Cautious Compassion?

A recent church bulletin where I attend gave us a thought provoking unison prayer, which read in part, “Forgive us for…our cautious compassion and too-frequent reluctance. Shape in us a trust that leads to…bold compassion.”

In my Facebook post, I edited the petition even further, to “Forgive our cautious compassion and shape us to courageous compassion.” A reader was kind enough — Thank you! — to say she didn’t really get what the writer (my pastor, possibly working from material at hand) was saying with those contrasting terms.

My reader offered that cautious compassion might expect help or compassion in return. Even though I wouldn’t call that compassion at all, it’s a useful point. I might call it passive-aggressive behavior. “After all I’ve done for you…” We’ve heard about enough of that, and I hope we never say it.

Compassion (fellow-feeling, feeling with) is, like love, a one-word summation of all legitimate religions. It’s the foundation of the Golden Rule, which all legitimate religions have in common.

As I understand it, Grace is a gift from God of love, blessedness, and an attitude of gratitude, even if we don’t seem to deserve it. The great prophets, including the one Christians call the Messiah, show us that we can demonstrate compassion in the same spirit that God grants us Grace: no expectation of any favors in return.

We practice cautious compassion when we feel for our brothers and sisters in danger or in need, talk about their plight with great feeling, and click sad or angry faces under their memes. But direct action? Oh no.

Rather, we are called to courageous compassion, to imitate the prophet we say we follow, and actually show love for our sisters and brothers. Become active in helping the homeless, running for office, joining a committee or service organization, recycling clothing, teaching kids or adults, going on mission trips, donating to compassionate causes, talking with someone who’s having a bad day, writing thank you notes, just saying hello to people.

Courageous compassion can push us outside our comfort zone. Perfect.