Professor and Sister of St. Joseph Catherine Nerney shares a prayer practice that strengthens our compassion for ourselves, one another, and the world:
We are called to be compassion for our world. But to grow in this capacity, we must practice, practice, practice the art of communicating from the heart where God and we are one. The Hindu blessing of Namaste, which has become universalized, reminds us that “when I am in that place of the Divine in me and you are in that place of the Divine in you, there is only one of us.”
For this purpose, Thich Nhat Hanh and other Buddhist practitioners recommend that we regularly engage in a Compassion Meditation that is also known as metta or loving-kindness.… Take a few moments to let yourself be drawn into this contemplative practice for your good and others. Picture in your mind’s eye, try to encounter as vividly as possible, someone for whom you feel deep love and unity. Let him or her be there with you as you express these desires.
May you be happy.
May you be blessed.
May you be free and peaceful.
May you be ever loved.
May you be always loving.
“We are called to be compassion for our world. But to grow in this capacity, we must practice…”
Now repeat the exercise, this time picturing someone you hardly know. Wish them the same loving desires. You may choose someone you saw on the bus, someone in the supermarket or a church group, or perhaps someone you’ve read about in the news. Make the image clear and pray for them as sincerely as you can. Your goal is to open to them/give them their humanity.
Finally, repeat the visualization, selecting a person with whom you are feeling alienated, hurt, resentful, vengeful. What happens as you try to enter this “compassion meditation” with them?
A fourth component of this compassion meditation that I think is often needed, if we are to become more compassionate listeners and speakers, is to offer this loving-kindness meditation for oneself. Self-compassion is essential to help us let go of shame that blocks God’s love and peace from mercifying us. From deep inside us, God is trying to get dug out. Listen to God trying to free you at the same time to love yourself.
Catherine T. Nerney, The Compassion Connection: Recovering Our Original Oneness (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018), 184–185.