By Melissa Tidwell
Compassion involves more than just emotion. Though the feeling-with part of compassion is important, as a spiritual practice compassion involves responding to the pain of another.
To practice compassion for homeless individuals first involves discernment, seeking to learn more about the factors that contribute to homelessness. Next, compassion is solidarity, standing alongside homeless brothers and sisters to prayerfully align ourselves with their suffering, to eliminate the layers of fear or judgment that separate us from a homeless person. Finally, compassion means advocacy, both in prayer and action, seeking in the Spirit to find our own call to listen, learn, give, pray, and serve.
This practice uses a guided prayer meditation to help you hold together in prayer aspects of compassion you have experienced in this issue of Alive Now — and perhaps lead you to clarity about how your ongoing practice of compassion might continue to grow. Use this practice as you end your day and prepare to sleep.
Settle yourself in a quiet place, and think about areas in your community where homeless people sleep. Do you know where they are? Think about the homeless people you see on the street, in the library, in a park, or standing in line outside a shelter.
Imagine yourself among them,your body aching as you lie on a sagging cot in the middle of a church basement, crowded with strangers. Imagine sleeping outside on a cold night, huddled under a highway overpass, in a tent jungle, in an abandoned house, or hidden behind a warehouse. Feel the cold and the weariness. Imagine how you might startle awake at every noise, afraid you might be robbed of the little you have.
Now imagine that the risen Christ is also present in this place where you are sleeping, that he walks among the cots in the shelter, blessing the people sleeping there. Imagine Jesus sitting on the end of a park bench, keeping watch with the small group there, looking at this scene of want and need with the eyes of love and compassion. Walk with Jesus to the tent jungle, the small hidden grove of makeshift campsites where the homeless try to get out of the rain and cold, keep a few belongings, share some meals. Imagine Jesus breaking bread there beside the campfire.
What words of comfort would Jesus offer? How would Christ respond to the personal and social brokenness that creates homelessness? What words of hope might he offer? What benediction before sleep might Jesus give those sleeping under the bridge?
Returning to your safe bedroom, consider what words of challenge and caring Jesus will offer to you as you consider your next acts of mercy and justice. As you wait for the refugee child to be born in a stable this Christmas, how does the living Christ call you to continue to practice compassion for all those who still live without a place to lay their heads?
Melissa Tidwell, former editor of Alive Now magazine, is the author of Embodied Light: Advent Reflections on the Incarnation. She has been reinventing herself as a writer, preacher, workshop leader, and editor.
For more information about homelessness, you can find resources online at nationalhomeless.org.
From November/December Alive Now. Copyright © 2016 by The Upper Room. Purchase a copy of this issue on “Discipleship” by calling 1.800.972.0433.