Thursday, August 6, 2009

Recognising and showing our "soft spots"

This week, during a time of quiet meditation, the leader of the session encouraged participants to become aware of and connect with what he called our “soft spot” – that is, a place in our body or psyche where we, at that moment, imagine or feel ourselves to be more open, vulnerable and endearing towards ourselves and others.

For me this was something new. It made me aware that, although we normally tend to identify our so-called soft spot as a place where our heart is, where there is an emotional attachment, it can also be more material. Sitting quietly, I discovered that my soft spot, at least during that hour, was a place somewhere on my forehead, close to my eyes – perhaps in the way I look and see. For others it turned out to be their stomach or their hands or even their whole body.

Apart from becoming aware of the shifting quality of our imagined soft spot, the exercise also turned my attention to how difficult it can often be to find and embrace such a soft spot. It seems we often shy away from, or deliberately conceal, the vulnerable and more emotional sides of our personality, fearing that it may disclose a weakness or an inappropriate emotion that can embarrass ourself or another.

In this regard I remember an occasion of probably 25 years ago, when during a circle meeting of ministers in Johannesburg an older colleague, who was an extremely sensitive, thoughtful person with a keen sense of humour, dared to show his soft spot to the rest of us. At the time he was asked as part of a group activity to share his thoughts on the value, riches and necessity of true community. Lamenting the lack of spiritual community, the enmity and competition that often prevail amongst colleagues, he suddenly broke down in tears. Not being used to such an unexpected flood of emotion, many felt uncomfortable. Afterwards one minister who had obviously been irritated by this expression of raw emotion, actually complained. He felt awkward he said, even angry at this man, for burdening us with what he perceived to be some hidden and unprocessed frustration.

As a younger minister however, I experienced it differently. The sudden and surprising outpour of emotion became a moment of truth, an extraordinary and profound experience, which I remember and treasure to this day. Something in me resonated with our colleague’s sincerity in addressing a core issue of our identity as ministers and as a church; I appreciated his courage in acknowledging a painful inadequacy in such an unpremeditated way. He had at the time recognised and embraced our shared soft spot: an inability to open our hearts and in complete honesty declare our love and care for each other. He could weep in sadness over our incapacity, if not outright unwillingness, to live compassionately.

This incident reminds me of the day when Jesus took it upon himself to show his disciples and the following crowds where his soft spot was. Looking at the multitude he did not, according to Matthew 9:35-38, become hard and irritated as had his disciples who wanted to send them away. To the contrary, we read that his heart was filled with pity for them, because he saw that they were worried and helpless like sheep without any shepherd.

Is this not the supreme example of love and compassion that as Christians, we are called upon to follow daily? We have an enduring invitation to recognise, embrace and show our own “soft spot”, even when in some instances it may bring tears, or cause embarrassment.

Carel Anthonissen

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