words than to open myself up to the emotional connection I feel with them! When it comes to acknowledging the heart connection we have with everyone, all of those worries and fears must fall away.
In chapter 12, verse 4 of Luke’s gospel, Jesus is telling his disciples not to be afraid of “those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do.” Just a few moments later, he declares: “Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” And he gets even more specific. “When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” This is real stuff. Jesus is telling his followers that when they are being tried, many times unfairly and often with their lives on the line, they are to not give any thought to how they will defend themselves. I think Jesus is saying to trust and love God, and that this can free us from our worries, fears, and frantic concern about how we will take care of ourselves. But maybe Jesus is saying more. After all, this is the same Christ who said to love our enemies and even go so far as to pray on behalf of those who persecute us. And what does it mean to love those enemies? Perhaps to love it to listen; to hear what our enemies are saying, not only with our ears, but with our hearts – even and especially if it is painful; to connect with those persons, and even during our executions – literal or figurative – be able to utter in our hearts “father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” To feel and forgive with our hearts, we must open ourselves up to the connection we have with our enemies. We must open ourselves up to their barbs and daggers, so we too can feel their pains, fears, and doubts. And if our enemies, so too our friends and neighbors.
So, acknowledging our heart connection appears to me much deeper and more important than simply confirming with our minds that we are all connected. It means choosing minute by minute to acknowledge God and his love for all, and allowing that love to open us fully to the acts and words of others. This attention does not seek edification of the self, but empties the self of pride. In its place, we can be filled with God’s love and an empathetic connection to the other. This is a tall order, and goes against many of the impulses inside us. But to acknowledge the heart connection we have with others is to put the outcomes of conversation and interaction in God’s hands, allowing us the freedom to simply listen, love, and pray. And that seems freeing for me, and possibly transformational for others, who, like me, may be longing for someone to simply listen to and love them. By no means do I go through life practicing this acknowledgement. I am often blind to these sorts of things and content to be on autopilot, looking out for myself. But at least my understanding of acknowledgement is deepening, and hopefully God can help me to be more aware of and open to this daily choice.
–Jordan Kinser works at Self-Help Credit Union and Center for Responsible Lending on their faith-based outreach initiative.