This is an extract from the writings of Isaac of Nineveh (who died around 700) that I found in a book of daily readings, in the section on readings from the Orthodox tradition. It seemed strangely moving to think about how far we have moved away from compassion for all of creation, and the damage this has caused, so seems relevant to how we find ourselves today. [I have changed it to inclusive language though].
‘What is purity, briefly? It is a heart full of compassion for the whole of created nature … And what is a compassionate heart? It is a heart that burns for all creation, for the birds, for the beasts, for the devils, for every creature. When a person thinks about them, looks at them their eyes fill with tears. So strong, so violent is their compassion … that their heart breaks when they see the pain and the suffering of the humblest creatures. That is why they pray with tears every moment … for all the enemies of truth and for all who cause harm, that they may be protected and forgiven. This person prays even for serpents in the boundless compassion that wells up in their heart after God’s likeness.’
Merton suggests that such openness and vulnerability comes from meditation. If we feel dry in our prayer life then he suggests that you can focus for example on a flower or a tree. Here he comments on the vase of flowers on the altar of the novitiate chapel:
‘Beauty of sunlight falling on a tall vase of red and white carnations and green leaves… The light and dark. The darkness of the fresh, crinkled flower: light, warm and red, all around the darkness…
This flower, this light, this moment, this silence: Dominus est. Eternity. He passes. He remains. We pass. In and out. He passes. We remain. We are nothing. We are everything. He is in us. He is gone from us. He is not here. We are here in Him … The flower is itself. The light is itself. The silence is itself. I am myself. All, perhaps illusion. But no matter, for illusion is the shadow of reality and reality is the grace and gift that underlies all these lights, these colours, this silence. Underlies? Is that true? They are simply real. They themselves are His gift. ’