Friday, April 28, 2017

A Revolution of Tenderness

"Cactus Blossom"
- in my meditation garden -

The people attending the annual TED conference in Vancouver the other day got a big surprise when one of the speakers turned out to be Pope Francis giving a TED talk via a video link from Rome. I was surprised that a pope would be giving a TED talk but I was much more “taken” by what the pope had to say.

In his talk, Pope Francis extended an invitation to his listeners (and to the people of the whole world) to engage in what he called a “Revolution of Tenderness.” I was particularly struck by this phrase because, to me, these two little words pretty much sum up the basic path of any spiritual journey.

We hardly ever hear or use the word “tenderness” nowadays and when it is used, it is often a way to talk about the “tender” feelings we associate with romantic love. However, far from being a pleasant feeling, “tenderness” is actually a “practice” and a “discipline” championed throughout almost every one of the world-wide spiritual traditions.

Jesus calls his disciples to be be gentle (tender) of heart, the great prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures invite the people of Israel to embrace hearts of flesh not hearts of stone, to be tender-hearted and not hard-hearted. The sages of Islam (especially in the Sufi tradition) extol the virtues of cultivating tender hearts and the practice of loving-kindness in the Buddhist tradition is the practice of “tenderness.”

In his TED talk, Pope Francis said this of “tenderness:”

What is tenderness?
It is the love that comes close and becomes real.
It is a movement that starts from our heart
and reaches the eyes, the ears and the the hands.
Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other,
our ears to hear the other, our hands to comfort the other.
To listen also to the silent cry of our common home,
our sick and polluted earth.

We practice the discipline of tenderness when we are able to get out of our own restrictive and protective ego and extend our lives in relationship with others, acting on behalf of others especially those who are poor or needy or sick or alone. And when we seek to mend the deep wounds of our broken planet we are also practicing the discipline of tenderness.

But tenderness is not a virtue that is highly-prized in our own chaotic time of unbridled self-centeredness and so the practice of tenderness in this culture is indeed revolutionary. Those who practice tenderness walk a path that that goes against the flow of popular culture and this takes boldness and courage - it’s revolutionary!

In his TED talk, Pope Francis observed:

Tenderness is the path of choice
for the strongest and most courageous men and women of our time.
Tenderness is not weakness, it is fortitude.

At the end of his TED talk the pope got an enthusiastic standing ovation from everyone listening to him - I hope this is the response we might all be wiling to give. In fact, as I think about it, the degree to which the people of the world respond to this invitation to a revolution of tenderness may well determine the very survival of our planet and the continued existence of our human species.

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