What does a daily practice of compassionate spirituality look like? Extending a reassuring arm to a stranger

 

EDITOR’S NOTE—Regular readers love Ben Pratt’s simple stories and have been sharing these gems across social media for years—as inspiring illustrations of life’s daily challenges. In this week’s Cover Story, famous Zen teacher Marc Lesser reflects on how a daily focus on compassionate spirituality can transform entire companies and communities. Those principles run deep into the roots of human civilization and are as relevant as the challenges men and women face today. What Ben Pratt adds to this week’s theme is—quite simply—a small slice of a life defined by compassionate spirituality.

Q: What do these vast, timeless principles look like on a daily basis?
A: Like an outstretched arm.

Here is Ben’s story …

By BENJAMIN PRATT
Contributing Columnist

A few weeks ago, my wife Judith and I attended Jubilee at Arena Stage, Mead Center for American Theater, in Washington, DC.

Jubilee is about the world-renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers, who were first organized in 1871 and went on to shatter racial barriers in the U.S. and abroad, entertaining kings and queens. For more than a century, the bold a cappella African-American ensemble, born on the campus of Fisk University, has blended their rich voices together sharing a heritage of suffering, strength and endurance.

The DC theater was crowded with every hue of human skin, eager for the glorious singing to begin.

While I was in route to the rest room, a middle-aged woman, who was seated along the wall, surprised me by reaching toward me as I was about to pass her. She waved a hand, flagging me to stop.

“My husband is in the restroom and he is blind. He may need some help finding his way back here. Would you help him?”

I smiled and said I would.

When I entered the restroom, I saw him and waited quietly at a distance while he conducted his business. Then, as he was rearranging his clothes at the sink and taking up his white cane to depart—I spoke:

“Sir, a lovely lady outside said you might need an arm to get back to her. May I offer my arm?”

“Sir, I would be honored by your assistance,” he responded.

He reached out his free hand and I placed my arm within reach.

We walked quietly back to meet his wife.

“Thank you,” she said with a big smile.

“You are welcome,” I said, “but I am the one who thanks you for trusting me with this respectful task.”

We smiled and parted.

Yes, it is a simple story, a simple deed, as simple as offering a cup of cool water.

A stranger helped a stranger across all that could have divided us. I was surprised by a woman I would never have noticed. Then, I went on to surprise her husband.

As you read this story, in your mind’s eye, how do you envision the three of us in that theater and that restroom on that night of Jubilee? Would you have even noticed us? Made eye contact? Dared to speak? Pause? Extend an arm?

In these times of suspicion and discord, daring to extend an arm is as natural to me now as my daily recitation of the Prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Injury, let me sow pardon
Doubt, let me sow faith
Despair, let me sow hope …
Amen!

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Care to read more?

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Benjamin Pratt’s columns and books have been shared internationally and used in small groups from New Zealand to New York City. Among his many books, displayed on his Amazon author page, is Guide for Caregivers: Keeping Your Spirit Healthy When Your Caregiver Duties and Responsibilities Are Dragging You Down.

In that book, Ben writes more about the Prayer of St. Francis. We have an excerpt from that section of the book, which includes a longer version of the prayer.

The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt is a retired pastoral counselor with 40 years of experience working with men and women facing a wide range of stresses and tragedies. He is a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and a retired member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. He travels widely to work with groups, conferences and other events. He has been a keynote speaker and is a veteran of designing workshops and weekend retreats, which he has conducted nationwide. He writes regularly for ReadTheSpirit online magazine and also has been a featured columnist at the website for the popular Day1 radio network.

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