What the World Needs Now: Boundless Compassion (book review)

 

 

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Boundless Compassion: Creating a Way of Life

By Joyce Rupp

(Sorin Books, 2018) 211 pp

 

Soon after a close friend’s death, Joyce Rupp had a life-changing experience which she describes in her new book, Boundless Compassion: Creating a Way of Life (Sorin Books). As she stood at her patio door:

I was trying to absorb this enormous loss when a hummingbird fluttered in front of my face, just a few inches outside the glass. It hovered there, facing me for several minutes, enough time to convince me that my friend—who treasured those little creatures—was assuring me all would be well. As the tiny bird departed, an inner knowing swept through my being: ‘Love is all that counts.’ Since that moment I have never been the same. (p. 2-3)

Rupp attributes this “showing” by her friend as a compassionate presence, convinced that the message was for her. “I turned from the patio door determined to give the rest of my life to living in such a way that compassion would be the most essential focus.” (ibid)

While Rupp was doing graduate studies at Naropa University, a Buddhist university in Boulder, Colorado, she read a description of an upcoming workshop to be led by the Dalai Lama. During her studies, she came to appreciate the emphasis on compassion within Buddhism and was committed to integrating compassion more deeply within her Christian life. As she read the Dalai Lama workshop details she wondered: “I really appreciate his wisdom. I wonder who is teaching Christians how to be more compassionate?”

Rupp heard God’s call to teach Christians how to live with more compassion. This book is part of Rupp’s response to God’s call. The book is a six-week study designed for individual study or a weekly group study.

Each week’s focus builds on the previous week’s theme:

  • Compassion as a Way of Life
  • Welcoming Ourselves
  • The River of Suffering
  • From Hostility to Hospitality
  • A Thousand Unbreakable Links
  • Becoming a Compassionate Presence.

Within each week’s section are daily reflections followed by questions for pondering, a prayer, and short Scripture verses to “carry in your heart today.” Just as each week builds upon the other so do the daily meditations lead the reader into a deeper exploration of the theme. Day seven is always “Review and Rest” with a series of examen questions over the previous week. After completing this book, Rupp suggests creating a “Circle of Compassion” monthly group as a way to encourage and nurture one another to live a more compassionate life.

Rupp created the book to lead readers and participants to an inner transformation that includes compassion for both our enemies and ourselves. The purpose of the book is to establish a spiritual discipline of compassionate transformation which will in turn enable us to become the compassionate presences needed around the world.

Yet, throughout the book,Rupp reminds the reader that compassion is more than being “nice” or even “kind.” She underscores the reality that compassion draws us closer to suffering whether it is our own, our families, our communities, or our globe. Rupp quotes the Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross on what she discovered in her research on death and dying:

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen. (Positive Outlooks Blog, quoted in Boundless Compassion, p.182)

If we are to be transformed we need to participate in the daily spiritual practices Rupp leads us through Boundless Compassion. She concludes her book with this blessing: “The journey of compassion does not stop with the end of this book. It has only begun. So much waits to be discovered, explored, and integrated into daily living. Compassionate presence will always require taking another step further into personal transformation. This way of life is continually evolving.”

Rupp has also created a small book, Prayers of Boundless Compassion (Sorin) and a set of five DVDs, each one containing an hour-long presentation by Rupp which covers one of the topics from the primary text, available at www.joycerupp.com.

(This review was first published at Englewood Review of Books, May 3, 2018)

Dangerous Readers

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My sister-in-law, a kindergarten teacher for more than twenty years, posted a photo on Facebook of three of her students engrossed in reading books. She wrote: “This makes my heart so happy.”

And there they were, the small chairs pushed against the wall, their feet on the ground, but their faces obscured by large books such as, Hop on Pop and Bunny’s Noisy Book.  Three girls all engrossed in reading. Young girls who read become women who read, and women who read are considered “dangerous” by some.

***

I couldn’t wait to learn to read.  A few weeks before I began kindergarten family friends visited our home after church. The older son, a few years older than me, was studying the Sunday comics. He had them spread open on the floor, while he lay on his stomach, chin resting on his hands, and one foot propped onto his other foot. I watched him reading those comics and it’s my earliest memory of envy. I was so jealous that he could read when I could not.

***

In her forward to the book, Women Who Read Are Dangerous, writer Karen Joy Fowler writes:

In 1523 the Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives proposed careful male surveillance. ‘The woman ought not to follow her own judgment,’ he said, as she had so little of it. She should read only what men deemed proper and wholesome. He marveled that any father, any husband, would allow his daughter, his wife to read freely.

***

I grew up in a household of books, and my parents encouraged my reading by taking regular trips to the local public library where I checked out stacks of books.  My obsession for reading began early.

In third grade, my teacher read The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. But she only read a few pages a day which was way too slow for me—I had to know how the story would unfold!  So I checked the books out from the library and hurriedly finished read them ahead of the class. When my teacher read the books, I then savored the stories like I was visiting with old friends.

And, as an early indicator of my future reading habits, when my teacher read a book that was part of a series, I had to read all the books in the series, whether my teacher was going to or not. I convinced my grandmother to take me to her local public library to see if they had a copy of Farmer Boy (from The Little House series) because my library didn’t have a copy. Fortunately, the library did have a copy and she borrowed it for me.

***

Fowler continued in the forward, with irony:

Women are too literal-minded for reading. Women are too sentimental, too empathetic, too distractable for reading. Women are passive, practically somnolent, consumers of popular culture, never realizing how, with the very books they choose, they participate in their own subordination.

Reading did lead me to challenge my subordination—perhaps as far back as the summer between grade 4 and 5. My other grandmother found a large box of Nancy Drew mystery novels and bought them for me which I promptly plunged into. And from that box of books I learned that a young woman could be smart, observant, a problem-solver, and the leader of her group of friends. Subconsciously Nancy Drew became a role model for me, distinct from the description of Christian womanhood I heard at church. My resistance against my own subordination took root because of Nancy Drew, girl detective.

***

Recently, a friend posted about a mother disciplining her daughter for misbehaving in class. The mother’s response to her daughter: “When we get home you’re gonna be sent to your room where the only thing you can do is read.” Many of us despaired that this mother was teaching her daughter that reading was a form of punishment. But my hope is this young girl learns the gift of being sent to one’s room to read. Perhaps, then, this girl could learn to love reading and become a dangerous adult woman who reads.