1 Samuel 16:14-23/ Lamentations 5:19-22/ John 13:31-35
Compassionate Circle for Healing
Yook Woo Dang’s Poems of Pain
Korean Rainbow United, a Korean group inside the United Church of Canada of which I am a part, has been working on translating the poems of a teenage Korean boy, a queer activist and poet, who killed himself close to 20 years ago. His pen name was Yook Woo Dang, which means “Six Friends” because booze, cigarettes, sleeping pills, foundation, green tea, and rosary were his six companions in life. I will read to you two of his poems.
The world hates us like monsters.
Therefore, we live in hiding, here and there.
But does it know that we are human too?
How sorrowful, how sad –
Contempt, discrimination, taunt, and blame –
These break my heart.
For us, the queers,
being the untouchables in this country
Is our reality.
As you saw that rosary was one of his 6 companions in life, he was a devout Catholic as well as gay. I can only imagine what a devout Catholic boy had to go through, drinking, smoking, and not being able to sleep without pills, to take his own life.
I am not going to claim that mental illnesses are what cause suicide. I believe that we can’t make that kind of generalization. Those who struggle with mental health are stigmatized enough as it is.
What I want you to focus on here is trying to understand his pain. Needing sleeping pills is not for happy-go-lucky people. We don’t all have mental illnesses, but as the discussion of health is for both healthy people and those with medical conditions, it is the same with mental health. Healthcare is for healthy people to maintain health and sick people to get better, whether it is physical health care or mental health care.
I pray that today, we will learn compassion and open mind, and be able to accept and love one another in all our differences, regardless of who we are and what kind of problems we struggle with in life.
Lamentations and Mental Health
Let us start from the ending of the Book of Lamentations. Listen to this verse: “Why have you forgotten us completely? Why have you forsaken us these many days?”
Have you ever felt so miserable you cried your eyes out, and afterwards, you felt better? Exactly. That is the point of Lamentations. When we need to scream, cry out for help, God is there to listen to us. God and therapists.
When we suffer inside and keep bottling it up, it becomes poison to our body, mind, and soul. We all need to unburden our hearts once in a while. We need a non-judgmental person to just sit and listen to us.
Unfortunately, there is a stigma around mental health care even today and it is preventing a lot of people from seeking help. Probably because of this stigma and misunderstanding on mental health care, psychotherapies are not covered by our health care system.
It is my belief that we all need a counsellor or a therapist. When I had cancer in my body, it was found early on, which is why it was easily removed. Mental health is the same thing. If we receive care when our problems are small, we can handle it, manage it. We need to unburden our hearts and take care of our issues regularly as the physical health care, so that our problems will not become bigger. What we need is compassionate ears (and arms to hug us), and sometimes, mental health professionals
David and King Saul
In 1 Samuel chapter 16, David, the future king of Israel, is summoned to play music for the mentally troubled King Saul. When the Bible says that Saul was tormented by an evil spirit, I believe that’s what it means.
It also says that music’s therapeutic power helped Saul and calmed him down. Saul’s troubled mind made him quite violent at times; that’s how troubled he was. What David does for Saul is more than just playing music to calm him down. His presence was full of compassion and care. He was not judgmental. That is why Saul liked him and wanted him near him. That is why his music became therapeutic. Compassion is the key to mental wellbeing.
Love One Another
Jesus in the Gospel of John talks a lot about loving each other. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you… By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
“Just as I have loved you,” he says. The way Jesus loved, and the way God loves us, is unconditional and non-judgmental. Breaking down stigma related to mental health is not simple, but it starts with total compassion.
Compassion for One Another
We should acknowledge that everyone is different and struggles with different issues. We may not always be able to understand or relate to others, but we can still see them with compassionate eyes and treat them with compassion.
We should treat others as we want them to treat us. When someone is struggling with something, judging, pointing fingers, or giving them “the look” does not help them. It only adds to their suffering.
But as we have seen in the suffering of Yook Woo Dang, some traumas are personal, and some are social. Some traumas and pain come from being socially marginalized. Therefore, as we see each other with compassionate eyes and help each other relieve our personal pain, we should also fight for social justice so that we can reduce social traumas and suffering in people.
Learning God’s Love and Compassion
Therefore, Let us learn God’s love. Let us follow Jesus by loving as he did; with compassion for everyone.
Today, we are singing the hymn “Draw the Circle Wide”. We all have the circle of people whom we love and who are compatible with us. They are our people. But being Christians, and to be able to love like God loves us, we have to widen that circle with compassionate hearts.
My family in Korea and Indonesia are my family. My best friends and godchildren in Ottawa are also my family. You are my family. Our thrift shop workers and residents of Sicamous are my people too. Canadians and Koreans are my people. I learned from the Methodist father John Wesley that the world is my parish; that makes all God’s people on this planet my people.
We should widen our circles to love all God’s creation. Since we are created to be interdependent, we need each other to maintain our wellbeing. We may not understand everyone, or like everyone. It doesn’t matter. Let us be an ever-expanding community of God’s people of compassion. Let us love one another, forgive one another, and then love one another some more.
Let us take care of ourselves and others since we are each other’s people. Let us help each other in their mental health care with compassion and kindness. May God’s healing grace be with us in our daily lives and in our relationships with each other.