Tuesday's Themes: Cornerstone Words of Faith
Surely Goodness and Mercy
I wonder where mercy begins. I wonder if there are kernels of growth already present in the very first moment of the act that causes the pain, the wound. I wonder if mercy is there (somehow) from the very beginning. Or does it come later, when the dust has settled after the event has occurred?
These days since the Pandemic’s beginning feel more like years. For all of us, for all of us the world feels like a different place. We all have our own tellings and understandings of these past months, for sure. Sometimes I think about how interesting it will be years from now when we sit around tables and talk about it. Right now, though it doesn’t feel very interesting. It feels endless, cruel, heartless even, unforgiving.
When I asked my friend to tell me four words that have grounded her faith, she said the first three pretty quickly and afterwards (perhaps realizing she’d only said three) she added, “and mercy.” “And mercy” feels very much like an important way of making my way through these Pandemic days. It feels like a vital way of making my way this year to Bethlehem. Mercy-mindedness should be the thing I reach for before I grab my keys and walk out the door. Because without mercy, who am I?
My hunch is that all of us have had a “worst year.” Last year was mine. Hard and painful changes happened that came unexpectedly. I found that most days I was reeling. It felt impossibly hard. Everything felt uphill and inside-out. And throughout that impossibly hard time, I experienced mercy. Mercy from childhood friends who had kept in touch, from high school and college friends, from seminary friends and church friends, from family in such generous ways…I experienced mercy. The best way to describe what I felt was the notion of being held. Sometimes I felt rocked, sometimes carried – always securely held by one or more dear, loving souls.
Last year and many times since I have learned that mercy is a holding space. It takes whatever time is needed. It sets few, if any demands or expectations. It treads water, right there beside you, until you’re ready to continue on. Mercy never seems to give up or give in. Mercy believes in what is going to be next, and somehow holds onto me as what is going to be next unfolds. For me, mercy came unexpectedly. Over and over, I found that I was surprised by joy; over and over again, I was re-minded of hope.
These words from Psalm 23, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” speak to a new-found strength that claims continuing on. It doesn’t sugar-coat what has happened, but likewise doesn’t show any intention of giving up or giving in. There is a turning of one’s heart toward what is next. That old spiritual, “I’m don’t feel no ways tired,” has roots in what mercy can bring. I’ve been seen and tended, and now I’m continuing on. Now. I’m continuing on.
I may never know when mercy truly starts. It’s almost like me trying to remember when God first loved me. It’s not a date I can find on a calendar, instead it just is. In many ways, after we have experienced what we have believed was an ending and from that received a new and different beginning, then and only then can we begin to speak of mercy. It comes with fresh scars, but it comes. For me, it was from that naming and claiming. Especially on this cold, December morning, speaking of mercy is a life-giving way of knowing what truly holds me and holds my faith.
"Time is different here," I heard my Mom's voice say a couple months after her death. Journeying through these Covid-19 days, remind me of the gift of those words. You are invited companion me on this 2020 Advent journey to Bethlehem, as we seek Emmanuel, God who promises always to be with us.