“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
—Micah 6:8, NIVScripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.
We have a large, hand-carved mirror in my home made from beautiful maple wood. It was given to me as a wedding present from my uncle. The verse, apparently my grandparents’ favorite line from Scripture, is etched by hand around the arch of the mirror. I see it daily—a visual reminder of the biblical essentials.
In his humble and inviting way, Trevor Hudson shares with us how coming alongside those who suffer, allows us make space for God in our lives as we learn to listen and learn to notice. Just as Micah 6:8 implores, “to act justly and to love mercy to and walk humbly with your God,” Trevor shares examples of how he has learned to do this in his life and encouraged his congregation to join him.
Transformation, he says, is a slow process that takes time and is continual throughout our lives.
Through Christ’s loving power we are gradually transformed into our true selves, fashioned into instruments of compassionate justice, and nourished in our relationship with God. Transformation is always an inside, unfolding work of the Spirit.
He shares that it is the purposeful cooperation of the Believer in the work of transformation that allows us to integrate contemplation, compassion, and justice within our lives. Hudson suggest an overlooked and neglected activity that we see modeled in the life of Jesus: to expose our lives intentionally to those who suffer. God brought the idea of a Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope to Trevor as a way to bring his congregation face to face with the suffering taking place not far from their [largely middle-class] suburb in the 1980s and 1990s of apartheid South Africa. “These pilgrims experienced profound changes in attitude and outlook. Repeatedly their lives bore clear evidence of a deepening commitment to the Way of Christ. Some of us were led into a deeper participation for a more just and compassionate society.” They didn’t turn away from the suffering.
Three components of the pilgrimage were: Encounter, Reflection, and Transformation. These ingredients are crucial to any encounter we have with those who suffer so that we might integrate our relationship with God with the human struggles for justice and dignity. “Often we who are privileged are shielded from the harsh realities of others’ lives. Poverty, homelessness, and destitution tend to be abstractions for us.” Developing a pilgrim posture means learning to be present to those who suffer in our midst.
“Being present means engaging the other person with all our heart, our mind, our soul, and our strength.” Hudson says that learning to listen is also part of the pilgrim posture. It’s nearly impossible to relate to someone in a compassionate way without first listening to him or her. Noticing how God might be inviting us to respond is part of the posture as well. “These movements of heart and mind are the way God speaks to us; they are the quiet sounds of God’s still, small voice.” When we pay attention and notice, we are drawn deeper into connection with God and open to the promptings of the spirit.
There is potential for learning in any experience if we take time to reflect upon that experience. A parent or professor might call these “teachable moments.” Reflection is the second aspect of the pilgrimage that Trevor Hudson used with his parishioners after their Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope. “Without reflection we run the risk of overlooking those insights that empower these experiences to transform us.” The practice of reflection “fine tunes our antennae” so that we might hear God speaking to us through the human cries around us.
The third ingredient of a pilgrim posture, transformation, is not one that can be planned or controlled. “Transformation . . . is the gift that happens in those whose lives and hearts are generously open to the Holy One.” Trevor shared his own process of change and becoming more like Jesus the more he intertwined his life with those whose lives looked very different because of suffering. “It was difficult for most of us to acknowledge that many of the ‘blessings’ we ascribed to God’s goodness were sometimes the consequences of the systematic oppression of others.” Approaching the truth of that reality with a heart of contemplation and compassion, led Trevor and others into a life that continues to seek justice and dignity for the oppressed.
Hudson believes the essential components can be lived out in normal daily routines (pilgrimage not required.) The main point of this article is that we can build the practice of being present to those who suffer in our midst in our daily lives. Refusing to turn away from suffering connects us with our grief and fears.
Transformation occurs when the implanted seed of divine compassion begins to flower. Non-sentimental and caring deeds are birthed. Courage is given to speak truth to those “principalities and powers” intent upon destroying the lives of people. Our hearts begin yearning for a society where there is justice and compassion for all.”Trevor Hudson, A Mile in My Shoes (Nashville, TN: The Upper Room, 2005), 22.
The closing section of this article is worth repeating:
Those of us involved in the conversations about spiritual formation need to insist that any expression of discipleship that removes the Christ-follower from human suffering is counterfeit and delusive. It betrays God’s passionate love for each person, denies our connectedness in the human family, and results in what has been described as a “false inwardness. We become the person God intends not within a private religious zone, but within God’s broken and wounded world.
- How do you respond to the word contemplation?
- How has your faith allowed you to come alongside those who are suffering?
- Spend some time practicing Trevor’s daily examine:
It helps to set aside a few moments at the end of the day thinking about my encounters with people that day. As I do this consciously in the presence of God, I usually ponder: What did I do today? With whom did I spend time? Did I spend time with anyone who was suffering in one way or another? What injustice have I been aware of today? What do I sense Christ saying to me through my thoughts and feelings about these things?