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Center for Action and Contemplation

Awakening to Mercy

Friday, April 1, 2016

Bias from the Bottom: Week 2

Awakening to Mercy
Friday, April 1, 2016

Her sins, her many sins, must have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown such great love. —Jesus (see Luke 7:47)

Jesus also said, “Those who show mercy will have mercy shown to them” (Matthew 5:7). For the flow to happen, there must be a full opening on both ends, receiving and giving, giving and receiving, just like the Trinity. When you do not know you need mercy and forgiveness yourself, you invariably become stingy in sharing it with others. So make sure you are always waiting with hands widely cupped under the waterfall of mercy.

We now live under the weight of so many unhealed memories—including painful woundings of every stripe, political oppression, and genocides—that we have developed penal and judicial systems that think of mercy as an affront to justice. We seem to have a craven fear of—and even hatred for—anyone outside our own kind of people. After centuries of legalistic religion, sacraments administered in a juridical fashion, and biblical fundamentalism, the very word “mercy” seems newly introduced into our vocabulary—as if it were from a language other than our own, a truly foreign concept. Mercy refuses our capitalistic calculations. Most religion now offers no corrective to the culture, but largely reflects cultural self-interest.

Our lack of human compassion is rather starkly revealed in most of the candidates we consider worthy of public office in the United States. I am not sure if this is as much a judgment on the politicians’ delusions as it is on the spiritual and human maturity of the American electorate itself. That so many who call themselves evangelical (“Gospel”) cannot see through this charade, has become an embarrassment for American Christianity. Many now see our cultural Christianity really has very little to do with Jesus. Any candidate is praised and deemed worthy of high office because we think, “He speaks his mind” (when it is actually our prejudices that he is speaking aloud). Two thousand years of Jesus’ teaching on compassion, love, forgiveness, and mercy (not to mention basic kindness and respect) are all but forgotten in a narcissistic rage. Western culture has become all about the self, and that is just way too small an agenda. The very self that Jesus said “must die” is now just about all that we think about!

The rejection of refugee women and children on U.S. borders and of entire Syrian families fleeing for their very lives into the richest (per capita) continent of Europe, has suddenly brought our lack of basic compassion and mercy into sharp and urgent focus. The unloving, glaringly self-centered, and even cruel behavior of so many Christians, Muslims, and Jews has exposed religious hypocrisy for all the world to see.

We live in a cold time, and we must now pray for the warming of hearts and opening of minds. To use Thomas Merton’s lovely invitation:

Make ready for the Christ, Whose smile, like lightning,
Sets free the song of everlasting glory
That now sleeps in your paper flesh. [1]

May we grow tired of such sleeping and ask for flesh that feels, weeps, and even bleeds for the immense suffering of our world today. “If we remain silent, the very stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40). I thank you for letting me not be silent.

Gateway to Silence:
Open my eyes.

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, “The Victory,” The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton (New York: New Directions, 1977), 115.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Mercy, within Mercy, within Mercy,” the Mendicant, Vol. 6, No. 2 (CAC: 2016), 1, 3.

Image Credit: Homes on the former Juarez dump, Juarez, Mexico 2006. CAC archives.
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