Here is something that I came across this week that has stirred my thoughts. This is part of a weekly blog by Jay Sidebotham, an Episcopal priest and cartoonist. He begins with excerpts from a poem (and hymn text) by Frederick William Faber (1814-1863)
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice, which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings have such kindly judgment given.
There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior; There is healing in His blood.
For the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more simple, we should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be thanksgiving for the goodness of our Lord.
Souls of men! why will ye scatter like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! why will ye wander from a love so true and deep?
But we make His love too narrow by false limits of our own;
we magnify His strictness with a zeal He will not own.
Was there ever kinder shepherd half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Savior who would have us come and gather at His feet?
Lord have mercy
We often pray: Lord, have mercy. I’ve often thought we don’t have to ask God to have mercy. That’s part of the deal. That’s in the character of the Holy One. We just need to see it, to recognize it, to remember it.
At the end of Morning Prayer, there’s the General Thanksgiving (p. 101 in the Book of Common Prayer) which asks that we be given an awareness of God’s mercies. That phrase always stops me. Spiritually speaking I can tend to be more clueless, more forgetful, more indifferent than aware. So maybe the spiritual challenge for this week is awareness, a particular challenge in times when there seems to be more judgment than mercy.
There are synonyms for awareness. We can speak of mindfulness. We can speak of intentionality. The eucharistic prayer refers to a technical Greek liturgical term: anamnesis. Literally, not amnesia. Not forgetting.
So what do you think it means to grow in awareness of God’s mercies? Perhaps it begins with an attitude of gratitude, giving thanks in all things, even in this crazy and difficult season. This is where awareness as intentionality, perhaps even stubborn willfulness, may matter. What one, five, ten, fifty things can you be thankful for today? Note as you try this spiritual exercise if it shifts anything for you?
Maybe awareness of mercies means putting ourselves in the place of someone in greater need than we are. Now more than ever, we live in our bubbles. Yet the fragility of life, the vulnerability of those in need of medical care or food or funds or companionship screams at us. Maybe that awareness can manifest not only in our lips but in our lives, with creative acts of kindness as we remain sequestered. What might you do to show mercy, as God is merciful?
Maybe awareness of mercies calls us to look at that part of ourselves that honestly is not sure we need mercy, thank you very much. It’s that part that bristles at confession or Lenten discipline of repentance, that part that wants to let God know how lucky God is to have us on the team. Check out the parable Jesus told about a Pharisee and tax collector at prayer (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee (perhaps an ancient version of an Episcopal priest) gives thanks that he’s not like that loser sitting in the back pew. The tax collector simply asks for mercy. Guess which one Jesus said went away justified, set in right relationship to God?
(The first of the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 5) is): Blessed are the poor in spirit. I am helped by another translation that renders the verse: Blessed are those who know their need of God. That knowledge, that intention, that awareness seems to be critical to a life of blessing.
And if there is any silver lining to this strange season, perhaps it will be a recognition of our own need of help from a source greater than ourselves, our dependence on others, our dependence on the Holy One. Maybe idolatrous illusions of independence and self-sufficiency can subside for the sake of beloved community, where we care for each other, rather than attack each other or blame each other as together we experience that God’s mercy endures forever. Maybe we can live our lives animated by mercy and grace, not judgment or fear, acting on the belief that in the end, love wins.