Where is God? This is the universal question of our minds, hearts, and souls. We look for God in all the right places, but often come up without a sense of true encounter. Emptiness, loneliness, and feeling of abandonment follows us as we search and search. I am reminded of the haunting, sad song “Where is Love” from the musical Oliver. But maybe all the right places are not so right after all. Perhaps we will meet God most authentically in the faces of those who suffer. After all, this is just where Jesus points us.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta found and recognized God best in the faces of every orphan, invalid, leper, and impoverished sufferer. It was from them that her infectious joy and boundless compassion came. Mother Teresa was following the directive of Jesus who said; “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
My own search took me from church to church, and from tradition to tradition. But I best found God in the boys, girls, and adults who came to me suffering from horrible abuse, often with chronic substance use disorders. They were at the end of their ropes. The people closest to them usually had given up all hope. And sure enough, there was God in disguise. The pain in their eyes reflected the pain of Jesus. They carried the weight of a cross I never had to carry. It soon became clear that those I had come to serve were actually serving me.
In answer to the question posed at the beginning of this journal; God is hiding in plain sight. If we are open to becoming vulnerable and are willing to risk suffering with those in pain, we will find God and Jesus everywhere.
Verna J. Dozier was a leading African American theologian and prophet who touched countless lives and transformed hearts. Her work and service were prolific. As a teacher and Board Member of Examining Chaplains, she often spoke and wrote about the dream of God.
She believed that we have the capacity to bring forth the realization of Howard Thurman’s vision of ‘a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky’. She believed that God wants all creation to live together in peace, harmony, and fulfillment. She believed that we are called to restore that dream together. I believe she was right. In truth, how could it be otherwise?
The wounds and struggles of the past have the power to separate and destroy us. But they also have the power to move us forward to new life, a new identity, and universal oneness.
Our suffering is what we all have in common. It’s not single-mindedness and strength that will overcome, but acceptance and shared vulnerability. The Dream of God is attainable if we are willing to let go of our chokehold on yesterday by engaging in healing here and now. We can start by loving where we once hated.
I think this is about the best starting point for building up the Dream of God; A boy named Camden asked New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady at a press Q&A in Atlanta what we should do about haters. “What do we do about the haters? We love ‘em,” said Brady. “We love them back because we don’t hate back.” There it is…a glimmer of a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky.
“When we experience the healing presence of another person, we can discover our own gifts of healing. Then our wounds allow us to enter into a deep solidarity with our wounded brothers and sisters.” ~ Henri Nouwen
Compassion is the ability to suffer-with those who are wounded. True compassion brings with it the gift of healing only because of the mutual experience of our own wounds, our own suffering, and our own healing. It is a sharing of our own brokenness in solidarity with those who are struggling, grieving and floundering. It is about making ourselves vulnerable in order to provide a source of comfort.
Giving advice is a lot easier than offering compassion. Helping to find solutions for the problems of others requires little effort. It is even easier to find a cure. When the person we are trying to help doesn’t follow our advice or chooses another solution we can shake the dust off, shrug our shoulders and walk away. Our inner voice says; ‘Well, at least I tried!’
Those who offer compassion know how to show up. They do not come with superpowers but with shared brokenness. They show up with an understanding heart free from judgment. They do not hide their scars for they are visible proof that wounds heal. Hand in hand, we shall overcome. Heart to heart, we can save each other…and by so doing will, as Michael Jackson sang, Heal the World. We will be doing God’s work.
“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” ~ Pema Chödrön
Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.
In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.
His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.