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The Eleventh Step is Recognition. As I wrote on the first Sunday in December, Karen Armstrong illustrated the chapter with the story of a former street child in Dublin who grew up to be a woman who works with street children in Vietnam. She recognized herself in them. In my post last week, I shared the three stories that Armstrong told from the Bible, instances where characters unwittingly encountered God, recognizing the presence of the divine at the last moment.
This discussion on ‘recognition’ awakened in me a memory of life in a small town and learning as a teenager about the Society of Friends, the Quakers.
I have a particular attachment because I knew that my great-grandfather was raised a Quaker, although the practices didn’t pass down to me. But, I always perked up when the topic came up in history or through my religious education. Presbyterians provided a lot of history in their Sunday School, Confirmation Class, and for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts earning the God and Country merit badge.
George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends, spoke of pastoral work as ministering to “that of God in every man.” I imagined Quakers going around and seeking the presence of God in every one they met and hoped they would find that spark in me. The concept also led me to want to seek “that of God” in people that I encountered.
Of course, then I moved to a big urban area where I encountered yoga. Many sessions end with the word ‘namaste,’ a greeting and benediction in Hindu custom delivered with a slight bow and hands pressed together. The word originated in Sanskrit and is old enough to have variations in the translation to Hindi and, then, to English. The one that I like, because it reflects my understanding of Quakerism, is “the divine light in me greets the divine light in you.”
Compassion, for me, is rooted in those Biblical stories that I learned as a child about unaware encounters with God or angels, in the understanding that I developed as a teen about the presence of God in every person, and in the concept of namaste. If I acknowledge the divine in myself and the divine in you, then compassion becomes a sacred act.