Krista Tippett’s TED talk from 2010 provides an “important linguistic resurrection” of the word compassion. Tippett sees compassion as kindness, curiosity, empathy, forgiveness and reconciliation, the simple act of presence, a willingness to see beauty in the other, and “for the religious compassion also brings us into the territory of ‘mystery’ encouraging us to see not just beauty but perhaps also to look for the face of God in the moment of suffering, in the face of a stranger, in the face of the vibrant religious other.”
In his book “Meeting Jesus AGAIN for the First Time”, New Testament scholar Marcus Borg writes about the Hebrew word for compassion ‘rakham’ – “The Hebrew word for ‘compassion’ whose singular form means ‘womb’ is often used of God in the Old Testament. It is translated as ‘merciful’ in the characterization of God as ‘gracious and merciful.’ It is present in that quite wonderful expression from the King James Bible the ‘tender mercies’ of God. It is found
in a passage in Jeremiah that has been translated as follows:
“Thus says Yahweh:
In Ephraim (Israel) my dear son? my darling child?
For the more I speak of him,
the more I do remember him.
Therefore my womb trembles for him;
I will truly show motherly-compassion upon him.
“Thus the Hebrew Bible speaks frequently of God as compassionate, with resonances of ‘womb’ close at hand.
“And so Jesus’ statement ‘Be compassionate as God is compassionate’ is rooted in the Jewish tradition. As an image for the central quality of God, it is striking, To say that God is compassionate is to say that God is ‘like a womb,’ is ‘womblike,’ or, to coin a word that captures the flavor of the original Hebrew, ‘wombish.’ What does it suggest to say that God is like a womb? Metaphoric and evocative, the phrase and its associative image provocatively suggest a number of connotations. Like a womb, God is the one who gives birth to us — the mother who gives birth to us. As a mother loves the children of her womb and feels for the children of her womb, so God loves us and feels for us, for all of her children. In its sense of ‘like a womb,’ compassionate has nuances of giving life, nourishing, caring, perhaps embracing and encompassing. For Jesus, this is what God is like.
“And, to complete the imitatio dei, to ‘be compassionate as God is compassionate’ is to be like a womb as God is like a womb. It is to feel as God feels and to act as God acts: in a life-giving and nourishing way. ‘To be compassionate’ is what is meant in the New Testament by the somewhat more abstract command ‘to love.’ According to Jesus, compassion is to be the central quality of a life faithful to God the compassionate one.”
Tippett’s storytelling helps us to connect with the divine image which exists within our flawed humanity. She insists that the flaws we see in compassionate people liberates us from our modern obsession with perfection and gives us the courage to be compassionate. Tippett paraphrases Albert Einstein to remind us that, “the future of humanity needs this technology as much as it needs all the others that have now connected us and set before us the terrifying and wondrous possibility of actually becoming one human race.”
Among progressive-christians the word ‘panentheism” – literally “all in god” is used to express the notion that, all is in god and god is in all. One way of understanding panentheisim is to expand on Acts 17:28 “In God we live and move and have our being” with a blessing I often use when I lead worship: “God dwells in, with, through, and beyond us.” To imagine the Divine Womb-Love in which we live and move and have our being dwelling in, with, through, and beyond us provides a compelling way of living into our Divine/Human compassionate-selves. As humanity evolves, may it evolve in ways that embody Divine compassion!