The Mercy

{Excerpted from Season of Wonder by Tricia Gates Brown, 2016}

“…The mystery of life in its totality is incomprehensible, and what can be understood often speaks in a language so slow that we seldom stick around long enough to hear it.” —Mark Nepo

As Mark Nepo states so beautifully, what can be understood of life’s mystery is revealed so quietly, so unexpectedly, we must slow down to catch it. We must still ourselves and listen like great-horned owls. In other words, we must want it. Often the only reason we want to understand badly enough to slow down, is pain. We stroll through life, heads full of distraction and daydreams, earbuds in our ears and oblivious, then devastation drops us to our knees. Suddenly, we are desperate for understanding. We desire answers that bring meaning or comfort to our situation. Only then can we hear or begin to apprehend the bit of life’s mystery that is available to us.

[In 2015], upheavals in my marriage temporarily froze my world, leaving a swath of barrenness. In the radical stillness of that season, as all the life-giving elements of my world slowly came out of dormancy, a revelation or two emerged.

When I first learned of my husband’s plan to leave, I could see as far as my fingernails. The pain was so great, I was blinded to everything beyond it. It was a searing beam obliterating everything. Gradually, I was able to see as far as the two of us, a dyad. Then to see him. Over the course of months, I rose like an owl over the situation, and the more time accrued between the present and the shattering that was his leaving, the more my vision took in. Rising higher.

At each new perch I stopped to listen. Eventually I came to see him and myself as part of an endless tapestry of humanity, all of us sharing a journey of spirit, a journey from blindness to full understanding of who we are in God. The threads connecting us all are spirit, and the threads that connect us are for the inner eye to discover. We can invite these threads to expand and fill us. In this sense, our journeys—his and mine—are one and the same. There is no separation between us, even as we live apart. As I ascend, I nudge him along; and as he ascends, he nudges me along. The same for my daughter, my neighbor, my enemy, a stranger—but in an especially powerful way with those nearest us. Our journeys are intertwined, and ultimately, the same story. This old theological concept is now underscored not only by psychology, but the insights of quantum physics. “There is no private salvation,” writes Helen Luke, “exchange with the other is the door to the final awareness of the unity of all in the love which is the dance of creation” (from “The Tempest,” in Old Age).

This changed my view of my husband’s struggle, his mid-life crisis as I, at times, labelled it. No longer do I see his unskillful actions as things done to me. Instead, I see them as critical steps on his spiritual path. Surprisingly, I’ve even come to see them, in a way, as necessary, essential. This is true for all of us: that we must experience a fall—an ego-shattering defeat—before we can see through the cracks to the fullness of God hidden within. Those who cannot face the fact of failure often plaster the shards of ego back together over and over again, continuing as if the ego is all there is, until death is the final defeat—and the final unveiling. But those on a spiritual quest eventually welcome the fall with gratitude, and the amazing mystery revealed in the shattering and relinquishing of our false selves.

Theologian Cynthia Bourgeault, borrowing from Jungian analyst Helen Luke, suggests the web of God’s presence in all of us, the endless soul-connectivity, be called “the Mercy.” Beautiful. The word “mercy” is related to “merchant” and has a connotation of exchange and connection, which is why the French say “merci” as an expression of gratitude when something is exchanged. God fills us with God’s very essence, and this offering is the life force, the love force, enlivening everything we see, connecting us to the God in all things via essential threads of God in ourselves. Merci.

In modern English usage, the word “mercy” also has the connotation of offering love and compassion instead of a walloping: “To show them mercy.” In the theological sense, calling God’s presence in all things The Mercy, connotes an immanent divine force of love and compassion that stands as a corrective to all notions of God as apart-from, over-and-above, and certainly, as punishing. The Mercy is the divine force so completely on our side that even our mistakes are ultimately redemptive. Even the fall is the first step on the road to wholeness, to putting the pieces of God, shattered and scattered through all Creation, back together.

At the time of my shocking and sudden marital separation, and for months to follow, I experienced anger that ranged from fury to a mild criticism. What an asshole, is a refrain that would frequently pass through my head. As I rose higher and higher above the situation, I came to see—one night at 4 a.m., lying awake in an AirBnB in New Mexico—how counterproductive and wrong was my criticism. If I am a child of the Mercy, I have to let go of the criticism and judgement. It isn’t true to the direction the love force is taking me in. After all, aren’t we all, in our ego-clinging manifestations, occasionally assholes? The point is, as long as I cling to judgement and criticism, I cannot be ushered along the journey of opening, sight-giving, reconnecting, filling, that Spirit is leading me on, and at the same time, leading [him]. I cannot apprehend the mystery of it from that place outside of the Mercy. So I lay these things down.

When I express gratitude to God for the restoration being wrought in our relationship, it is open-ended. I have no idea what form that restoration will eventually take. I just know it will be a restoration in him, and a restoration in me, and in some way, we will share it. I leave it to the divine way, to the Mercy, to shape what it will be, and what path it will take to get there. The Mercy can be trusted. This is what it means to love, with the love that is the “dance of all creation.”

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