Simone Weil wrote in Waiting for God: “ I have the essential need… to move among [humanity] of every class and complexion, mixing with them and sharing their life and outlook, so far that is to say as conscience allows, merging into the crowd and disappearing among them, so that they show themselves as they are, putting off all disguises with me. It is because I long to know them so as to love them just as they are. For if I do not love them just as they are, it will not be they whom I love, and my love will be unreal. I do not speak of helping them, because as far as that goes I am unfortunately quite incapable of doing anything as yet.” (Italics are mine)
It seems to me that often when we reach out to others, we find it hard to love people just as they are. They become a project, a way we can fulfill our call to reach out as Jesus commands us. We are doing our duty. But when we love people, smelly or irritating or needy though they are, we are loving them just as they are. This is what Jesus calls us truly to do. To love with compassion.
If we were able to love with compassion, then we’d see and feel what life for the other person looked and felt like. Think about how that would affect decisions made by those with power to make decisions that impact all our lives. If they made decisions based on truly “feeling with” people who hurt, who are invisible, or who are extremely wounded , then our world would be very different. Think about how your life would be different when you could love everyone—friend, family, neighbor, colleague, and even enemy—as each of those people really is.
Walter Brueggeman in The Prophetic Imagination says that “compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness… Empires are never built or maintained on the basis of compassion.”
When we love people ”just as they are,” we have taken the first steps toward loving our neighbor with compassion, with the kind of steadfast love that God loves that person. We can begin to listen deeply and begin to walk with the other as we both strive to experience the fullness of life as a human being. We do not accept the status quo, we form relationships to explore the wonder of what it means to be fully human.