Lived compassion

News | October 3, 2018

Elaine Olson, a spiritual director and retired pastor, will speak at St. Paul on two Sundays, Oct. 14 and 21, about compassion. Her sessions will be during Sunday morning learning, 10:20-11:05 a.m.

How did you become interested in compassion?
Years ago, during a very difficult transition I was struggling to discern what was next in the work of my vocation as a counselor. To find my way through, I began each morning reading the “Morning Prayer Liturgy” in the LBW and then write “morning pages” as described by Julia Cameron in the book The Artist’s Way. I also read these words from the Song of Zechariah, “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet in to the way of peace.” Each morning I wrote reflections about these words. In time, these words spoke truth into my longing and shaped the vision for my practice.

Years later, in the midst of yet another struggle of faith, I read Karen Armstrong’s book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. Lived compassion became the path back to the Divine and the guidance to live for the sake of the world beyond myself.

What is something that you’ve learned about compassion that surprised you?
Joyce Rupp teaches that compassion is not so much a feeling, as it is a will. So much of my understanding of the world is through my feeling self. Yet, to live open and to engage the complexity of suffering and evil, more is required than my own emotional reactivity. A commitment, a will, an intention calls me to work beyond my own head and my own heart and my own actions. To live compassion requires me to work with others, to trust others and let them teach me and then mindfully integrate their truth into my own stories to grow and love and then act.

Why is compassion important?
I believe compassion is especially important during these time of extreme polarization and silo thinking.  Compassion requires that I see beyond my own greed and safety, to dethrone myself from being the center of the world and put others there instead. It can become the one action that bridges the divide. Understanding the other is no longer a luxury. It is now a necessity for the world to function and thrive. Compassion is an essential component for the transformation of society seeking peace and harmony.

What is hard about practicing compassion?
Having compassion on my enemy and those I see cause suffering is hard. Yet, Jesus asks me to love my enemy.  Compassion doesn’t require me to condone bad behavior, but rather to wonder what has happened within someone who is acting toward others with hurt and hatred. Compassion invites me to wonder: “How do they see the world?  What makes them so afraid? Where do they hurt?” How do we hold each other accountable in a loving way?” My natural instinct is to judge, dismiss and withdraw. Compassion asks me to see the other as God sees them and to pray for the light and love of God to pour into their lives for transformation.

Just as compassion asks to me to stop judging others, it also gently asks me to stop judging myself, to extend the same gentleness and understanding to myself that I am invited to do for others. Joyce Rupp suggests that the seeds of compassion are non-judgmental, non-violence, forgiving and mindfulness. Living with these actions for both myself and my enemies is hard.

What is one understanding you hope people will come away with from your series?
My hope is that people will leave with a renewed a commitment to live with more compassion for the sake and the care of the world, especially in the turmoil of today’s polarization. An understanding of compassion provides tools to make a difference.

South African archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote, “What difference does goodness make?  Goodness changes everything.  Goodness changes how we see the world, the way we see others, and most importantly, the way we see ourselves… Each kindness enhances the quality of life. Each cruelty diminishes it.” My hope is to encourage us all to live with kindness.

3 Comments on “Lived compassion”

  • Carol Seitz

    October 4, 2018 at 9:20 pm

    How true! Compassionate living blesses all involved. What a loving God who makes blessings blossom all over.

  • Charles Maahs

    October 4, 2018 at 5:18 pm

    So neat to read how your discovered your in-depth and profound understanding of compassion. Wish I could be there to attend your class. We could also reminisce about surviving a storm in a covered wagon!

  • Lori Baker

    October 4, 2018 at 2:19 pm

    Elaine – Thank you so much for these words, these concepts really resonate with me. I won’t be able to come to your first session but I am hoping to attend the second.

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Daniel 12:1-3

The Time of the End

1“Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.2“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.3“Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Psalm 16

1Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You.

2I said to the LORD, “You are my Lord;

I have no good besides You.”

3As for the saints who are in the earth,

They are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.

4The sorrows of those who have bartered for another god will be multiplied;

I shall not pour out their drink offerings of blood,

Nor will I take their names upon my lips.

5The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;

You support my lot.

6The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;

Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.

7I will bless the LORD who has counseled me;

Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.

8I have set the LORD continually before me;

Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

9Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;

My flesh also will dwell securely.

10For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;

Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.

11You will make known to me the path of life;

In Your presence is fullness of joy;

In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

Hebrews 10:11-25

11Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;12but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD,13waiting from that time onward UNTIL HISENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.14For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.15And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,





He then says,



18Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

A New and Living Way

19Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,20by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,21and since we have a great priest over the house of God,22let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;24and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Christ or Judgment

Mark 13:1-8

Things to Come

1As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples *said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”2And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”

3As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately,4“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?”5And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you.6“Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many.7“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end.8“For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

Daniel 7:9-14

9“I kept looking

Until thrones were set up,

And the Ancient of Days took His seat;

His vesture was like white snow

And the hair of His head like pure wool.

His throne was ablaze with flames,

Its wheels were a burning fire.

10“A river of fire was flowing

And coming out from before Him;

Thousands upon thousands were attending Him,

And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him;

The court sat,

And the books were opened.

11“Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire.12“As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but an extension of life was granted to them for an appointed period of time.

The Son of Man Presented

13“I kept looking in the night visions,

And behold, with the clouds of heaven

One like a Son of Man was coming,

And He came up to the Ancient of Days

And was presented before Him.

14“And to Him was given dominion,

Glory and a kingdom,

That all the peoples, nations and men of every language

Might serve Him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

Which will not pass away;

And His kingdom is one

Which will not be destroyed.

The Vision Interpreted

Psalm 93

1The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty;

The LORD has clothed and girded Himself with strength;

Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved.

2Your throne is established from of old;

You are from everlasting.

3The floods have lifted up, O LORD,

The floods have lifted up their voice,

The floods lift up their pounding waves.

4More than the sounds of many waters,

Than the mighty breakers of the sea,

The LORD on high is mighty.

5Your testimonies are fully confirmed;

Holiness befits Your house,

O LORD, forevermore.

Revelation 1:-4-8

John 18:33-37

33Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”34Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?”35Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?”36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”37Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”