I think of the encounter Jesus had with the leper in the first chapter of Mark; my biblical translation reads that when faced with the leper’s suffering, Jesus was “moved with pity.” But the Greek word used in the sentence is splanchna, and it literally means “innards.” Which is to say that Jesus’s reaction to the man with leprosy was deeply visceral. The idiom we might use in English is “gut-wrenching.” Jesus—our divine-yet-human savior—had an experience of physically symptomatic compassion, and it compelled him to reach out and heal the man.
For all the frustrations and inconveniences of my periodic emotional instability, I am learning to see it as a gift—even as a gift that I use in my ministry. If I am mindful and open, these swells of feeling can be an invitation to join Jesus in that experience of physically symptomatic compassion. It is an unusual spiritual practice, but given the beautifully incarnational nature of the Christian story, I think it works.
The trick, of course, is not to let my compassion stop when my period starts. The trick is to follow Jesus into actions of healing and hope—to be moved to act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with my God.
Katherine Willis Pershey is an associate pastor of First Congregational Church of Western Springs and the author of Any Day a Beautiful Change: A Story of Faith and Family.