Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

 

image2 by you.

I used to be so sure of myself. I used to think I knew quite a lot about a good many things. These days, I think more and more that I don’t know much at all about anything–most of the time, in fact. Yesterday we went to the funeral of our friend who was killed Tuesday, and seeing the stricken faces of the children who look so much like her was more than we could bear. I keep carrying this grief with me, knowing that they will never be the same again and will have to grow into a new “normal,” but will still feel numb for a year or more. And I know there is nothing I can do at all for them at the deepest level, because grief is like birth: you go through it alone. The good news, if there is any, is that many other people have been in circumstances and felt griefs just as harrowing. They have felt just as lonely.

The casket was opened at the end of the funeral service. I do not generally like the American way of burying image1 by you.people, where they make the body into a spectacle–a plastic, creepy looking thing that hardly resembles the living person at all. In the case of our friend, though, I was glad they opened the casket, even though she died in a car accident. I was glad because her children who are developmentally still in quite concrete stages of development could see and feel that their mother was dead. It’s final; they’ll know that they won’t see her alive again until heaven, if then.

As everyone tried to work out how such a tragic accident could happen to the people involved, judgments began to form. The conversations I was privy to were sowed with “should,” “ought,” and “wrong.” I have not been able to think or feel my way through this well, because on a deep level I believe the suffering is senseless. One labors over its senselessness like the tongue over a broken tooth. It’s jagged; it’s out of place; it’s worrisome. Even after it’s fixed and only the memory of the sharp edges linger, we can go back to it and touch it, remembering how uncertain the decay and sudden loss made us feel.

image3 by you.It’s the uncertainty of life, and how people seem to deal with it, that has my attention this week.

The fear uncertainty causes seems to make many of us rush to judgment, because judgment is certain, and when we are certain, we feel safe. There are no question marks in “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not.” We love to judge people up until the day we go to their funerals. On that day, we’re not as inclined to be judgmental. We’re kinder when we notice the tears streaming down the faces of those who are most bereaved. Otherwise, we go through life making judgments; we may build our blogs, our conversations, or even our livelihoods around judgments.

We would much rather judge one another than love one another. How unlike my heavenly Father I am when I give myself the right to judge you. Is there not only one lawgiver, and one judge? As Saint James wrote,

“Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?”

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:11-17).

How unlike Him I am when I tell you how right my own belief is, and how sure I am about it, and how wrong image5 by you.yours is. How arrogant I am for forgetting that you and I “are just a vapor.” My life should be full of “if the Lord wills,” and not so much “we shall go.” I know two people who died in their 30s of aneurisms. Their spouses woke up and found them dead in the bed beside them. How sure can I be that I’ll survive this day? And if I’m not sure that I will, absolutely certain, shouldn’t I try to be sure about something in the moment I have right now? Shouldn’t I try to be sure that I’m filling this moment with my whole being, and with love? Or is my life so lacking in these qualities that I need to fill up the space with judgments?

I am not sure. I am not certain. I don’t know much about anything, any more. I used to argue with people who helped me to feel inferior and stupider by their certainty. But something changed in me over the past eight years of ongoing suffering of one kind or another, beginning with my daughter’s death; I don’t argue as much any more, or with as much certainty, although I’m still a passionate person.  I don’t blame her death for my shift in thinking; I just point to it as a turning point in my life. Many other things also happened to change me, most of which I’ve never written about here: moving to our dream home, which brought us problems we never anticipated; having terrific financial and marital problems for year after grinding year; experiencing large changes to our family structure, and large losses of other kinds.

image4 by you.And then I spent the better part of a year reading deeply in Buddhism; that changed me. I learned that in Buddhism nothing is permanent, and was reminded that this is true in Christianity, too. But western Christians have made Christianity into a westernized mockery of what it once was; I didn’t know that, either. I was so arrogant about my faith in the past, and now I am mostly just grateful and overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed most of the time, whenever I turn my eyes toward the sacred. I find I have been too free with my judgments and my platitudes, and have been more than ready to offer simplistic, shallow explanations of why things happen as they do.

I don’t know why things happen as they do; I can’t possibly be sure about why. The fact is that I am rarely sure or certain of anything, and this is the most humbling and comforting place I can be for now, because it’s a place where mercy triumphs over judgment.

Images by David Béjar Suárez

26 responses

  1. The Quality of Mercy from The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

    The quality of mercy is not strained.
    It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
    Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
    It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
    Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
    The throned monarch better than his crown.
    His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
    The attribute to awe and majesty,
    Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
    But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
    It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
    It is an attribute of God himself;
    And earthly power doth then show like God’s
    When mercy seasons justice.

  2. I wanted to write something about my sister’s death and about her funeral, but I think I have written too much already.

  3. Eve, you are one of the smartest bloggers I have seen anywhere. To be painfully honest, that is one of the problems that I think you face. As Deb said, sometimes it is difficult to understand what you write because you think and feel on a whole different level from most of us.

    That’s okay. It’s challenging. There’s nothing wrong with reading something that one must puzzle over or think hard about. There’s nothing wrong with reading something that requires a dictionary or further research to understand.

    Having said that, I want to say that your writing is very beautiful. Your way with words is very clever, and you often express things more clearly than almost anyone I have ever read. Sometimes the hardest concepts you write about become easy to understand because of your skill in explaining them.

    When I read some of the comments people make, I feel that some of them are intentionally obtuse. They “misunderstand” because they don’t want to accept what you have written. That happens to me and other bloggers that I read. Sometimes it really makes me mad.

    Can I ask a really hard question? Are you feeling inadequate as a writer because people misunderstand what you write or because you have not been as successful at persuading people of your ideas as you wish?

  4. Deb, I say all kinds of stuff in my head and then I write and think that it’s come out clear, only to discover later that it’s been about as clear as mud.

    It’s so ironic and funny that I decided to be a writer when I grew up! Ha ha! Hah!

    Deb… I’m kind of excited about something. I ordered a new camera, a DSLR Nikon and I’m going to try taking some photos again. I never have upgraded to the digital age. Anyway, I’m telling you because you have some amazing photographs that reminded me that sometimes a picture does more to express a feeling or moment than a thousand words can. Thanks for that.

  5. Heni, thank you so much. I wonder what he means when he writes, “…mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”? Just sitting there with the doubts? If so, then maybe I’ll be able to write again some day. Write comprehensibly, I mean.

    Thank you again. :o)

  6. I should read my stuff before I hit submit. I meant to write, When I’m judging someone or something, I just say judging in my head.

  7. About feeling unable to write, and feeling like everything is uncertain:

    “[A]t once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.”
    –John Keats, in a letter to George and Thomas Keats, 22 December 1817.

    I came across this quote tonight randomly, and immediately thought of you. A literary hug from me.

  8. Deb, I don’t always understand everything I write, either. It’s frustrating, let me tell ya! The more I write, the worser I get.

    You brought up something I want to comment on, which is judging yourself. Wow, I’m so glad you brought that up. I am my own worst critic, too. And I seem to keep forgetting that the same mercy I should show toward others, I ought also to show toward myself. Not easy to do.

  9. To be honest, I don’t always understand everything you write but I chalk that up to my own ignorance. I do keep trying though.

    As for judging, man, do I ever do that a lot. All day long, everyday. I judge, judge, judge. It just wears me out. As a way of letting go of this, I’ve just started to notice it, instead of beating myself up about it. When I’m judging someone or something, I just judging in my head. It’s not good or bad, it just is. I’m hoping this will help me break the habit.

    The person I am hardest on is myself of course. But stopping the judging and being compassionate, even towards myself is helping.

    I’m so sorry for the family, especially the little kids. To lose their mum at such a young age changes you for the rest of your life.

  10. Today has been a long day, good but long. And I am too tired to say anything other than thank you. If only there were more places where “mercy triumphs over judgment.”

  11. One tenet of Buddhism is compassion for all living beings. ALL, meaning including oneself! So I hope that you are remembering to mix a little mercy and compassion for yourself with all that humility.

    It is so easy, and so comforting, to tell ourselves that we know something for certain, that we have identified the correct pigeonholes for things, that things will work the way we expect because we are Masters of the Universe. And it’s also human nature to avoid thinking about uncertainty and unknowns. So you may be feeling stupid, but you’re also brave.

  12. Eve,

    Don’t rule out stupider, it gets darkest before dawn (and a few drinks, a sofa, great music and a few friends don’t hurt it any either, the sunrise I mean). Besides, the ability to remain open in the face of (collapsing) uncertainty, to not collapse the wave, to not be sure and still be okay, to be open to…anything, to everything, to life, to prefer but not judge is not something that is easily come by.

    I could regale you with parables, vindication, justification, rationalization and koan But in times of dis-ease, while these might serve the ego/mynd, it is connection that serves the soul.

    I’ll leave you with some more music:

    Be still
    Though chaos rains around you now
    Only so much rain can fall at once
    Breathe in
    And let the air envelope you
    And slow but sure, serenity will come

    Close your eyes
    Try to breathe
    Feel the ground beneath your feet
    It’s still there
    The world still turns around

    Stand up
    Though circumstance has knocked you down
    There is nothing gained by staying within it’s reach

    Take strength
    In every failure you endure
    Our mistakes have many lessons they can teach

    Close your eyes
    Try to breathe
    Feel the ground beneath your feet
    It’s still there
    The world still turns around

    Destroy
    These walls you’ve built around yourself
    You can’t take another step until they’re gone

    Move out
    No use in dwelling in the past
    Bid farewell to all your fears and carry on

    Close your eyes
    Try to breathe
    Feel the ground beneath your feet
    It’s still there
    The world still turns around

    -Assemblage 23, Ground

  13. Oh, Librarian, I love that line, “I am a fool! Oh, yes, I am confused.” Wonderful!

    I wish that I could entertain the idea that becoming stupider and stupider is a sign of impending enlightenment. But, since I have to live with myself, I assume it is only a sign of my becoming stupider and stupider. ;o)

    Thanks for your comments, especially for the Grateful Dead reference. I love it.

  14. Peach, I’m a bit in awe whenever you comment here, for it’s so rare and your comments mean so much to me. You’ve suffered a lot in your life so your kind words are treasures. Thank you.

  15. Alida, I watched a DVD with Jungian James Hillman some weeks ago, and in it the audience of psychotherapists and analysts agreed that suffering is the one thing that is most likely to create depth in a human being. I thought that was true, and odd; you’d think that having everything we need and want, all the time, would make us deeper by our gratitude. But of course, that’s not the way it works.

    Deep suffering, C. S. Lewis wrote, carves out the place for deep joy. Suffering is a way of life, but we forget that Jesus said “in this world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome this world” and Buddha said, “life is suffering.” And then went on to teach people how to transcend. So it must be true that suffering is one of the main means of grace, probably because we’re so much in need of grace!

    Thank you for your comment. I really love your comments and that you share your life here and also on your blog. *Hugs!*

  16. Twenty

    Give up learning and put an end to your troubles.
    Is there a difference between yes and no?
    Is there a difference between good and evil?
    Must I fear what others fear? What nonsense!
    Other people are contented, enjoying the sacrificial feast of the ox.
    In spring, some go to the park and climb the terrace,
    But I alone am drifting, not knowing where I am.
    Like a newborn babe before it learns to smile,
    I am alone without a place to go.

    Others have more than they need, but I alone have nothing.
    I am a fool. Oh, yes! I am confused.
    Others are clear and bright,
    But I alone am dim and weak.
    Others are sharp and clever,
    But I alone am and dull and stupid.
    Oh, I drift like the waves of the sea,
    Without direction, like the restless wind.

    Everyone else is busy,
    But I alone am aimless and depressed.
    I am different.
    I am nourished by the great mother.

    -Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

    …and you who choose
    to lead must follow
    but if you fall, you fall alone
    if you should stand, then who’s to guide you?
    if I knew the way,
    I would take you home.

    -Grateful Dead (Jane’s Addiction’s cover is far better than the original), Ripple

  17. Judgement was almost a way of life for me.

    What is she wearing?
    He needs to lighten up!
    She is so lazy, bossy, bitchy…

    It would just go on and on, sometimes I couldn’t stand myself. Last year I went through something that completely blindsided me. A friend of mine had gone through the same thing years earlier. In an effort to be a “friend” I offered all kinds of unsolicited advice. I would say I was cruel and judgemental. When I called to tell her what had happened she said I’m so sorry and then cried.

    WOW!

    Sorrow soften me in ways I never expected. I see now that most of us are just trying to do our best. What a wonderful lesson, although I wished I had learned it earlier in my life, withour the sorrow would have been good too. However, I wonder if that’s possible. I’m much happier now, even if I’m much more uncertain about everything.

  18. Sumi, I’m sorry for your loss. I’ll be visiting your blog because we have this in common; I’m sorry that you’re still close to your loss because I recall all too well how it felt the first while after our daughter died.

    Yes, you can be bold. I do know some things. I know that I’m alive; I too know that God is, and that God is good. I know that God is love and I know that love is always enough. I know that there is more than enough love. So I do know some things. But today I was thinking more of how much I do not know, these days. And of how easy it is to lapse into judgment rather than love.

    Clearly, I’m having a bit of a walk on the dark side. And I also need to remind myself that it’s good to err on the side of love, even if I want to argue another person’s position or make a judgment. Better not to; better just to love, if I can.

    Thank you so much for your comment.

  19. This is so beautifully written.

    Can I be so bold as to say that I can be sure of ONE thing? One thing I am sure of is that God is good, merciful, wonderful, kind, generous, compassionate, and that he does not willingly afflict the sons of man. I don’t understand his ways but I know his heart.

    I will be reading abit more of your blog but I wanted to respond first. I have lost a daughter too…not too long ago. 😦

    Much love,
    Sumi

    http://www.sumijoti.wordpress.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: