On Mercy

Just finished, “Hallelujah Anyway” by Anne Lamott, a gift from a dear friend last year.  Miraculously, it sat quietly and patiently on the book shelf, waiting for today, to be read.

To be read, after I finished reading, “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson.  Ironically, or consistent with the consistency of a universe we don’t fully (and perhaps can’t fully) appreciate (and may even perceive as inconsistent), “Hallejulah Anyway” has a subtitle of “Rediscovering Mercy.”

Anne, like Bryan Stevenson, writes about brokenness, through an analogy of a broken toe, but how “big parts of us got broken, parts of our hearts, minds, and beings” and maybe never fully heal.. and how we need to keep getting up, moving on, but often limping, even awkward, off balance.  (p. 46).

I’ve never heard of Anne Lamott.  She has this interesting every day authenticity and honesty tone, strangely integrating and weaving Christianity and spirituality into meaning, weaving stories that seem unattached, yet are intricately interwined.

She causes me to feel twinges of personal conviction, for my own feelings of jealousy, of anger, of frustration, of irrationality, of childhood pain, of unrequited love, of rejection.  She speaks of humanity, and the humanness of us all, of what connects us, yet also separate us.

She says, “Mercy is radical kindness”  (p. 10), a softening towards others, a willingness to not judge or condemn, or least judge less or condemn less.  As I was told the other day, everybody is loved by somebody (or at least at one point was loved) and we need to try to find what it is in them that is loved by someone.   Most mothers don’t intentionally say, upon the birth of their baby, “I’m gonna mess this baby up.”  They may, “mess the baby up,” but that is rarely the intention.  So, how can we practice a radical, unconditional, and transformational love, the love Bishop Michael Curry spoke of so convincingly at the Royal Wedding today?

What strikes me as a powerful take away that resonated with me as a universal truth is the ultimate power of friendship.  Friendships can be healing (and of course, a source of pain, as well).  But a good friendship can create a space for reckoning, honesty, and counseling.  I remember hours and hours on the phone with friends and in person with friends in moments of trauma and pain.  I remember how a friend on the phone with words and a friend in person with a touch, with a hug, comforted me.  Really comforted, gave peace, provided strength for the next step in life, even if still broken.

But Anne reminds us, powerfully, that silence can comfort too:  a “holy silence” when it can be “a system of peace”; a place of “quiet focus” (p. 62-63), sometimes in community with others, and sometimes in solitude, and sometimes in communion with Nature.

I’d like to try to practice more mercy, grace, forgiveness, and compassion.  This work, surely must begin with an inner and inward intentionality, and burgeon outward, ideally radiating to the long continuum of relationships – each with its own opportunity to embrace the collective shared humanity in which we all exist and ultimately cease to exist.

Again, I am reminded of my mother, Mildred, and her quiet conviction of the power of social work, as a profession, but also, and more importantly, as a way of life, to practice, embrace, and actualize the principles of Christianity in every day living.

In accepting her initial “call” to serve at the Home Missions Division of the United Christian Missionary Society with the All People’s Christian Church and Community Center, she wrote a letter that reads in part (A Black Woman’s Journey from Cotton Picking to College Professor, p. 132-133):

“I am aware that the job of helping people to realize to the fullest acumen the capacities which God has given them is one which perhaps as few others draws upon one’s spiritual reserve and upon his whole self. This being true, then, and in order to be able to continue to give, not only requires the constant sharpening of one’s own knowledge and skills in working with and for people; but equally or more important it requires that such a person not only know, but that one be able to call upon God for spiritual nourishment for the soul, which is the person.

 Although I am young in the social work profession, I think that I can say without the least equivocation that [this] is one which perhaps of all professions of its type has its origin in the Judeo-Christian religion, which stresses social justice, charity, love of one’s fellow man, not seeking one’s own, not being easily provoked, being kind, and long-suffering. All of these qualities might be summed up in the term “acceptance”—acceptance of people where they are and helping them to move on to where they, God, and their fellow men want that they should go. The business of accepting people requires a spirit and a quality of a person whose soul is steeped in the wellsprings of faith and belief in a God who is Love. These are some of the ideas which I know accepting this noble calling requires of me, and I pray God to make me equal to it.”

In her spirit, I would like to more authentically practice and embody and live a life that embraces “the business of accepting people” and helping them move to where they and the universe want that they should go.



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