Misericordia

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.

As I’ve been reflecting on the qualities of mercy and what I understand it means to be merciful I find myself returning again and again to the heart.

The word ‘mercy’ in Latin is a two word mashup: Pity(or compassion)-heart.

Each of the beatitudes points us back to the heart; it is as if Jesus were holding up a gem – the heart – and turning it for us to see how each of the facets allows the light to shine in a slightly different way.

Mercy usually carries the resonance of pity and/or compassion which fuels a willingness to forgive offences, offer love and invite reconciliation. Grace is implicit in mercy, along with a desire for shalom – peace, healing, flourishing and hope.

The Resources

If you think about mercy in your relationship with God, I wonder where that all lands for you…

Have a read of this passage from Exodus as Moses presses God for assurances and for a special favour. Once you’ve read the text through a couple of times, it might be a good one to try the Ignatian method of imaginative engagement with. Here are some basic instructions for the approach which is intended as a way to move from thinking about the text to relating and responding to the text.

If that doesn’t appeal, find the path into engagement that is live for you this week and see where the story takes you.

The Prompts

God tells Moses “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy”.

How have you understood God’s mercy fitting with the messages of unworthiness or sinfulness that have shaped much of the Christian concept of what it means to be human?

Moses is audacious, you could even say sassy in the way he talks to God in this story (at least, this is how I read it…perhaps that says more about me than it does about Moses). There is not much evidence of his having a sense of unworthiness before God here. If you were to put yourself in this story, asking to see God’s glory, how do you imagine God responds to you?

If you think about mercy and being merciful in your relationships with your fellow human beings and the rest of creation…how does that all land for you?

Here is another short passage to reflect on:

37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’

Luke 6:37-8

There’s a bit of the tit for tat accounting in this text that often sounds like it fits with ‘the way the world works’ rather than the Kingdom of Heaven household guidelines Jesus illustrates with the parables of the workers in the vineyard, the prodigal son/forgiving father, the lost sheep etc.

I understand this as a description of human relationships and the inevitable way judgement and mercy boomerang back at us rather than the way God is judging us.

How do you find yourself reacting to others when you feel judged?

How often are you aware of your judgements of others affecting their wellbeing and sense of safety?

The Resources

One of the simplest ways to step back from judgement and open to the possibility for mercy is to ask yourself this question:

What is the story I’m telling myself?

We know that the story we tell ourselves is only partial, is our interpretation, is based on less than half the necessary information and is usually intended to make us feel better about ourselves. OR is that just me? I didn’t think so.

But there can be a lot going on in the story we are telling ourselves and the dynamic of a relationship has its own story too, which it is important to be aware of.

If the story has history or if an encounter has an odd deja vu type of feeling, then the perspective of the Karpman Drama Triangle can help with taking the initial step back or with identifying the relational landscape you have entered. Once you have seen how the story you are telling yourself has locked you and the other into tit for tat positions, then you are free to dis-identify with the role and in doing so, the space opens for you to be free to receive God’s mercy and grace as your whole self.

The Practices

Generosity

In ‘Braving the Wilderness’, Brene Brown offers 7 skills to develop a sense of belonging to yourself – essentially tools to help you in the ongoing journey of dis-identifying with the story and becoming the beautiful human being you were born to be. Generosity is one of these skills, applied not to material resources but rather to interpersonal connection.

What’s the most generous interpretation to the words, actions and intentions of others that you can imagine?

Of course, this generosity of interpretation is not just for everyone else.

It’s for you, too, as an antidote to the harsh inner critic who holds you to account for every unguarded, potentially insensitive, stupid or inappropriate thing that comes out of your mouth (and even the thoughts that don’t make it that far).

Am I being generous to myself?

Am I being generous to others?

These are in the moment awareness questions, but they are also end of the day review questions. Sometimes, the best we can manage is to be aware that we are identified with a role and a story, and so not yet able to let go of that and receive the grace and mercy God is offering us. Awareness is a move in the direction of freedom…keep asking the questions and at some point you will find the prison door has been open all this time.

Get naked with God

God’s desire is for you; to be your lover; to woo you into a relationship of mutual trust and surrender; of reciprocal seeing and knowing. Moses was told he could not see God and live, and yet the scripture stories tell us over and over that God is revealing Godself to us, that all of it is God’s initiative, wanting to be seen and known in the most intimate relationship.

There’s a long tradition of using lover language for the relationship between God and Israel, and later in the Christian tradition, of using the same language for the relationship between Christ and the soul.

There’s a long tradition of using lover language for the relationship between God and Israel, and later in the Christian tradition, of using the same language for the relationship between Christ and the soul.

Here is a dialogue between Mechthild of Magdeburg and Christ for you to pray with and reflect on:

Then the bride of all delights goes to the Fairest of lovers in the secret chamber of the invisible Godhead. There she finds the bed and abode of love prepared by God in a manner beyond what is human. Our Lord speaks:

Stay, Lady soul.

‘What do you bid me, Lord?’

Take off your clothes.

‘Lord what will happen to me then?’

Lady Soul, you are so utterly formed to my nature that not the slightest things can be between you and me….And so you must cast off from you both fear and shame and all external virtues. Rather those alone that you carry within yourself shall you foster forever.

These are your noble longing and your boundless desire. These I shall fulfill forever with my limitless lavishness…..

Then a blessed stillness that both desire comes over them.

He surrenders himself to her, and she surrenders herself to him.

Flowing Light of the Godhead

Pray for your enemies

The prayer for loving kindness is from the Buddhist tradition, touching in on the truth of Jesus’ teaching on the same theme, and recognising the need for us to receive into our empty hands and hopeful hearts before we attempt to be graceful and merciful to others. Tara Brach has a lovely guided meditation for the prayer here.

Alternatively, you could practice the Jesus prayer.

This is its fullest form: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

It is usually prayed with the breath, or using a rosary or other prayer beads, and shorter forms omit ‘Son of God’ and/or ‘a sinner’, so you can adapt it to suit you.

Another option is to pray it using the Greek words: Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison.

This version is nicely suited to breath prayers and walking prayers.

Enjoy!

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