World Kindness Day - not just a 'Hallmark Holiday'
Posted: Fri, 13 Nov 2020 05:14
These days, we can have all kinds of 'Hallmark Holidays': if you want to remember 'International Left Handers' Day' or 'Happy Cousins' Day', the chances are the the international greeting card company, Hallmark, has a card to match your mood. With Lockdown 2 in place, I have not been able to get to a card shop to see if there any cards available for WORLD KINDNESS DAY which we celebrate today, 13th November 2021. To the superstitious. 'Friday 13th' is deemed to be unlucky and the stuff of silly horror movies. Today, in the middle of a second national lockdown in England, with uncertainty being proclaimed over the US election process and millions suffering from the effects of COVID-19 throughout the world, we are invited to share our KINDNESS and to celebrate it. We have not been asked to write a huge cheque or give up hours of precious time, we have simply been asked to be KIND. Kindness lies at the heart of the Christian gospel and is central to Islam, Judaism and all the world's religions. Love and kindness has to be our default position. While Jesus reminds us of the centrality of love in every instance, the Quran makes it very clear:
Help one another in acts of piety and righteousness. And do not assist each other in acts of sinfulness and transgression.
In my much-loved retreat work with young people, I enjoy the programme based around the 2007 film 'Evan Almighty.' Evan Baxter (Steve Carell)—the scene-stealing news anchor rival from the film 'Bruce Almighty'—is the focus of God's attention. When the film opens, Evan has just been elected congressman and is leaving the TV business behind to move his family to a new life in Virginia. All is going well until God shows up and asks Evan to build an ark! Like the prophets of old, Evan tries to hide from God and ignore the demand; however God, played with great gravitas by Morgan Freeman, keeps working away at him. Eventually, he works with God and the huge ark is built in the garden of his posh suburban neighbourhood, to both the horror and amusement of family, colleagues and friends. Everybody thinks Evan is going mad, including his family, who pretty much leave him on his own. Yet Evan, like Noah, persists in obedience, no matter the consequences—-even when it appears he will lose everything. Without spoiling the fun and games of the film, the happy ending sees Evan realising that it is the ARK that will save the world, God shows him that he must see beyond the flood, the animals and the wooden boat to what A.R.K. actually stands for: Acts of Random Kindness. The challenge for the children on retreat is to bring that kindness to their homes and classrooms by building their own ark, building on their own random actions of kindness. It does not have to be over the top, it can be something as simple as sharing a smile , as the Letter to the Hebrews says:
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
Hospitality is so important, and I give thanks for all those times I have received a welcome into countless homes during the course of ministry: from invitations to share a birthday party to that simple 'cheeky cuppa!' The kindness shown in these acts of welcome can never be quantified, but it does mean acceptance and a recognition of our equality before God as we share pizza or cake.
Jesus went out of his way to share the kindness of acceptance and hospitality. He shared meals, festivals and weddings with anyone who invited him; even If people did not have enough food, they were given more than enough—no matter the size of the crowd. The Cana miracle of water into the best vintage wine again shows that overwhelming kindness of Jesus. He reached out to those who did not normally merit hospitality in the world of first century Palestine : the lepers, the crippled, children and the marginalised. Unconditional love means exactly that: we love without counting the cost or the implications—we see a need and we respond, as the prayer of St Ignatius reminds us:
Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and ask not for reward, save that of knowing that I do your most holy will.
I suspect that a great tragedy in our world is that there will still be those who can never respond to your kindness or your outreach. Try as you might, they are so caught up in their feelings that they distrust you—they infer false motives and they will never recognise the gift of kindness shown to them. It is all too easy to give up on such folk and leave them to their narcissism and selfishness. If they will not accept your kindness, then I hope they will accept your prayers for them. Even if they still remain deep in their own cares, you can STILL pray for them—remember that Jesus challenges us to LOVE even our enemies, he says nothing about LIKING them.
These months of pandemic have given us so many opportunities to show kindness: from clapping for the NHS, to grocery shopping for a neighbour who is shielding. Even though the news is currently positive about the much-needed vaccine, we will need to hop on that ARK over the coming months—the pandemic is not over. Today, on this 'Friday 13th', we can really concentrate on those acts of random kindness that will brighten someone's day. You can be the bringer of peace, hope, joy and deep love. Today, your kindness can make a difference; I urge you to take this prayer from from the Celtic tradition and make it yours today:
This morning, as I kindle the fire on my hearth,
I pray that the flame of God's love may burn in
my heart and in the hearts of all I meet today.
I pray that no envy or malice,
no hatred or fear, may smother the flame.
I pray that indifference and apathy, contempt and pride,
may not pour like cold water on the fire.
Instead, may the spark of God's love
light the love in my heart,
that it may burn brightly through the day.
And may I warm those who are lonely,
whose hearts are cold and lifeless,
so that all may know the comfort of God's love.
On this 'World Kindness Day,' I thank those many friends and family who have shown me unconditional kindness—it will never be forgotten. Today, we reach out to those on a 'bridge of kindness'; so often Pope Francis talks of building bridges, while some other leaders prefer to build walls. By reaching out to others, we discover the richness of true friendship and care. Go on, take a risk, remembering that 'love can build a bridge.'
I'd gladly walk across the desert
With no shoes upon my feet
To share with you the last bite
Of bread i had to eat
I would swim out to save you
In your sea of broken dreams
When all your hopes are sinkin'
Let me show you what love means
Love can build a bridge
Between your heart and mine
Love can build a bridge
Don't you think it's time?
Don't you think it's time?
'Love Can Build a Bridge' written by Naomi Judd, Paul Overstreet and John Barlow Jarvis)
Watch the song on YouTube: Cher: 'Love Can Build a Bridge' with Chrissie Hynde, Neneh Cherry and Eric Clapton 1996
The real beauty of the gift of kindness is that it has no expiration date—it is time to show that kindness; don't you agree?
Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB
Image: Random Acts of Kindness Foundation