Radical Empathy – Felicia Murrell

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“….when they suffer, we suffer with them.
Whether we know it or not, we suffer with them
–The Dearly Beloved, Cara Wall

I don’t know if this truth is THE key, but surely it’s a key to awakening compassion and radical empathy. To understand that when “they,” whoever “they” may be, suffers, I also suffer. That “they” are merely a part of me I do not yet know.”

“They” are an invitation to be acquainted with the afflictions of another. To perhaps model the way of the Samaritan (man judged him “good”) who suffered in the suffering of a stranger, paid for his board and meal and medicine. Told the innkeeper he’d check back on his return trip to make sure the debt was completely paid. Surely this is the fellowship of suffering, or at least a part of it…

Any anti-racist work, any theology that does not allow for a person’s full humanity – the whole of their lived experience from triumph to tragedy is only skimming the surface and will never go deep enough to yield transformation.

Circumstances all around present us with opportunities to suffer with. The pain and terror of the Palestinians and Israelis who fear for their lives. The trauma and terror of our transgender brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings who fear for their safety and their right to exist in their bodies. The suffering of Black and Brown bodies who fear the police, who struggle to convince others that their experiences are real and not contrived, that they matter.

The list can go on and on here, for truly no one is exempt from suffering. There is no hierarchy in suffering, at least there ought not to be.

But there is an invitation to identify, to be with, to hold space for, to allow your heart to break open in the sorrow and pain of another.

Love weeps with those who mourn. Are you awake to hear?

May our ears become attuned to the cries of the suffering without the burden of false responsibility that demands we solve all of the world’s problems. May solidarity not turn into saviourism. May we be free from guilt and shame that detracts us from empathy and derails our participation in unconditional acceptance.

Picture of Brad Jersak

Brad Jersak

Bradley Jersak is an author and teacher based in Abbotsford, BC. He serves as a reader and monastery preacher at All Saints of North America Orthodox Monastery. Read More