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 Compassionate Sunday. We’re working through Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong, one step per month.

If you’d like to share a post about what you learned about compassion (The First Step), what you’re seeing in your world (The Second Step), self-compassion (The Third Step), empathy (The Fourth Step), mindfulness (The Fifth Step), action (The Sixth Step), how little we know (The Seventh Step), how to speak to one another (The Eighth Step), concern for everybody (The Ninth Step), knowledge (The Tenth Step), or recognition (The Eleventh Step) use the link list below. Or join the discussion in the comments or on Facebook.


Last week, I told the story of Christina Noble who grew up on the streets of Dublin and grew up to crusade for the street children of Vietnam. The point of this story for the Eleventh Step is the recognition:

When Christina looked into the child’s face, she saw herself; she realized that there was no “us” and “them”; “at the end of the day they are the same.” p. 166

After telling Christina’s tale, Armstrong follows with three biblical stories that illustrate the concept of recognition.

In Genesis 18, Abraham has an encounter with strangers among whom he recognizes Yahweh who promises that his wife, Sarah, will have a son.

In Luke 24, there’s a similar story where disciples of Jesus, after the crucifixion, meet a stranger on the road. The disciples are grieving but this stranger bolsters their faith.

The moment of recognition comes when the stranger breaks bread at dinner, and they understand that all the time they have been in the presence of the Messiah, the christos, but that their “eyes had been held” from realizing it. It is only a fleeting illumination: almost immediately he vanishes from their sight. p. 173

For the third story, Armstrong returns to Genesis. In Chapter 32, Jacob wrestles with a stranger during the night before he reunites with his brother, Esau, who he wronged twenty years previously. The text uses the word “face” repeatedly and it’s not always clear whether the reference is to Jacob, Esau, or God. They merge and re-emerge.

If we want to achieve reconciliation, not only do we have to struggle with the enemy, but we also have to wrestle with ourselves. And in the struggle…we may find ourselves blessed and embraced by the presence of something greater. p. 176





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