The quality of Mercy
Right now, three days from Christmas – (the largest festival on our Kiwi calendar) – the world outside is, well, lively. As if there are not enough usual things rocking the global boat at this time of year, it feels as if all hands are on deck, the seas are turbulent, and the sails full and straining to rush us to an unknown destination; one not really of our choosing. A lucky few (and I count myself one of them this year) are down in the galley chatting or picking at the meal on the captain’s table. We are all just coasting past the ‘political continent’ and found it erupting and earth-quaking, and no safe place to land. We’ve lost a few overboard in the last year; big names, huge losses. There’s bewildering numbers of people in crisis and it is hard to know how to come to terms with it all at a personal level.
And I know that at THAT level, the personal one, everyone has their own burdens and joys.
I wanted to write a blog that was positive and hopeful, whilst acknowledging that for many, if not most, life can be more difficult at this season particularly. It’s not all tinsel and pretty lights. When I sat down to write, I realised that what makes the difference to me and gives me hope, has to do with my own faith and experience. It would be impossible to encapsulate in a short blog post without cheapening it somehow. But there’s an aspect of it that I can confidently write about because it has been written about much more eloquently by a far greater writer than I.
These words send a shiver up my spine and return my turbulent heart to a place of peace:
‘The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.’
Which to me, means: one of the most godly attributes – that of receiving and forgiving another – is not forced and constrained, but is as freely dispensed as the very rain that waters everything it falls upon. Another quote comes to mind: “The rain it falleth every day upon the just and unjust fellow, but mostly on the just because the unjust has the just’s umbrella.” (I can’t help my sense of humour).
My toes curl up at the first quote because I am very aware of the many times I have been the one who most needed mercy, and without deserving it, received it. If you have never known the feeling of that grace in your life, then you haven’t been watching/listening. It has fallen upon us all at times, and not usually when we think we need it most, but unexpectedly and uncalled for. By its very nature it is freely and without measure given. Those who spend their time counting their losses and grievances, are the least likely to know that it exists.
The second half of that small quote (taken out of context of course) is also true. Having received uncalled for mercy, and acknowledging it has happened, it is easier for one to extend it to others. Or put another way, being more and more aware of the mercy under which I myself am living, I can increasingly open myself up to letting it flow through me to others. It has nothing to do with my worthiness, and everything to do with the quality of Mercy itself.
Since we are caught up in a season of giving and receiving, I can think of no better subject than that of Mercy to offer you. There is no sadder trait I can think of in another person than that they are holding grudges against people, often for years. A constant diet of bitterness and regret fails to bring relief. If, like me, you find yourself facing another human being who has caused you pain/frustration/annoyance/anger, and you can take a breath before reacting. If, then, you can see them as needing as much mercy as possible (and remember, it is unconstrained) and you turn from what you ‘justifiably’ would do, and offer mercy instead, then I know both of you will be better off. Just like it says in that fourth line:
‘It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.’
Well, bless you William! I do believe you were right. Here endeth the lesson for the day.
I’m going to close with a picture of the four of us watching early television in total escapist mode (which is also a cunning way of avoiding stress). How lively were our imaginations then, and what a rollercoaster we put our mother through. She knew a lot about mercy that one.