From Communion to Compassion October 15, 2021

Up until I was in my early 40’s, I was a practicing Catholic.  I was raised in a Catholic family, in a Catholic city, in a Catholic part of a state.  I was what is called a “cradle Catholic,” meaning I was born into that faith.  I stopped attending Mass for a while in my 20’s, but that only lasted until my first divorce.  When I started back to church, it was as an adult.  I found a parish that suited me because the priest was unafraid to let me question all the teachings.  And, question them I did!

I delved deeply into this faith’s underlying beliefs and theology that had formed my sense of self, given me a place in the Universe, and promised me eternal life.  I became active in the church, joining in-home study groups, prayer groups, and the service team during Mass.  I met people from all walks of life through participating in the life of the church.  It was during Mass that my first realization of True Compassion came to me.

Every Mass has, as its centerpiece, the celebration of Holy Communion.  I won’t try to explain the concept of transubstantiation or what this means to devote Catholics.  Suffice it to say that once the bread and wine are consecrated, they are distributed to the congregation.  People line up in an orderly fashion and walk to the front of the church to receive Communion.  Since I habitually sat near the front of the church, I was one of the first to receive Communion.  That left me with a lot of time to observe those who were still in line.  What always touched me was how this act of surrender and devotion played out in person after person.

From the looks on their faces, the posture of their bodies, and the inner-directedness of their gaze, nearly everyone I observed seemed to be saying: “I need this.  I may not deserve this, but I need this.   I’m not embarrassed to admit this, and I am grateful to receive this gift.”  This was true for everyone I saw, from the City Councilmen I knew from work to the sleep-deprived new mom with the infant in arms.  They all looked the way I felt when I received Communion.  We were worthy to receive because we were children of God at our core – no matter how we behaved in the world.  The humility needed to show up this way was profoundly moving.

This realization was a great leveler for me.  I have struggled with feelings of inferiority my whole life.  My idealism has set impossible standards that I will never achieve.  My self-criticism and self-judgment make it hard to value what is truly good and worthwhile about me.  Kneeling in church watching my fellow parishioners prepare to receive Communion helped me see that we all feel this way.  Our stories may be different, but the sense of not being good enough or worthwhile is a theme of human existence.  It’s something we have in common.

Many years later, I saw that this sense of “something we have in common” was, in fact, the beginning of my understanding of how all things are unified. This sense of unity is what Charles Fillmore “saw” when he was inspired to name the movement he and Myrtle had inadvertently founded – Unity. My goal has been to expand that feeling of oneness through conscious experimentation, application, and realization.

How does this translate into real-life situations?  Simple.  When I feel myself reacting to something or someone, either in a good or bad way, that’s a clue that I have aligned myself with one half of the dualism that rules the world.  If my goal is to live the underlying oneness that exists, then I have to cut the cords that bind my identity to that half. I have to open up to at least admit that there is another side.

I begin by being curious about the situation and my reaction.  Rather than controlling the response or the situation, I take a step back and question everything.  This curiosity requires that I turn toward the experience rather than away from it. That in itself is life-changing.  Turning toward the experience releases the resistance I have to it and activates the heart’s energy where compassion lies.  Since resistance gives rise to judgment, compassion naturally brings me to a more neutral place. I feel compassion for myself in my reactive state and for those on both sides of the situation.  I begin to experience an expansiveness of self as I allow “what is” to simply be.  This action is the acceptance that so many spiritual teachers and paths embrace.  Accepting “what is” enables me to open to LIFE itself, to God, the Universe, whatever you call it.   In so doing, I enter a portal to that which I have always sought – MY TRUE NATURE.

If you’d like to resist less and accept more, here are the steps I learned from Mary O’Malley’s book, What’s in the Way IS the Way:

Be CURIOUS, rather than controlling

  • Turn TOWARD our experience rather than away from it
  • Access, through this turn, the heart’s energy heart where COMPASSION lies
  • Release the energy bound up by the storyteller through COMPASSION
  • Show up for LIFE through this energetic release — the doorway to
  • BEING = OUR TRUE NATURE.

Namaste – we are indeed one!

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