Thursday, April 1, 2010


It’s spring in Memphis. The buttercups bravely came up and checked things out first. Bright yellow wands of forsythia are waving, and lacy white Bartlett Pears make the city seem prepared for a bride to walk through our streets. I get hopeful while the weather gets warmer. Something about spring gives me courage, warms me into wondering about things that winter’s cold would not allow me to think about.

To state the obvious: It is much easier to offer compassion to our friends, those who think like we do, live in the same nation and drink from the same cooler than it is to offer compassion to our enemies and oppressors. To respond to our enemy or oppressor with compassion is a true test of our human resolve to do the right thing. In thinking about this I discovered a connection between my experience of my enemy and my experience of God. In both relationships there is mystery.

We do not know God. God is a mystery. God exists and acts in ways beyond our comprehension. The same is true for our enemies. We don’t understand why he or she would want to hurt us, label us, limit our options, and separate us from the good will of others. So often we are judged negatively, oppressed, condemned and attacked by others without benefit of knowing the underlying cause. We can ask and we can imagine but we cannot really know the full extent of our enemies’ experience.

Mysteries challenge us and stir our curiosity and help us develop the questions that expand us and deepen our richest spiritual gifts. In our relationship with God we develop patience. We pray – and then we wait. Somehow we continue to believe in God’s goodness in spite of suffering and injustice. We trust that one day we will know. We do our best to be faithful in the face of the challenge.

I am wondering if I can do the same with my enemy. Perhaps being distrusted, unjustly labeled and attacked hold clues that would point me toward something even more valuable than knowing anything as a certainty. Maybe the mysteries involved in our relationships with oppressors hold a lesson more life-giving than being liked and affirmed by family and friends. In not understanding I can find my true light, discover my unique purpose.

Even as I observe with awe the buttercups nodding in the yard, I can compassionately allow my enemies to exist in peace. No one wants an enemy. It’s a mystery to me why they have to exist at all. Yet I’ve heard it before: In my enemy I will find my greatest teacher. I can learn from each season and relationship of my life, trusting that every life and relationship share the deep mysteries of God. I can offer compassion to the one who would harm me, even as the buttercup will wilt into the ground and wait for spring’s return.