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Theology Slam winner: Glimpses of creative compassion

by
26 March 2021

In the winning entry of the Theology Slam competition, Imogen Ball argues that the womb is theologically significant

istock

In the womb
Makes space
Creates
Waits
A form which is not my own, yet
of me
from me
within me
The time comes
Birthed
Born
Breathes
My new creation

I begin in the womb
A thought
A spark
A potential
Being, I’ve begun
Forming
Growing
Hoping
The time comes
Birthed
Born
Breathes
A new creation

 

CREATIVE compassion is inspired by mirroring the womb and compassion. Creative compassion fundamentally shifts compassion outwards, beyond ourselves and towards the other.

Let’s begin with two words: the womb and compassion. Compassion, in English, stems from the latin, com (with), and pati (to suffer), producing that popular understanding of compassion as “to suffer with”, putting ourselves in the shoes of the other or feeling their pain.

The biblical Hebrew racham goes way beyond this. Racham (to have compassion), rachum (compassionate), and rachamim (compassion), all share the same three root letters as rechem, R-H-M. Rechem is uniquely reserved for the female reproductive organ, the womb.

Now, just because these words share the same three foundational letters does not mean that they have the same meaning. But there is something that grabs my attention, a depth of meaning to be mined, as we mirror these strangely related terms. By mirroring the womb and compassion, we reveal glimpses of creative compassion.

Using body parts to metaphorically express human emotion is seen elsewhere in scripture. Of note is the Greek word Splag(ch)non, which means the inner parts, or the guts, or the liver, and, in some extrabiblical ancient texts, can also be the womb. Splag(ch)non is the bodily metaphor for pity or compassion. And so these two pairings — rechem and racham, splagnon, and the verb splagnizo — embody compassion, perhaps even enwombing compassion. Compassion is seated at the epicentre of the human body.

The womb has the potential to hold new life, to grow and nurture the other. The womb can and does suffer, and it suffers with the one that it holds in a variety of painful, devastating, and complex ways.

But the potential for the womb is ultimately creative. The womb makes space to grow and nurture the other. And so, as we mirror the womb and compassion, we go beyond the Latin “to suffer with”, and begin to explore compassion that is creative at its core. By mirroring the womb and compassion, we inspire creative compassion.

 

WHAT, if anything, does creative compassion mean for us?

First, creative compassion is from God. Our God is gracious and rachum, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. These liturgical lines echoing scripture speak of a God who is compassionate, rachum. Our God is characteristically compassionate, a compassionate creator, whose creativity in creation was outward, beyond Godself towards the other.

Jesus and his 12 disciples got in a boat and went to a desert place. Many people followed him; so that when they landed a great crowd had gathered. Jesus looked on the crowd and had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And so, Jesus taught them many things; and when it grew dark he said to his disciples “Give them something to eat.” And so with five loaves and two fish, they fed a great crowd.

Jesus had compassion (splag(ch)nizo) on the great crowd. Jesus was in a desert place, a barren space, a wasteland of nothingness, and into that place he created, multiplying bread and fish, sustaining and nurturing this great crowd with physical and spiritual food. Jesus, the embodied and enwombed one, had compassion. This is our God, the embodied and compassionate creator. By mirroring the womb and compassion, we inspire creative compassion from God.

Second, creative compassion is for all. Creative compassion is not reserved for the womb. It is not reserved for mothers, not reserved for people who have experienced creative compassion in their own womb. But creative compassion is for all, because all are made in the image of God. We do not all bear children, but we all bear God’s image. And so we are all called to creative compassion, as image bearers of our compassionate Creator. By mirroring the womb and compassion, we inspire creative compassion from God and for all.

 

FINALLY, creative compassion is for now. It is for such a time as this. As we look on the crowds, as we see the chaos of pandemic, the devastation of injustice, and the gut-wrenching grief of disease, we are called to creative compassion — creative compassion that goes beyond simply “to suffer with”; creative compassion that is not content with reactive responses, a sticky plaster, a patch-up job, or simplistic excuses.

Creative compassion builds relationships instead of a one-off handout; it invites people in, rather than transferring a tenner. Creative compassion is active imagining, it is envisaging and enacting a future that is better. Creative compassion makes space space, to grow and nurture the other. By mirroring the womb and compassion, we inspire creative compassion from God, for all and for now.

Let’s return to those two words: the womb and compassion. What if our compassion went beyond “to suffer with”, and instead embraced com-Passion, to be with Passion — perhaps, even, the Passion of Christ, which goes beyond the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross, which is God’s salvific act for humanity, not for Godself, but for the other.

By mirroring the womb and com-passion, we inspire creative compassion from God, for all and for now.
 

Out from womb
Great
Groans
Goes
This life of
another
To nurture
To give
To grow
The time will come
Re-Birthed
Re-Born
Deep Breath
Create

 

Imogen Ball is a final-year ordinand and MA student at Trinity College, Bristol.

Watch a recording of the Theology Slam final on our website, and listen to the finalists’ talks on the Church Times Podcast.

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