10/20/2010 03:13 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Moment For Sacred Metaphors: How the Chilean Miners Helped To Rescue Us

What a miracle the emergence of those Chilean miners is. My only hope is that the singularity and power of this months-long event will not simply be up and gone in a matter of days -- a victim of our relentless news cycle. The living metaphor we are witnessing is an eternal one: they were dead (almost three weeks with no sign that they were alive) and have now come back to life; they were lost and are now are found; they were prisoners now set free. All by a world that, only a few months ago, did not even know they existed.

Mixed in with, perhaps, baser motives: it was love that did this; it was hope that did this; it was faith that did this. This moment of extraordinary global compassion is reminding a sometimes chronically cynical world that compassion is an integral part of what it means to be human. "This too is what the human community can be," these days of mercy seemed to declare. We want to know their names, their stories. We need to hear their voices, to meet their families.

But more than these things about them, we need never to forget what we've rediscovered about ourselves: that human compassion can be both utterly lacking or abundantly evident in a crisis like this. Indeed, extraordinary compassion is an integral part of who we are. We are brothers and sisters, we do care for others whom we do not even know. The evidence is right there on the news.

And yet, there's the dark side as well. Our humanity can be so utterly lacking when more than a billion people are trapped under the weight of crushing poverty and so few see them or hear them gasping for breath.

We human beings are a strange sort. We're decidedly better at short-haul compassion than we are at long-haul justice. This deeper lesson played out before our eyes in the barren Chilean desert, is about both who we are and who we can be. A mixed lesson to be sure, but one with very positive possibilities -- if we listen long and hard enough.

But, having said that, there remains this: By God's grace -- made present by the work of countless human hands -- these men have been saved by a world that took a moment to notice them and their plight and then rushed, with technology blazing, to save them. Now, perhaps we might pray that God would grant that our moment of compassion might grow into a reign of justice.