“It is like the sky: we look at the sky when it is full of stars, but when the sun comes out in the morning, with all its light, we don’t see the stars any more. That is what God’s mercy is like: a great light of love and tenderness . . . ”
— Pope Francis
We are in the midst of what Pope Francis has proclaimed an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy for 2016. On the individual level that brings us right up against the bars of our soul cage, the self-entrapment which happens when we are not free to forgive, hearts hardened instead of merciful; instead stuck in what the psychologist John Welwood calls “the mood of grievance.” It’s a state of emotional contraction, characterized by bitterness, resentment, and righteous indignation. And the crazy glue that holds it all together? Blame and shame . . . flip sides of the universal human need for belonging and self-worth, which give us a sense of human dignity, our very birthright.
No wonder being “done wrong” is so threatening that the open-hearted grief of it solidifies into a grievance based on what’s drastically wrong with the other. Yet at the core of the pain we hold and hold others accountable for, there is a loss of connection with our own hearts. That disconnect is associated with primal fears of rejection and abandonment (the loss of belonging and self-worth). So forgiveness is not a choice we naturally would make on an emotional level. Nor is it an intellectual conclusion, since it makes more sense to teach someone a lesson about how to treat us better (not the same as limit-setting).
Human logic defines (and often demands) justice as a matter of balancing the scales with the “bad other” who has made us suffer. It involves contracting and hardening our hearts. God’s mercy offers an antidote: “Make justice your sacrifice and trust in the Lord” (Ps 4). That’s God’s prescription for the chain reaction of pain. It’s the choice of a heart that trusts God’s redemptive love enough to revisit the empty tomb of our unmet needs and uninhabited heart.
We have all had the experience of witnessing how our transgressions of the past, seemingly warranting only condemnation, are somehow redeemed by unforeseen circumstances that eventually come to pass. God’s mercy restores our fractured wholeness in this way. In turn, the mercy we “pay forward” continues to heal the world’s wounds. It begins with cleansing one’s own system of the poisons of hurt and hatred, instead of holding others responsible for the pain they have not been able to contain themselves.
In our own hearts, we can purify instead of further contaminating relationships. Mercy is the remedy we all need. Advanced course: visualize the blamed other surrounding by the merciful light of their true worth in God’s sight. Picture yourself stepping into that same light, bathing you both in its cleansing presence.
Speyer is a Benedictine Oblate as well as Clinical Supervisor of E-Counselling for a major employee & family assistance program and creative director, InnerView Guidance International (IGI). He holds master’s degrees in creative writing, counselling psychology, and education. As a pioneer of e-counselling in Canada, he developed and implemented a short-term counselling model for online practitioners, edited a textbook on the subject, and does related reelance writing. Speyer also directs a documentary series titled GuideLives for the Journey: Ordinary Persons, Extraordinary Pathfinders. http://www.guidelives.ca/