Stumbling on Mercy

P1060904Entering into a more prayerful Lent doesn’t just mean blocking off chunks of time at the start and end of each day to spend with a bible and a journal. It means passing through the moments of each day in an intentionally prayerful way. Of course there are those moments when I think of God or marvel at the world’s beauty — and those are fine prayers.

But how much of that is me painting a pretty narrative in my mind over the canvas that God perhaps intentionally left blank? Or, maybe, that canvas has something else already etched on it, something I’d rather ignore.

What I’m saying is, I’m very guilty of clocking moments of subpar mindfulness as prayer and substituting them for real encounters with God.

So, this Lent, I’m working on it. I’m listening to God’s quiet whispers. And I’ve found something that is probably not novel to anyone: God lets you know when you’re out of line. You know when you’re not loving your neighbor as yourself. The Holy Spirit gives a little nudge when you’ve hurt instead of helped.

I started this Lenten journey in prayer with a nod to all those who credit their ability to love endlessly, to work tirelessly for justice to their prayer life. To do this “building the reign of God” thing right, prayer is essential — and I need to get better at it.

So, if it’s those little things that trip me up, it’s exactly those little things that I need to focus on. You can’t build big if you can’t start small — especially when God begins to point at cracks in the foundation.

What am I talking about? Well, I can’t very well speak out for those who have been silenced if I don’t volunteer a kind word on behalf of a coworker who is down. I can’t work to end global injustices if I don’t stop myself from gossiping about others. And I certainly can’t hope to engage in global solidarity if I don’t shut up and listen to the joys and sorrows of my own friends and family.

Mercy. That’s the word that kept coming to mind as I prayed this out. Certainly, the easiest, lowest level, entry 101 kind of mercy, but mercy nonetheless. It’s mercy that reminds us that we’re all in this together, that we have to reach out to one another and that I might mess up just as much as you.

Then I came across this passage from the Jesuits’ “Igniting Our Values” reflections:

The concept of working to bring the Kingdom of God to the here and now by creating a just society has long been an animating principle for me. Christ, however, indicates that justice is actually the shadow side of the more expansive quality of mercy. His words and example serve as the place where the limits of justice bump against the boundlessness of forbearance.

Mercy both sprouts and supersedes justice. That’s kind of it, right? Not a bad place to stumble into during this Lenten journey considering where I began and where I was hoping to wind up.

Today is Sunday. We at CRS Rice Bowl are highlighting another of our What Is Lent? videos — this one on the theme of mercy featuring Kerry Weber of America Magazine. This really isn’t a plug — more of a serendipitous coincidence. And honestly, it took me a while to get the full meaning of the bus metaphor. (Watch it — you’ll understand.)

But, as Weber says, “Lent is a journey in mercy.” And we’re all on that bus together. If we’re hoping to build anything great — the reign of God, for example — we have to start by looking up at our fellow passengers, by smiling, by reaching out, extending a hand and walking together.

Eric Clayton

Eric Clayton works at Catholic Relief Services as part of the U.S. Church Engagement Division. He holds an MA in international media from American University and a BA in international studies and creative writing from Fairfield University. He currently lives in Baltimore with his wife and hedgehog.