This was one of the transcendent moments for me at the Seeds of Compassion events in Seattle in April of 2008. Early morning on the 15th, I attended a prayer breakfast at a downtown hotel. I was the host for emergent Christian leaders Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, and Shane Hipps, and we were standing around talking before the event, when we were all asked to sit down as the breakfast began. I turned to shake the hand of the person nearest to me, and it just turned out to be Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was also sitting down on a low platform just a foot away from Rob and me. He was wearing a shocking pink robe with a little pink skullcap. His hand was small and soft, dark and small in my larger hand. He smiled at me, and then closed his eyes as he sat down, withdrawing to some place of meditation inside himself. Tutu was joined a few minutes later by the Dalai Lama, and an entertaining and moving exchange took place between the two men. They clearly loved each other. The Dalai Lama said he was feeling very sad that morning because he had been hearing about distressing events in Tibet. The Archbishop expressed his concern and compassion, and also lightened the mood by making a couple of silly jabs at the common dignity of these two old "holy men in their costumes." And then Tutu closed his eyes, folded his hands, and began to speak. "We have a weak God," he said. "You and I have been given the extraordinary privilege of an extraordinary God who being omnipotent is also the impotent one. We have an omnipotent God who is also the weak God. We have a God who weeps, who feels with us. We have a weak God who has created such an imperfect and broken world in which so many things go wrong. And this weak God, he says, 'I need help to repair this broken world. I need help from you, and you, and you.'" Tutu whispered these words, still with his eyes closed, and he pointed around the room. I am sure most of us felt that he was pointing individually and personally to each of us.
Compassion is not a word or a feeling. Compassion is a prayer, and then an action.