Bearing witness matters

This reading first appeared in The Inquirer, Issue 8033, April 2022

On the evening of Holy Thursday, Jesus leads his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. (Mark 14:34) Jesus says: ‘My soul is sorrowful, even unto death, stay awake and keep watch with me.’ Like the (above) Sufi call to witness and be fully aware of suffering, Jesus made this request to his disciples to wait with him in the Garden. Being a witness to suffering, standing in compassion with those who suffer – even when there is little we can do – is something. It is like being present at the deathbed of a loved one, being a companion to someone in mental or physical pain, even if there’s nothing practical that you can do to help. Looking squarely and intentionally at the shadow side of ourselves and of humanity as a whole, rather than trying to ignore it or bury it under layers of distraction is something. Knowing that suffering has always been in the world and always will be in the world is something. That witnessing connects us soul to soul. And so we spend time opening our hearts in compassion to the people of Ukraine. Sometimes we need to protect ourselves from too much exposure to images of war and atrocities. If the images and reports submerge us in misery, leaving us unable to live in the world, there is no virtue in watching these scenes. No good can come from feeling helpless and hopeless. And there will be times when we are just not strong enough to engage at all. When we are able, it is better to sit mindfully and fully engaged with limited news reports of atrocities and to try to open our hearts compassionately to the victims. Bearing witness when we are able, opening our hearts to those suffering, bearing witness as the apostles did. That is something we can do.

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