Monday, November 17, 2014

Musings on mercy

Art: Lisa Ballard, "Mercy and Me"

I keep arriving here: at the warm, open palm of mercy. A wise man once gave me a directive that I've not heard before or since ... one that got under my skin and into the center of my brain: "To thine own self be merciful."

What a potent hit to the head of the existential nail! Is anything we can do more imperative? If we can't live in our own skin in a state of truce (at the very least), how can we live with one another?

No wonder mercy can be such a visceral challenge. As a principle, mercy is often overlaid with religious overtones -- seen as a saintly state that few of us can attain for more than an instant at a time, if at all. But an instant is enough ... and it flares like a sun, warming us to and from our core. We are saints in that instant, in that choice. We are grains of pure goodness when we reach out or in with unabashed kindness.

Is our capacity for mercy intrinsic to our makeup? Are we wired to salve, rather than to savage ourselves and other beings? (Are we wired to do both? We can fire up into fight or flight in an instant ... and then there is a state called flow ... We do flow when we reach out in gentleness ... )

Mercy makes me sweat. To thine own self be merciful ... I dare you. I hear this invitation, this challenge to look long and deep into every being I encounter -- and into a mirror ... Mercy calls us to look beneath apparent appearances, into the depth of a life ...

Sometimes I think that mercy is the opposite of madness. Mercy is lucid ... like the noon sun without the burn. Sees all; denies nothing. Sees into, within, and through. Eyes the soul, and the pupils soften and expand. Bestows warmth; suffuses with light.

I wonder about mercy in relation wtih kindness, compassion, altruism ... and I hone in on what makes mercy mercy.

It's the quietude ... that warm, open palm. Whenever I imagine and recall my own experiences of mercy, I know touch. Skin meeting skin with loving intent ... and we soften. The entire body sighs ... We are safe; we surrender.

A warm, open palm ... a belly, a cheek, a shoulder ... a hug, a spoon, a palm spooning a face ... a nuzzle, a snuffle; breath warming the skin. A laying on, a gentling ... and rest.

Mercy reaches and receives the core ... and warms us there.

Mercy says, Been there, done that, lived it -- without cynicism. And then, with tendresse, I dare you to be kind ... to yourself. Like this. 

Art: Lisa Ballard, "Whisperer"
Thank you, Lisa, for the beauty you create ... 


  1. I shuddered at the words ''open palm'' with memories of other open palms.
    Your evocation of a kind warm gentling palm retrieves and reowns the concept of a lovingly cupped face. Thank you for that.
    A beautiful meditation on mercy and forgiveness.
    I look forward to the next ones.

  2. Thank you, Nina. Yes, there are many ways that an open palm can be applied ... and I am glad that you experience a re-owning of the image. I love to lay my hand on a dear face, and to receive that kind of touch. It is a claiming, in a most gentle way ...

  3. Thank you for this post, Alexa. Beautiful and thought-provoking as always.