The Warp and Weft of Compassion
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
Originally this June, we were set to ask ourselves, “What does it mean to be a people of Play?” A light and joyful month! A reminder of our need for rest and play! An invitation to nurture and recover the playfulness that’s part of the package of being alive!
And then … that intruding disrupter, COVID-19, showed up—hardly a playful companion. Our friends in the Soul Matters Sharing Circle, with whom we share our monthly themes, wisely thought, “Maybe we should postpone this month on Play for, say, a year.” Surely what we need now—now that we’re past the first shock of sheltering at home—is a deeper dive into Compassion. Compassion for ourselves—a muscle we all too often forget to exercise. And compassion for others—the willingness to “engage in the suffering of others,” as the Charter for Compassion (charterforcompassion.org) puts it.
Still, I feel a tickle of playfulness as I title these thoughts “The Warp and Weft of Compassion.” First of all, is the expression “warp and weft” or “warp and woof”? I’ve always heard it as “woof”; in fact, “warp and woof” has a slight advantage over “warp and weft” when it comes to metaphorical usage. But then I thought, “Oh, Nancy, there are so many fabric artists in this congregation. Surely they use the more literal ‘warp and weft’!” Well, I could have stared at the page for an hour puzzling over that choice.
But a whisper of self-compassion whistled me forward.
So here’s the thing: I am not a weaver, but I do know that the warp consists of the vertical threads in a fabric, while the weft or woof are the threads that run crossways from side to side, over and under the threads of the warp. Together they create a web—the fabric itself. The materials, along with the fineness of the weaving, give the fabric its resiliency and strength, its soft or scratchy texture.
In my metaphor-loving heart, to be a people of true compassion, we need the long straight lines of our ties to Love—to Love Made Visible in the form of justice, peace, equity; food, housing, clothing; livelihood, health, safety … for all. Compassion invites us to feel one another’s suffering without becoming overwhelmed. Rather, compassion turns our shared suffering into action. And where there is right action, there is so much less fear.
To be a people of true compassion, we also need the sideways over-and-under threads that show us how we’re all connected: each of us beautiful, playful, and wise; each of us wounded, fumbling, and flawed. Those long straight lines need to be wrapped in the ups and downs of our self-compassion—a tender, complicated holding that honors our own feelings, our own pain; that recognizes the courage and stamina it takes to make it through each day; and that releases us from the vicious trap of perfectionism and overproduction.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, compassion is a finely woven, sturdy fabric. Wearing it, we know the truths of our connections to each other and of our own worth. Wearing it, we are ready to put our Love to work. Wearing it, we remember how to play, even in the hardest of times.
“It is time now, and what a time to be alive. In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love.”*
Weaving the fabric of compassion together,
and always with Love,
*Lyrics from “We Shall Be Known,” by Karisha Longaker of MaMuse. For a magnificent performance by the “How We Thrive” Virtual Choir for UU the Vote, please go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?