Finding Mercy

In April, Endowment Committee Chair Marjorie Porter honored the blessing of Laura Hardy’s legacy to our church. This spring, Lois DeMott of Citizens for Prison Reform (MCPR) has hosted one of our Journey Toward Wholeness team’s Third-Sunday Film nights, and her nonprofit, volunteer organization has been the recipient of a Special Plate Collection. Lois writes about how her family life, her work with MCPR, and her experiences at our church have developed her relationship with mercy

In a moment when I am asked to write about mercy, and I begin to reflect on such a word as mercy, my mind wanders to what I have experienced and seen over the years.

To begin, I looked up the definition of mercy, as my mind only fixates on the scriptures I grew up to know, that talk of God’s mercy on us, if we are faithful and just—if we live in accordance with His will, He will show us mercy—and I have to refocus on what mercy is outside of those definitions. I felt that to wrap my mind around what mercy is (outside of me not being good enough during my lifetime to receive it), I needed to look at the Webster’s written definition, words that I can grasp more clearly: “compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power… lenient or compassionate treatment…a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion... compassionate treatment of those in distress... wholly in the power of : with no way to protect oneself against.”

This leads me to think back upon those whom I have had the blessing and burden of having as a part of my life in the last ten years, children with mental illness, troubled children, and then those children and adults who have been imprisoned and who have been left at the mercy of others. Often, their families give up attaining mercy, and they move on with their own worlds, unable to cope or deal with the pain and burden of watching how one who is subjected to another’s power is frequently treated, often unable to experience or gain mercy from caretakers who are over them.

In the midst of the overwhelming burden of seeing so many who are not receiving compassion, I also count it a blessing in my life to recognize just how far these experiences have brought me on this journey here. Ten years ago, I was so unaware of the injustices to those with disabilities, to those of color, and others. There have been many days and weeks, especially over the last five years, of seeing those with significant cognitive impairments and mental health challenges, when I thought mercy did not exist. I would like to share such a moment with you that I experienced just recently as I clicked on an article and video that was shared on the Citizens for Prison Reform Facebook page. I found it so disturbing that I could not sleep, and I felt anger well up within me. I am trying to find mercy for the perpetrators that dealt merciless torture upon this mentally ill veteran who served our country. It clearly seems to be a misuse of power. Click here to see this story.

Then there have been moments when we have seen special individuals within the corrections system who have practiced mercy. We thanked them and fully recognized these staff. With time, I have had to consider their lives and why so many others become merciless, and I have had to try stepping into their shoes, once again finding myself in a place of needing to administer mercy.

The experiences I have endured have now pushed me to consider, in so many moments of my daily life, why another human being I am working alongside may need and deserve a measure of compassion, leniency, or an act of divine favor (mercy) for reasons that may not be comprehensible to me. In that fleeting moment, I am reminded of my own journey, and I simply remember that I am not in their shoes, I have not walked their road. Often, to have the level of mercy and compassion we need, we must stop and put ourselves in another’s shoes.

I now can relate when I see someone who seems to be making poor decisions, seeming overwhelmed, distraught, or in a forlorn state, and instead of expressing anger or looking down on them, I immediately wonder, what have they just endured? Perhaps a death in their family, watching someone they love die a slow death of cancer or other disease, or perhaps, much like myself, they have lived with one imprisoned not only within our corrections system, but imprisoned within a body that is predisposed to mental illness, often a lifelong battle.

It was the message some months back from Reverend Cathy Harrington that brought my attention once again to the subject of mercy. As she shared her horrific story from the pulpit, of her daughter’s rape and murder, I was amazed at her ability to put in place and practice, at this time in her life, mercy. She put herself in the shoes of the murderer’s mother, and she showed compassion amidst the pain, anger, and wrongs.

It reminded me that even in the worst of circumstances, we each have the ability to become aware of those standing on the other side and to see that no matter how horrific the circumstances, often there is still reason for some measure of mercy to be granted. I know it is something that is hard for us to feel, in circumstances as unjust as the Boston bombing, for the perpetrators and their families.

May we all work a bit harder to be merciful, beginning with ourselves, and then spread that out to embrace all of those around us. With small measures of mercy, we can all work to make this a better world to live in. May we help to move others around us in the direction of providing mercy.

I am thankful that my experiences within the UU community over the last two years of my life have taught me much about mercy, about moving towards nonjudgmental thinking, and most of all, about showing mercy to myself as well those around me.