I attended the Martin Luther King Junior Junior Vespers Service at the Martin Luther King Chapel at Morehouse College (co-sponsored by Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta) on Sunday night. The theme was “Compassion in a Multi-Faith World” and the program was spectacular. My very good friend Bob Thompson (left) led off with an introduction to the Charter for Compassion. He talked about the compassion movement in Atlanta that he initiated and is leading before turning the platform over to a broad cultural mixture of speakers and presentations. Highlights included:
Dane Jones, VP of the MLK International Chapel Assistants, offered a beautiful reflection based on the words of the Vietnamese Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh (who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by MLK himself!). Thich Nhat Hanh describes looking closely at a flower and seeing in it the sunshine, the rain, the time and minerals and other elements of which it is made: he shows us that the flower is made entirely of non-flower elements. In just the same way, Dale said, he recognizes he himself is made entirely of non-Dale elements. He drew from this a need to recognize our own inter-dependence and a call to compassion.
Another of my favorites was the Arabic recitation by a young African-American Muslim of Sura 90, Al-Balad (The City) from the Qur’an followed by his reading of the English translation:
In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
I solemnly swear by this town, the town where you live, the begetting and the begotten.
We created the human being to work hard. Does he think that no one will ever call him to account?
He boasts, “I spent so much money!” Does he think that no one sees him? Did we not give him two eyes? A tongue and two lips? Did we not show him the two paths?
He should choose the difficult path.
Which one is the difficult path?
The freeing of slaves; feeding, during the time of hardship orphans who are related, or the poor who is in need, and being one of those who believe, and exhorting one another to be steadfast, and exhorting one another to be kind. These have deserved happiness.
As for those who disbelieved in our revelations, they have incurred misery; they will be confined in the Hellfire.
The service ended within its allotted hour and we proceeded outside for the candlelit vigil – interrupted by some levity as the more childish among us fooled with candle apps on our smart phones – and then upstairs for a reception and conversation. It was a delightful evening in a gorgeous location (if you’ve never been to the MLK chapel I’d encourage you to look for an opportunity to do so – it’s wonderful!) with great people (truly Morehouse turns out wonderful young men), and the call for compassion is indeed timely. The movement in Atlanta was initiated late last summer, and its facebook page already has over 1,000 followers. Something important is happening here.
Rev Dr Ernest Brooks analogized that the burning bush from the Bible was not consumed when he encouraged us to use our smart-phone candle apps, but I would encourage us all to look at our lives with exactly the opposite intent. In Buddhism we compare our lives to a stick of incense and live with the intent of fully consuming our lives, of living to the full so there is nothing left. But this is done from the standpoint of giving, not of hedonism and pleasure. What better way to live such a life than by connecting with our own compassion, and through that alleviating in some small measure the suffering of the world. What better way to do this than by living a life with the primary intent of leaving it a better place than it was when we entered it? What better way to express our lives than through being consumed by our own compassion? And what a golden opportunity to engage and act is presented us today with the compassion movement in Atlanta.
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