Advent: a Season of Compassion Cultivation Training

Posted by Brent.Barry on December 2, 2013

How do we become fully human?

That is the question we are asking during Advent this year in our church, as we wait for God to become fully human in Jesus Christ. 

One of the ways we try and become fully human, as Jesus was fully human, is by giving up our life apart from each other and deciding to live as a part of each other.

We begin to live interdependently with all of creation by asking questions like "how will what I eat affect those who have nothing to eat?" or "how is this action affecting God's creation called the environment?"

This "reclaiming of fully human" is currently taking place California with veterans who have lost the capacity to relate to others. Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have had only marginal success with traditional methods of treatment, but this new technique is called "compassion cultivation training."

In the training, the veterans are told to think of a person they care about and to "allow yourself to feel the presence of this person."

There's a phrase the veterans are asked to repeat, like a mantra: "This person is just like me."

The veterans are then told to "consider that, just like me, this person has had ups and downs in his or her life. Just like me, this person has had goals and dreams."

The idea is that in combat the way to stay safe is to think of everyone as a potential threat. Fear and distrust are default. But with PTSD, it stays that way, even after combat is over.

The soldier with PTSD has lost part of their own humanity and consequently lost touch with the humanity of others. Compassion meditation is about reclaiming that humanity, learning to see oneself in others.

During this season when we are tempted to put our to do list in front of human need, our agenda in front of our sanity, and our anxieties in front of our prayer life, maybe we should rename Advent as "compassion cultivation training." A time to prepare for the most compassionate One of all.

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