It has been more than 25 years since I last stepped on the campus of Union Theological Seminary (UTS) in Cavite, Philippines. Yet after these many years and despite the myriad changes that have occurred through the passage of time, one thing remains constant and unchanging—the core essence of UTS described as a School of the Prophets is as palpable as ever.
It is within this context of a vibrant and inspired learning community that I brought the message of compassion to more than 150 participants representing 11 institutions on January 31-February 4, 2017. Hosted by the Jose Andres Sotto Center for Spiritual and Pastoral Care, the seminar/workshop honed in on reclaiming the role of compassion in mediating the compassionate heart of God amidst human struggles and suffering. Viewed from the combined perspectives of religion, brain science, psychology, and spirituality participants have been provided with a “thick description” of compassion, which is so critical to their life together and witness to the world.
In a pragmatic turn, the community has also been invited to participate in a guided compassion cultivation practice called “Compassion for Neighbor” as a way of affirming solidarity with those suffering from the effects of the country’s war on drugs. The 5-minute guided meditation has allowed participants to intentionally bring to mind the suffering of those around them and to reflect on concrete ways they can provide compassionate presence.
For many, this brief but compelling meditative practice has gifted them with a momentary respite from the whirlwind of activities by enabling them to breathe mindfully and to attend to the sacred quality of the present moment. Immersion in the life of contemplation that fuels compassionate presence is a need expressed by many participants, especially by those whose life is marked by an onslaught of responsibilities and commitments.
On February 11, I also had the opportunity to work with lay counselors from Greenhills Christian Fellowship in Ortigas, Philippines. Under the leadership of Dr. Yoyit Roldan these volunteers came to the workshop with contagious enthusiasm and openness to learn more about compassion and contemplative counseling. This day-long workshop turned into a living laboratory where stories, cases, and personal challenges were offered and processed from an integrative lens of contemplation, attachment, and brain science. Infused during these conversations was the attitude of “with-ing, ” a seed that has already been planted and which requires on-going nourishment and cultivation through continuous training and practice.
The expressed need for more intensive trainings and retreats of similar nature for church leaders, pastors, students, and committed volunteers in my home country has sparked a renewed desire within me to share whatever resources I may have to fill this gap. The work has begun, new partnerships have been forged, and the ground for mutual accompaniment and compassionate presence has now been laid bare and cultivated (Phil 1:6). Faithfulness is what is required of us and Fruitfulness is what is guaranteed to us by the Master Gardener.
Travel grant has been generously provided by the Templeton Religion Trust.