An interfaith event last month inspired by the visit of a Tibetan Buddhist teacher may lead to more community collaborations on an idea common to most spiritual beliefs: compassion. Held on St. Patrick’s Day at Homer United Methodist Church, “Practicing Compassion in Challenging Times” brought together believers of numerous faiths and spiritualities, all talking about how compassion drives their beliefs and how it transcends differences.
Organizers hope the event will lead to continuing interfaith events where people share their experiences with compassion.
“We really just want to encourage everybody who’s doing compassion-related stuff to stay connected and invite the community into these things,” said Rev. Lisa Talbott, pastor of Homer United Methodist Church and one of the event organizers.
The compassion event started when Skywalker Payne, a local Buddhist storyteller, organized a visit to Homer by Tulku Yeshi Rinpoche in late March. As part of his visit, the Tibetan monk did a public talk at Kachemak Bay Campus on meditation. Payne contacted Talbott about using Rinpoche’s visit to explore the idea of compassion further.
“How can we open this to the community more and make it not about the Buddhists in town and start a conversation about compassion in community?” Talbott said.
With a nation divided politically, and Homer also feeling the effects with a controversy over an “inclusivity” or “sanctuary city” resolution, talking about compassion seemed timely, Talbott said.
Seven speakers elaborated on how compassion fit into their personal beliefs. But the event wasn’t just talk, but action. After the presentation, participants looked at how to show compassion for themselves in a labyrinth workshop done by Nancy Lee Evans, how to show compassion for others in a yoga workshop done by Anna Raup, and how to practice compassion by packing food for the food pantry.
Talbott started the event by discussing how compassion is central to the Methodist faith. Founded in the 18th century by John and Charles Wesley, Methodism came about when the Wesleys saw people not acting like Christians. They developed principles called “methods” for how to bring their faith into the community.
“How can we love our neighbor in tangible ways?” Talbott said the Wesleys asked. “We believe when Jesus said ‘love your neighbor’ he meant it literally.”
Anna Raup, a yoga teacher and director of the Many Rivers yoga center, spoke of how yoga goes beyond physical exercises and can lead to a better understanding of self.
“‘Yoga’ means ‘union’ or ‘yoke,’” she said.
It unites the body and spirit, but also “the experience of the infinite with the finite,” she said. It’s a combination of actions and attitude.
“When we do yoga there is an elevation of mind,” Raup said.
That can lead to greater understanding and awareness.
“When we truly understand things, when we hold open that space, we’re in a state of compassion,” she said.
In his Bahá’í faith, Paul Rourke said he believes in the oneness of religion and mankind. Throughout time, messengers of God have come with new visions of divinity. The founder of Bahá’í, Bahá’u’lláh, born 1817, is yet another messenger. In the faith, “Compassion requires an action component,” Rourke said. “It’s not enough to sit in my house and feel sympathy for my neighbor. I have to leave my house. We need to arise above that. Each of you here today took a step of free will.”
Father Tom Rush, pastor of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, spoke of how compassion bridges the divide first between God and humanity and then among people. Compassion is “a fundamental sense of what God is,” Rush said.
In the world we meet people who think and act differently and have different understandings. That can lead to divisions, he said.
“Compassion has to do with how we approach those differences, how we reach across those things that divide us,” Rush said. “I see it as a basic for reconciliation. With all the differences or divides in our world, a way to come together is a sense of compassion we can have for others. … If we listen compassionately we have the possibility of healing divisions and overcoming violence.”
Evans spoke of her own spiritual journey that lead into Native American beliefs and later into Celtic traditions. It also lead her to become a healer.
“Healing only happens in the presence of love,” she said, “Love and compassion are the two sides of the same coin.”
Bob Redmond, chaplain for Hospice of Homer and South Peninsula Hospital, spoke of how he moved from being a minister of the Gospel to a chaplain. His faith lead him to caring for people in crisis: those who face a major illness or accident, those who are dying, and those dealing with loss and grief. Being a chaplain is not being a minister, he said.
“It is 100-proof compassionate. Something happens. I can’t explain it,” Redmond said.
As a chaplain, he immerses himself in others’ spiritual world view. He listens to people’s stories and lets them tell their stories.
“Sometimes there are no words possible. There are no words. You just sit there and listen,” he said.
To do that, Redmond said he looks to God’s compassion.
“It works for me. If I don’t have his compassion and his strength, that level of compassion, I won’t be much good there,” he said.
Payne told a Buddhist story to explain how compassion comes about. People suffered and Buddha came to people to teach them how to overcome their suffering, “how to find within themselves their own wisdom through contemplation … opening their hearts and finding compassion within themselves by finding compassion for others,” she said.
Talbott said she hopes discussions and events about compassion can continue that involve many beliefs — or even nonbeliefs, such as atheism and agnosticism.
“One of the things we want is people to be unapologetically who they are, to be open minded about people’s beliefs and see the common ground,” she said.
Upcoming compassion related events include:
• 9 a.m. every Monday, Homer United Methodist Church: Homer Community Food Pantry volunteering;
• 7 p.m., April 15, St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church: Holy Saturday labyrinth observance led by Nancy Lee Evans;
• 4-5:40 p.m. April 22, Many Rivers: “Open up the heart to share your life and light: an Earth Day yoga workshop”; and
• 1 p.m., May 6, World Labyrinth Day, interfaith understanding, St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church.