Thursday, July 18, 2013

Day 4: Mercy

8:20 PM. I was driving home tonight after a long work day when... k-thunk, k-thunk, k-thunk. A flat tire. My cell phone told me that the temperature was 90 (but "feels like 96"). As I began to call for emergency roadside assistance, I could feel the beginning of exasperation, the inner complaint about how exhausting my day had been, how I had not yet had dinner, how my schedule tomorrow begins early and is full. Then I realized that I did not have to be stressed about this. I did not have to complain about how life was treating me.

As I waited, I noticed that the sky was beautiful and an occasional bird circled overhead. There was a slight breeze created by the cars and trucks whooshing by me on the freeway. I was hungry but I knew I would eventually eat. I was hot and tired but knew eventually I would be cooler and could rest. I realized that this moment in time was but a moment in time. I could spend it reviewing perceived "injustices" or I could simply live it and be free to experience whatever happened next as the river we call Life flowed by.

As I consider the twin notions of justice and injustice, it occurs to me that I often have in my mind a concept of how things should be. Generally this concept is based on some imagined principle of fairness. In my situation this evening, I might think that it really wasn't fair that I should have a flat tire under such circumstances, given how "good" I had been today in my hard work serving my patients. I shouldn't have to undergo these discomforts and inconveniences.

But why shouldn't I? Does justice require that, if I do good (or think I am doing good), I should be free of the unpleasant experiences that afflict others?

Or, on the other hand, does justice demand that I be punished with tribulations if I have behaved badly? Would justice have me run over by a truck while waiting if had I been selfish or rude today?

Stated this way, it sounds a bit absurd. Yet I know that the underlying question often troubles people, especially as they try to sort out the dilemmas of suffering and regret. From our limited perspective as human beings, we often assume that our notion of justice, "reward the good people, punish the bad people", is also God's notion.

Yesterday I wrote about grace, the unmerited Divine assistance we cannot earn. Today I write of mercy. Mercy, I think, is a form of grace that reaches even more deeply into our hearts. Mercy is the gift of forgiveness and healing given when I am quite undeserving of it. When I'm guilty and I know I'm guilty, I am offered compassion and not punishment? An embrace instead of a slap? It seems hard to fathom.

In many spiritual traditions, prayers to God to "have mercy" are common and often repeated as though a mantra or a chant. I do not think, however, that this is because God needs to be convinced to be merciful. As with grace, the mercy is already given, a seed planted in our hearts, waiting to be noticed and cultivated. The repetition of the words is not for God but for us. So that we will begin to believe in Mercy.

Embracing Mercy frees us. The grip of guilt that threatens to choke us is loosened. The rages that poison us are washed away. We are free and can love and be loved.

Now, rest beckons. May you rest tonight and always in the embrace of His mercy.

(You are invited to share your reflections, images or poetry relating to this series, as instructed here.)