Lately I have been thinking about kindness, and so wanted to write about it today. If kindness was my only sermon, I think that would be a good thing. As I accumulate years, wrinkles, and gray hairs, I appreciate the old-fashioned and humble virtue of kindness more and more. When you are starving for comfort, kindness is like a really nourishing meal. When you are feeling hurt, kindness feels like the Balm of Gilead. When your aching heart and head cannot find rest anywhere, kindness is like nourishing sleep.
In her poem “Kindness,” Naomi Shihab Nye says that before you can know what kindness really is, you have to lose things –things you held and counted on. You have to know how hard it is to go without kindness for a long time. In her poem she says you have to do things like seeing the body of a stranger by the side of the road and realizing it could be you. Like you, this person lived a life. Nye wisely writes, “Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.”
This poem makes sense to me. Some people seem naturally kind, or learn it as children, but the most deeply kind people I have met are those who have experienced incredible sorrow, terrible loss, enormous pain. Somehow, these people have used that experience as a source for kindness towards others. This is a choice. Sorrow, loss, and pain can lead a person to despair, cynicism, bitterness, hardness, not caring about others.
I do not know what makes some people convert sorrow to kindness instead of cynicism. Perhaps that is their natural inclination. Perhaps they recall the lessons of kindness learned as children. Perhaps in their times of sorrow they met people who offered the comforting meal, the healing balm, the deep sleep of kindness. All the more reason, then, to act with kindness to anyone - because some who do not seem distressed may just be better at hiding it.
In times of hardship, the kindness of friends, colleagues, and members of my congregation has seemed to me like soothing rain upon a parched and thirsty land. The image that comes to mind is of the Kalahari desert, coming to life again after the rains. The vegetation grows up first, then the animals return until what once was a wasteland teams again with life. The quality of kindness, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is like a gentle rain that falls from heaven onto the place beneath. Humble kindness, a precious virtue.