- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: HarperOne (June 28, 1990)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062548719
- ISBN-13: 978-0062548719
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,991,738 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Spirituality Named Compassion: And the Healing of the Global Village, Humpty Dumpty and Us Paperback – June 28, 1990
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About the Author
Matthew Fox (left) is a priest and director of the Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality in Oakland, California. Silenced by the Vatican in 1989, he was formally dismissed by the Dominican order in the spring of 1993 after a five-year struggle over his radical views. Fox is the author of many books, including The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, Creation Spirituality, and Sheer Joy.
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- “Compassion is not pity but celebration.” (2)
- “Compassion is not sentiment but is making justice and doing works of mercy.” (4)
- “Compassion is not private, ego-centric or narcissistic but public.” (14)
- “Compassion is not mere human personalism but is cosmic in its scope and divine in its energies.” (17)
- “Compassion is not about ascetic detachments or abstract contemplation but is passionate and caring.” (21)
- “Compassion is not anti-intellectual but seeks to know and to understand the inter-connections of all things.” (23)
- “Compassion is not religion but a way of life, i.e. a spirituality.” (25)
- “Compassion is not a moral commandment but a flow and overflow of the fullest human and divine energies.” (30)
- “Compassion is not altruism, but self-love and other-love at one.” (33)
Fox concludes the opening chapter with an image of concentric circles with spoke-like lines intersecting at the center; each spoke is labeled with one of the elements of compassion discussed earlier in the chapter and where the spokes intersect in the center it is labeled “compassion.” The image and the caption below do a beautiful job of summarizing the first chapter: “All elements of compassion are interconnected like spokes on a wheel” (35).
In the second chapter, “Sexuality and Compassion: From Climbing Jacob’s Ladder to Dancing Sarah’s Circle,” Fox looks at “two contrasting symbols for the spiritual experience: That of climbing Jacob’s ladder and that of dancing Sarah’s circle” (37). Fox argues that the image of the ladder as an ascent toward God is damaging, going so far as to say: “As long as the West remains dependent on the ladder symbol there will be more violence, more sadism and masochism in the name of all our numerous gods—and the exile of compassion will continue. Phallicism, the worship of up-ness, remains America’s dominant religion” (65). As an alternative to the symbol of climbing the ladder, Fox offers the symbol of dancing Sarah’s circle—an image of equality, interdependence, and a “global village” (45). Fox says that “Transcendence is Sarah’s circle and Sarah’s circle is transcendence. Therein lies salvation for a global village and the holy people who inhabit it‚which is all of us” (65).
The third chapter is is about the relationship between psychology and compassion and was too in depth to explore here, but was succinctly summarized in the chapter’s title, “Psychology and Compassion: From a Psychology of Control (Competition, Compulsion and Dualism) to a Psychology of Celebration (Letting Be, Letting Go and Letting Dialectic Happen)” (68).
In the chapters that follows, Fox discusses compassion and how it relates to other key areas in our daily life. On creativity Fox says, “There will be no compassion without creativity” (104), and “creative compassion is the carrying on of God’s creation” (139). In his concluding thoughts in the chapter on science and nature, Fox calls for a change in even the way that traditional religious vows are understood in light of our evolving understanding of our place in the cosmos:
"Centuries ago, when society believed in a Ptolemaic cosmos that was geo-static and geo-centric, monks and nuns took vows of stability, thus to mirror the energies of the universe as they understood them. Today, now that we know the universe is in constant motion and is interdependent at every level, the time has come for spiritually motivated people of good will to take vows of organic interdependence and motion. The proper name for such a vow would be a vow of compassion." (174-175)
In the fascinating chapter on economics and compassion, Fox discusses our need for an economic system built on compassion: “The ultimate principle in any economics of compassion is that it is to the self-interest of all of us and it is to the price and greedy interests of none” (220). The chapter on politics was an important one for me to read because I have personally become so cynical of our political system and its ability to do any good. Fox reminds the reader that politics often “become confused with politicians so that it appears to be one more game at assuring individuals their security in their compulsive and competitive climb up the political ladder” (223); but to “yield to this meaning of politics is to surrender true citizenship activity. The struggle of groups through the ages, of blacks, of women, of the non-landholding whites, for their rights as citizens has been a struggle for a citizenship based on Sarah’s Circle. The struggle goes on” (222). And indeed it does.
A Spirituality Named Compassion is a great book for those with a comfort and/or familiarity with the Christian tradition, but there are parts (beautiful parts, to be sure), that may be less meaningful to someone of a different faith background, or no faith background at all. If you’re looking for a book to comfort you and reinforce the status quo, this would not be the book for you. If, however, you are looking for a great book using Christian symbols and stories to challenge you to become a better and more compassionate person in your own life and to work to make the world a more compassionate place, Matthew Fox may have written just the book for you. For me, A Spirituality Named Compassion has strengthened my commitment to social and economic justice, and it has given made my service learning project much more meaningful and enriched.
Fox writes in the Preface to the original 1979 edition, "In many respects this is an off-the-wall book. Its purpose is to get Humpty Dumpty---our psyches, our global village, and our cosmic consciousness---off the wall: the wall of division and separation, of possessiveness, of hoarding. Off the wall and down to earth where we can dance eye-to-eye once again." He further describes this book as "the third in a trilogy" (the others being On Becoming a Musical Mystical Bear: Spirituality American Style and Whee! We, Wee All the Way Home: A Guide to Sensual Prophetic Spirituality (Meditation)).
Here are some representative quotations:
"Compassion leads to works. Feeding, clothing, sheltering, setting free, giving drink, visiting, buying, educating, counseling, admonishing, bearing wrongs, forgiving, comforting, praying: all these acts of mercy are acts indeed."
"For the entire insight upon which compassion is based is that the other is NOT other; and that I am NOT I. In other words, in loving others I am loving myself and indeed involved in my own best and biggest and fullest self-interest."
"But the hopeful news from Humpty Dumpty is this: that the soul we look for now has a home. Its home address is Compassion."
Matthew had so much to teach me about compassion - that it is not pity but celebration, not sentiment but making justice and doing works of mercy, and that it is not private or ego-centric but public. Then Matthew helps us to understand how the teachings in our culture, that of ever climbing - the ladders of success or acquisitions - and distancing ourselves from others and how those teachings separate us from compassion, can be a significant cause of pain in our world.
Many of us know the song to which Matthew refers: We are climbing Jacob's Ladder / Soldiers of the Cross. We may not be familiar with the corollary to that song (sung to the same tune): We are Dancing Sarah's Circle / Sisters, Brothers, All. The message of this book - give up being "Soldiers of the Cross," and instead become "Sisters, Brothers, All," is definitely a message for our time.