Lord, Hold Us in Your Mercy

The light spills through stained glass scenes from the life of Jesus, bouncing off the sanctuary floors and making the gold on the altar molten. The faint smell of incense still hangs in the air around us, though we attend the second mass of the morning.

We sit on Mary’s side of the sanctuary, where a statue of Our Mother stands behind us, hands oustretched with gentle welcome. Candles flicker in red glass votive holders.

My husband says, “She heals me.”

Father Tom is away on a mission, and our guest priest is a native of India. A small man with elegant hands, he preaches like a Baptist minister, urging us to repent, reminding us of our privilege. We know Christ, he says; we know Him. Of all generations we are among the most blessed; heed the Lenten call to transform, to renew, to repent and be born again.

The words of the ancient liturgy bathe me like water poured by loving hands. I know I am loved. I know, too, I am not worthy of this.

Lord, I am not worthy to receive You; but only say the word, and I shall be healed.

The bread and the wine mingle in my mouth, the body and blood of Christ.

There is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood.

I think of the blood of mothers, about how no child is born without the shedding of blood.

On my knees, my toes feeling the chill of the mable floor even through the leather of my new black pumps; the solid back of the pew in front of me, under my folded hands. I think of all the harsh words I have written and read here, and in other blogs.

We sing a Lenten song, Lord, hold us in your mercy.

Hold us in your mercy
Mercy is made flesh among us
Hold us in your mercy
Lord of all the homeless pilgrims
Hold us in your mercy
Sent to bring the poor good news
Hold us in your mercy
You who shared the sinner’s table
Hold us in your mercy

The words of the song stay with me as we pass by Mary, her hands still lovingly outstretched, her head bowed–whether in deference or humility or invitation, I do not know. I light a candle for all the motherless children, and all the childless mothers, for everyone who needs a Mother-

–and I think about words that have been written here again, words about adoption.

What I have said. What I have not said. What I have meant. What I have not meant. What others said. What they say they meant on their own blogs.

In adoption we have so many roles, so many loyalties, so many conflicts and interests. We have two sets of parents, two families, and only one child. The adopted person so often feels that she cannot be whole; even when in relationship with both families, she may feel and even be torn. There’s the difficulty of trying to resolve so much that is so deeply held.

I’m reminded of a Bible verse that says that it’s good to grab onto one thing, without letting go of another.

And yet, we only have two hands.

To solve this dilemma of two things, a good parent raises aware children. A good parent shows the child, “There is this, and there is also this. Look here; see this one thing. Now look here, and see the other.” And then, as the child grows, the parent shows this other thing, and the next, and yet another, until the child learns that we have a vast universe of possibilities, and an even vaster array of human beings, all genetically unique, each impossibly wonderful and loved by the creator. This child becomes an adult who can choose because the adult has learned how to ponder, how to be discerning. In learning about many things and many choices, eventually the child comes to understand that not all choices are possible at the same time in the same place–maybe only one choice is possible, or two, or five. But all choices can’t be held at one time by one person. The choices are too many.

This is the way it is in adoption. We have in one hand the necessity of respect for the ancestors, among whom birth parents stand, whose children are given up or taken away. Even if they have committed the most heinous acts, and been convicted of crimes, gone to prison, killed a child, or killed themselves, we say that they are worthy of respect and honor, because they are the ancestor of the adopted person. I’m not sure about the worthy part, but I am sure that people say that we must hold respect for the ancestors in our hearts, and teach that respect, honor, and approbation to our children.

In the other hand we hold the broken heart and spirit of the orphan. We respect that person, too. We say he or she has the right to choose relationship, or no relationship. We say that he or she has the right to be helped to heal, and to stand on his or her own two feet, and to be whole, even at the expense of birth or adoptive parents. The adopted person has that right.

With our two hands full, I wonder, do we have room for the adoptive parent? Do we have to put down the birth parent, or the adopted person, in order to pick up our respect for the adoptive parent? And if we pick up the claim or interest or love of the adoptive parent, must we abandon that of the birth parent, or the adopted person?

We only have two hands.

But God, He’s got the whole world in his hands, He’s got the whole wide world, in His hands.

Lord, hold us in your mercy.

When I get up from my knees, I know that God is big enough to hold us all, in His mercy.

God our mother, God our father. He holds us, all of us, in his mercy.

The candle sputters and flickers a little as I light it. I drop a coin into the box to pay for more candles; God knows I will need them as I pray week after week for all who need the gentling of a Mother.

7 responses

  1. Anthromama, wow again. Just, WOW. I love this idea–it’s so darned Jungian!

    Not yet. How many times does a parent have to say this to her child? So many. Children hate that. They hate to wait.

    Oh heck, I’m an adult and I hate to wait, too. I want to know it or have it or do it now.

  2. Well, I’m always a bit loath to recommend reading Steiner, because many of his works are extremely “out there”. Sometimes I think he really talked a bit too much!

    But he did have some fascinating things to say about Christianity and Jesus, in any case. My understanding is that he also believed that God intended for our eyes to be opened, but that Lucifer opened them too soon. (He distinguishes between Lucifer and Satan, but that’s a whole other conversation.) Lucifer brought consciousness (suddenly they knew they were naked) into the unconscious paradisaical state. Which is mirrored in each human being’s transformation from a relatively boundaryless baby to an individual consciousness, intimated when the child first says the word “I”.

    So when God told Adam and Eve not to eat the shiny yummy apples, he just meant “not yet”! And therefore we have a misconception of original sin, in that it wasn’t the depraved woman’s fault, it wasn’t evidence of our lack of divinity–rather it was that we were exposed to the allure of consciousness too soon. And consciousness is so alluring–why else do kids fight going to bed at night? They don’t want to miss anything!

    We could say that Lucifer is the bearer of all the “original” sin, and that is why instead of being the light-bearer, he was cast down,–whereas God still allows humans to work toward perfection.

    Man, you’d think I went to church or something ; )

  3. Anthromama, wow, good point about the error made by the centurion. Of course he was worthy, as Jesus was already preparing to go to this house! I never really thought about it that way until now. Thanks for that.

    About original sin, my personal take on this part of the concept is that people preach it wrong. I don’t think original sin is what it’s cracked up to be by the most vocal Christians. Frankly, all it means to me is that I’m human–and the way God intended me to be.

    This is a scary topic that could invite all sorts of insanity, but I’ll comment anyway, since I’ve recently read both St. Symeon and Anselm of Canterbury, who both believed that God intended the fall of man, the opening of man’s eyes, etc. I think Protestantism cut Christian traditions away from traditional understandings of doctrines such as original sin, and most westerners no longer have an understanding of what they meant to the church fathers. This, in turn, has resulted in widespread rejection of Christianity, although in my humble opinion, what’s being rejected is Stupid Christianity, not the actual doctrines of Jesus Christ.

    The shorthand I’m using could brand me as a heretic, but honestly… God leaving Adam and Eve in the garden and saying “don’t touch that tree” had the same outcome that was had with Pandora and the box, or the same outcome we’d have if we left the four-year-old alone in the kitchen with the cookie jar and said, “Whatever you do, do NOT touch that jar!”

    We know good and darn well that the child is going to touch the jar, and no doubt eat some cookies.

    Well, that’s a rabbit trail that could get me into trouble, but it brings up issues I have thought about for a long time, continue to think about, and was relieved to find that better people than I had thought and written about at lenght over the centuries.

    I’ve not read Rudolf Steiner, I’m ashamed to say. That’s just one more person I need to add to my list of people to read on the way to becoming well read. Thanks for that (again!). You’re a treasure.

  4. Thank you, Eve, for such a thoughtful response. I’ve been lurking all day waiting for it! : )

    I suppose adding “under my roof” makes a world of difference. Then it seems to me you’re not speaking of intrinsic unworthiness, such as is implied in the doctrine of original sin, but of somewhat temporary, or even temporal unworthiness.

    Funny though, how Jesus time and again told people that all the Jewish laws were no longer necessary, and that anyone could enter the kingdom of God. So really, the centurion was being humble, but was in error in saying he wasn’t worthy. Jesus surrounded himself with a lot of “unworthies”.

    I guess I could come to accept this concept of unworthiness in terms of remembering that we always have farther to go on our path to perfection, that we always require humility as fallible human beings.

    Interesting that you mention the “spiritual and genetic inheritances of Israel”. Rudolf Steiner believed that the mission of the Jews (in a global, human spiritual evolution sense) was to create the perfect vehicle for Christ’s incarnation, that is, Jesus of Nazareth (Steiner believed that Jesus was not divine until the Baptism.) So that after Jesus became Christ, the religious and social doctrines that informed the Jewish religion were no longer necessary in a sense. I don’t know if Steiner ever spoke specifically about the centurion, but I’ll try to find out.

  5. Anthromama… wow, talk about asking a great question! What does it mean, when I say I’m not worthy?

    In the original language, this part of the liturgy is from the encounter between Jesus and the Roman centurion (found in Matthew 8). The centurion’s servant was paralyzed and in agony, so the centurion approached Jesus and asked him to heal the servant. Jesus prepared to go to the centurion’s home to heal the servant, but the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed.” He explained that he was a man of authority who was also under authority, and if he told a soldier, go, do this, the soldier would go.

    In similar fashion, if Jesus commanded the servant to be healed, the centurion knew that He had the authority to heal–and the servant would be healed. And, according to Matthew, the servant was healed “that very hour.”

    During the post Vatican II era, the medieval language of this part of the liturgy was changed from, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you under my roof,” to “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you.” The Catholic church is in the process of reverting to the original language in the next few years.

    What difference does it make? Well, for me personally it means that I am like this Roman centurion. Although I am descended from Jews somewhere along the line, I was not raised Jewish and I have very many gentile ancestors. Like the Roman, I’m not worthy in the strict sense of the spiritual and genetic inheritances of Israel.

    In the looser sense of general worthiness, were Jesus Christ to appear in the flesh again, healing the sick, raising the dead, walking on water, etc. I think I would have the same reaction to his holiness that the Roman centurion had.

    It’s contradictory, I admit, to actually be a Christian and to already have received Christ, and yet to say, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you (under my roof).” Just as the Roman did receive Christ’s help, so too have I received it, though we both acknowledge our lack of worthiness.

    Another way of looking at it would be for me to ask what I would have to do in order to be worthy. My answer to that question is two-fold: nothing, because there’s nothing I can do; and secondly, simply receive mercy and grace as gifts, because that’s what they are.

    I think for me it goes back to the ancient concept of only one being as worthy; or the weird, Revelation scene in which no one was worthy to take the scroll and break the seal, except for the Lamb of God.

    I don’t really think about original sin so much when I think of these things; I think more of my own sin (hey, that’s enough! I don’t even have to go all the way back through ye olde family tree!), which is more than enough to make me humble.

    This probably isn’t very clear, but it’s my immediate answer. And, as I said, of course I also (at the same time) am worthy, because I accept mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

    Go figure. ;o)

  6. That was so beautiful, Eve. Your image of the two hands reminds me that the beauty of love is that we aren’t limited by things such as hands. Your heart is boundless inside. That’s what I believe Jesus was trying to teach us, that we can all be like God in that way.

    Slightly off topic: I’d like to understand more about saying that you’re not worthy to receive Christ. I’ve never been comfortable with that idea–not that we shouldn’t be humble, but that we are unworthy. Maybe I don’t like that interpretation of the concept of original sin. I’m not sure. If you’d rather, email me separately.

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