I was recently given a lovely image of Kwan Yin, goddess of compassion and mercy. She is honored in Buddhism much the same way as the Blessed Virgin Mary is in Christianity as the Divine Mother. Of particular significance, Kwan Yin is a reminder to many of what compassion is meant to be. Compassion is not only sympathizing with someone, but empathizing with them — feeling what they are feeling, entering into another person’s life as fully as possible even to absorb their suffering and pain into one’s own body. Kwan Yin is often pictured with a sacred vase containing pure water, which symbolizes the divine nectar of life, of compassion, wisdom, and healing. It is sprinkled upon devotees with a willow branch held in her other hand.
Whatever our religious background might be, we often use images to remind us of God’s many attributes, including compassion, mercy, healing, and a willingness to suffer with
us in our sorrow. Jesus’ cross and passion remind us that God’s love never ends, but is willing to be faithful to us even unto death, offering forgiveness to give us new life. Crosses and crucifixes are reminders for Christians of God’s love and compassion.
Like an icon, we don’t worship the image in itself, but look through it to see the qualities and gifts of God that are available to us. We may even give God the names of these attributes. God’s name is often Compassion, Mercy, and Peace.
In the aftermath of the recent massacre at an Orlando nightclub our sensitivities to compassion have been stretched. Our nation still feels the shock of this cruel and senseless shooting. It is an abrupt reminder that oneness with one another is still a work in progress and a hope to be achieved. We grieve that prejudice and hatred divide us who are meant to be one.
We go forward in prayer, however, knowing that God’s presence is felt in many cultures, national backgrounds, religious traditions, and in gender and sexuality identities. And in order for truth to be truth it must be universal and recalled in various ways. Kwan Yin conveys
that truth in the Buddhist tradition, teaching us to feel deeply, to grieve with those who suffer making their pain our own.
May God fill us with compassion for all who suffer, and give us new eyes to see each other as sisters and brothers. May the Spirit help us to pursue our oneness in this bigger picture of the gift and beauty of human life.