“Mother & Child,” by Nazar Haidri. Courtesy Saatchi Art

The Womb of Compassion

Yme Woensdregt

I love to find out about words. Where do they come from? What do the roots of words mean in the original languages?

While there are some people who say things like “They’re only words,” I believe that words are important. How we say things matters. It matters how we name people and things, and how we talk about them. Words are precious because they are the ways in which we identify what is important to us.

The phrase “they’re only words” points out that it’s important for our words to be consistent with our actions. That’s especially true in things like the recent election campaign—many of us are suspicious of the promises of those seeking to be elected because we’ve been burned too often.

However, that doesn’t decrease the importance of words. It serves to increase the importance of actions. In my mind, words become even more important when we hold them up against our actions.

Now, I speak and write English fluently. I have a very rough working knowledge of Greek, which is the language of the New Testament. It’s helpful to be able to figure out what the Greek words behind English translations of the Bible really mean. I know very little Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, but I do have some tools which help me work out a bit of what those words mean.

A few years ago, I learned about the Hebrew root of the word “compassion”. As you might imagine, compassion is a very important word in the grammar of faith. I believe that compassion and love are at the heart of Christian faith. This is how God relates with the world. it also describes how we can learn to live together in ways that are whole and healthy for all people. It is an essential trait for people to be truly human.

The English word “compassion” comes from two Latin words, “com” which means “with” and “passio” which means “to suffer”. The Latin root of compassion means to suffer with someone, to be there for and with the other.

But sometimes I wonder if there can be too much compassion. Sometimes we need to let person take responsibility for his or her own growth. Sometimes compassion can be toxic because we shelter people from the consequences of their actions. When has enough compassion been given to a needy person or circumstance?

Here’s where the Hebrew word for compassion becomes very helpful. The Hebrew word is “rechemet”, which comes from the root “rechem” which literally means “womb”.

This word brings to mind a beautiful image of motherhood and all the amazing and miraculous things that happen in a womb: the womb protects the unborn child; it nourishes, cradles, and prepares the fœtus for life. The baby must stay in that warm and nourishing place just the right amount of time before birth. If it stays too long, unhealthy things happen to both baby and mother. It becomes toxic, and dangerous to both, and sometimes emergency surgery must be performed to rescue both baby and mother.

If the baby doesn’t stay long enough, there is the other danger that he or she may not yet be fully formed, and therefore unable to survive in the world, as well as being highly susceptible to diseases.

This helps enrich my understanding of compassion. In the same way that a womb is necessary, so is our compassion a necessary thing. We need to carry a person who is hurting or needy in the womb of our compassion. We can build the person up, nourish and encourage and strengthen him or her.

But too long, and it turns toxic. There comes a time when a person must be released from the womb of compassion and begin to mature on his or her own.

The other thing about this is that it enriches our image of God, who loves the world with a deep and abiding compassion. God’s love for the world is expressed in this feminine image of nurture and gentle caring. It’s one image among many which we need to recapture and emphasize if we are to return to a more wholistic image of God.

Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3

World Farm Animals Day, Drink Beer Day and Virus Appreciation Day are all coming up this week

Two new COVID-19 cases reported in Interior Health

The total number of Interior Health cases since the beginning of the pandemic is now at 522

Local wakesurfers hit the podium, will compete at world championship

Local wakesurfers hit the podium during a national competition at Lake Okanagan… Continue reading

It happened in 1913

Sept. 20 - 26: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the newspapers at the Cranbrook History Centre and Archives

A Winter’s Tale: Live theatre returns to Cranbrook with “Almost, Maine”

Cranbrook Community Theatre presentation, opening Friday, shows us how we leave each other, and how we make our way back

QUIZ: Do you know what’s on TV?

Fall is normally the time when new television shows are released

A (virtual) walk around the world by 88-year-old B.C. man

George Doi says it’s simple: ‘I like walking’

End of CERB means uncertainty for some, new system for others

As of a week ago, the CERB had paid out $79.3 billion to 8.8 million people

Horgan, Wilkinson trade barbs over MSP premiums, health care at campaign stops

Horgan called a snap election for Oct. 24 earlier this week

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

2 British Columbians arrested, 3 at large in massive Alberta drug bust

Eight people are facing 33 charges in what police have dubbed Project Incumbent

97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized from farm in Princeton

RCMP assisted as BC SPCA executed search warrant

Most Read