How often do we speak of mercy? How often do we seek it? Perhaps we do not realize how much we need it? Mercy, divine mercy, is central to our faith and yet we all act as though we do not need it. Why? At least one reason is that our contemporary society’s obsession with technology promises instantaneous control. The underlying principle of our use of technology seems to be: I can do what I want when I want. When I am in control I have no need for anything else. I am getting by just fine. Now, this attitude has been around as long as humans have existed, but, it seems 21st century technology highlights the issue. Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy technology on a daily basis. I can get on my iPhone anytime I want and have access to a perfectly designed world of images, text, and communication. Perhaps it is this “perfect world” on our smart phones’ screens that we need to pay attention to? Mercy has to do with being carried away into love despite our imperfections. Indeed, God’s mercy has to do with the full acceptance of each one of us as we are – with all our weaknesses, imperfections, and sins. When we inhabit mercy, we are not in control. When we dwell in mercy – through prayer, Mass and the sacraments, reading scripture, being present to another person, being present to God in the silence of faith – we come face-to-face with our failings and discover that God loves us precisely there! Being plugged into a perfect world may blind us to an great liberation that can happen anywhere and anytime without the need for WiFi access! This liberation is the acceptance of and surrender to divine mercy, a liberation that frees us to be ourselves, to be more at home in ourselves, and to be God’s mercy for others.
Happiness is the state of no-mind, interior nowhere-ness, nothingness. Blessed (happy) are the poor in spirit (those who are in the state of interior nothingness), for theirs is the kingdom (the realization of the ultimate happiness of oneness with God) (Mt.5:3). All forms of prayer eventually lead to silence, interior nothingness and no-where-ness. It is a state of detachment and freedom in which you identify with nothing. Joy springs up naturally because joy is within you. And joy is within you because God is within you. In the nothingness of prayer God emerges from deep within. So, pray. Pray deeply. Pray beyond the mind in the silence of nothingness. Happiness is the state of interior nothingness. It is a state we receive through deep prayer and that opens us to inner freedom and joy. In prayer God naturally leads us here. Now, recall what Jesus says about violence and the Christian response in the Sermon on the Mount: offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. (Mt.5:38) The two teachings are intimately related. The one who is nothing, “poor in spirit,” is able to live nonviolently because that person is realizing oneness with God. And, to be one with God is to be one with all people, all creation. It is to act as God acts: nonviolently and with compassion. Dwelling in mystical nothingness we can absorb aggression instead of reacting to it. Interior nothingness allows us to absorb another’s aggression without the knee-jerk reaction of violence in return, because we are free from the emotions and thoughts that force us into the pattern of violent behavior. This is a tall order when faced with the kind of violence we are encountering at an alarmingly high rate: random shootings. As Christians I believe Jesus is calling us to this state of nothingness or poverty of spirit, to experience our oneness with God so we can respond with compassion and not with more violence. All-too-often that is how we want to respond to violence: with more violence. This, however, will only create more violence. Jesus is calling us to break the cycle by “turning the other cheek,” that is not reacting to violence with more violence but responding with gratuitous mercy – overcoming evil with good. But, I think we can do this only from a place of inner freedom and joy, which is the experience of being one with God who IS gratuitous mercy. I pray we can let God in to our lives by entering into a state of inner nothingness so we can act with gratuitous mercy at this time of rising violence in our country and around the world. It is the only way beyond violence. It is God’s way.
In weakness, failure, losing, confusion, poverty, stupidity, and oppression we are predisposed to opening to God in Christ through the Spirit because all these experiences are a share in the crucifixion. This is the reversal Jesus proclaims in his parables of God’s reign. The last shall be first. The first are those whose lives are so together they do not see the need for God. They do not realize where ultimate happiness lies. They are under illusion and the only way to break them of this illusion is to actually break them open through participation in Christ’s passion and death on the cross. But, the last are those already crushed, marginalized, and oppressed. These last ones can be the poor of the third world, all who experience the evils of racism, women suffering from the evils of sexism, the depressed, the socially awkward, the disabled, prisoners, the elderly—the list goes on and on. They are crucified—all of them.
As Richard Rohr says, We don’t go to God by doing it right; we go to God by doing it wrong. It is only in experiences of losing and failure that we realize how utterly dependent, fragile, and weak we are. It is those moments that are a potential sharing in the crucifixion of Christ. Jesus tells us to rejoice in those moments because it is another opportunity for transformation. And we don’t need to seek them out because life throws these curve balls at us all the time. Suffocating boredom, intense loneliness, those moments when life simply falls apart—rejoice in these moments because it is in them that God frees us. It is in these moments that we learn to fall into the mystery of God. God is found in the most painful, sinful, uncomfortable, and negative experiences of life—that’s what the cross says! And, we would never expect to find God there. True life comes through death journeys wherein we realize who God is for us—the God of liberating, gratuitous, mysterious love. And we die with Christ—we die with, through, and in God.
Imagine that all you hold dear in your life is taken from you. What if you lost your home? Your job? Your plans for the future? These are the circumstances of your life—they are NOT your life. And sometimes it takes an experience of loss to help us realize that. God calls us to fall through our life situation—our circumstances—into our LIFE: the ever-present mystery of God. Jean Pierre de Caussade says, “rejoice every time you discover an imperfection because then you have to fall into the hands of the living God.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God. Purity means singleness. It may be better translated as “Blessed are those whose heart is undivided.” This beatitude is about oneness and surrendering to realize oneness.
The heart is the biblical symbol for the inner person: our innermost consciousness. To be single in consciousness is to be attentive first, foremost, and ultimately to the Divine Presence. We must ask ourselves to what or to whom do we give our most precious gift, our presence? In other words, what occupies our attention? We are to shift our attentiveness to the present moment because God is always right here, right now. The call of purity of heart is to be one with God in the here and now. If we are centered on God we will perceive God in all. From our presence to God we are able to be present to others, and this is compassion.
We cannot think our way into an intimate relationship with God. Because God is mystery, God escapes our thinking. Thinking can be a portal into God, but it often becomes the only way we approach God. When we think about God, we end up experiencing God as some “thing” out there – in the far-off heavens above or just plain out-of-this-world. Thoughts about God make God appear, as St. Theophan the Recluse says, “outside you.” Intimacy with God means knowing God within you as well as beyond you. Theophan is but one of a horde of holy people who testify that thinking about God is a difficulty if you want to be one with God. He and others suggest unknowing: communing with God beyond the thinking mind in a loving state of interior silence.
Let us begin looking at a core phenomenon in our culture: consumerism. But, let us start by looking at how we internalize consumerism. We can call it, the “merchant mentality.” The merchant mentality is one that seeks to earn something for the self by means of buying and selling. If we are honest with ourselves this is a normal part of our consciousness, if not a large part of our consciousness. How often are we in merchant mode? We are conducting business transactions every single day. If you go to Starbucks and ask for a venti latte and the barista hands you a pile of dust you have a right to be taken aback because you ordered a latte and not a pile of dust. You paid upwards of $5 for your latte and the Starbucks employee is bound to give you one. That’s how business works. It’s supply and demand. We want lattes, Starbucks provides. We encounter many problems, however, when we transfer this mentality to relationships, to church, to prayer. In a sermon on Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple, Meister Eckhart has some sharp words for people he describes as merchants: “people are merchants who shun great sins and would like to be good and do good deeds in God’s honor, such as fasts, vigils, prayers, and similar good deeds of all kinds. They do these things so that our Lord may give them something, or so that God may do something dear to them. All these people are merchants. This is more or less to be understood since they wish to give one thing in return for another. In this way they wish to bargain with our Lord.” He says we use God to get something else, something we want. We treat God like a magic genie who can grant our deepest (and often selfish) desires. Eckhart says that means our desire is off, when we want some-thing (more money, a new car, control over a person or event, to feel good, recognition, or even inner peace) and not the Mystery of God. And, Eckhart is talking about GOOD people, not base sinners. His recommendation? He says, “If you wish to be so completely free of this commercial viewpoint…you should be as empty as the nothing is empty, which is neither here nor there.” Embrace inner nothingness, sink into the indistinct nothingness which is your inner divinity, God in you as your deepest you. Let go all thoughts and feelings, all projects and transactions, all desires and goals, and just rest in God.