Mother Earth deserves an ecological spirituality and basic to that spirituality is compassion understood as interdependence and justice making.
Compassion as feeling sorry for others is explicitly rejected in creation theology precisely because in a panentheistic worldview there is no “other.” God is not other, and we are not other to one another. Surely this is Jesus’ lesson when he told his disciples that to clothe the naked is to clothe him and to feed the hungry is to feed him. Panentheistic thinking requires a consciousness of interdependence. Such a consciousness is a consciousness of compassion.
It is striking that today’s post-modern science has recovered the principle of interdependence or what Thich Naht Hanh calls interbeing that is very much a mystical awareness.
Meister Eckhart captures this sense of interdependence when he says, “Whatever happens to another, whether it be a joy or a sorrow, happens to me.” And again he says, “All creatures are interdependent.”
Hildegard also underscores the interdependence of creation when she writes:
Everything that is in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth is penetrated with connectedness, penetrated with relatedness.
Eckhart builds on this notion of relatedness everywhere when he says that relation is the essence of everything that exists—not substance, not thingness, but relation. Compassion is about struggling to right relationships. Hildegard believes that “creation blooms and flourishes when it remains in right relationship and keeps to its assigned tasks.”
If compassion is first of all an awareness of the interconnectedness of all things, then it is also about the struggle for justice or for seeing the balance of things restored when it is lost. Meister Eckhart says simply, drawing from the Jewish prophetic tradition, “Compassion means justice.”
And Mechtild of Magdeburg also links compassion to justice in an explicit fashion:
If you love the justice of Jesus Christ more than you fear human judgment then you will seek to do compassion. Compassion means that if I see my friend and my enemy in equal need, I shall help both equally. Justice demands that we seek and find the stranger, the broken, the prisoner and comfort them and offer them our help. Here lies the holy compassion of God.
For all of these creation mystics, compassion is the work of the Holy Spirit, for as Eckhart puts it, “the first outburst of whatever God does is always compassion.”
Compassion then is our origin and our destiny.
It is also the Holy Spirit at work, as Mechtild says:
Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is a compassionate outpouring of the Creator and the Son. This is why when we on earth pour out compassion and mercy from the depths of our hearts and give to the poor and dedicate our bodies to the service of the broken, to that extent so we resemble the Holy Spirit.
Queries for Contemplation
Do you think of justice and compassion as being synonyms? What difference does that make to the journey you are on?
Do you recognize the Holy Spirit at work in your and others’ work of service and compassion?