Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong

A process for developing personal compassion to engage in compassionate community for a more compassionate world

Welcome to the second Compassionate Sunday. We’re working through the Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong, one step per month. February is devoted to The First Step: Learn About Compassion. If you’d like to share what you’ve learned about compassion in February (or before), share a post in the link list below or join the discussion in the comments or on Facebook.

Last week, I worked through a bunch of questions and answers about why I, or anyone, would want to tackle the subject of compassion. In the comments, Suzanne highlighted the connection between compassion and mindfulness while Rachel related it to Pope Francis’ Jubilee year of Mercy. Susan found a terrific resource, a step-by-step summary of Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life from Compassionate Winston-Salem.

One of the reasons that I wanted to start the Compassionate Sundays project in February was because it meant that my second post would land on Valentine’s Day. Happy Valentine’s Day! Very little is known of the history of St. Valentine, a Christian martyr from the 3rd century. Traditionally, though, Valentine is associated with performing marriages and with behaving compassionately, as Jesus did, by healing a blind girl.

Karen Armstrong, at the start of the Learn About Compassion chapter, suggests beginning “as a symbolic act of commitment” to register with the Charter for Compassion. After I did that, I explored the Charter for Compassion website, and downloaded the Reading Group Guide for Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.

The chapter on the first step, Learn About Compassion, contains a lot of helpful material about the role of compassion in the major religions of the world. Amstrong’s first request of the reader, though, is to look at our own tradition:

We need inspiration and motivation that reach a level of the mind that is deeper than the purely rational and touch the emotions rooted in the limbic region of the brain. It is therefore important to explore your own tradition, be it religious or secular, and seek out its teaching about compassion. This will speak to you in a way that is familiar; resonate with some of your deepest aspirations, hopes, and fears, and explain what this journey toward compassion will entail. (p. 26)

I was raised an active and earnest Presbyterian in a supportive small town church. For various reasons, including my inability to replicate my small-town church experience, I have been unchurched for my entire adult life. As Armstrong suggests, the religion of my youth still deeply resonates with me, so that is what I will explore in February.

My pledge for February: re-read the synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Actually, I will read them in the order that we now believe that they were written because I don’t think I’ve ever done that — so, first, Mark. I’m looking for Jesus’s words about love and for Jesus as a model of compassion.

What is your religious or ethical tradition? What do you know of its teachings about compassion? How can you explore them further?


The Religion of my Youth #CompassionateSunday — 5 Comments

  1. I applaud your search for more compassion, as we could all use that quality.

    I have mostly been “unchurched” in my adult life, too, although in my younger years, I hopped around from church to church, trying to find a good match. Nothing lasted.

    But I do like the ideals of compassion, living well, and helping others.

    Thanks for sharing…and for visiting my blog.

  2. A very thoughtful post. I love the idea of Compassionate Sunday and even just reading your posts gives me pause to think about in what ways can I be more compassionate.

    Though I also have been “unchurched” or in my case “unsynagogued” for most of my adult life, I still hold to the traditions I was raised with and still feel they are a part of me even if I don’t participate in them as part of a group.

  3. Glad you’re continuing your compassionate Sunday posts, I didn’t expect to see them every Sunday, but I will enjoy them. Bryan over at Still Unfinished was encouraging people to give up something for Lent, and I think I may donate an extra night a week to the crisis hotline that I volunteer for. I haven’t given up anything for Lent in a while. I’ll probably sign on for this Friday night, as I don’t have any immediate plans.

  4. Pingback: Pressed Down, Shaken Together, Running Over #CompassionateSunday | Joy's Book Blog

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