The Wideness of God’s Mercy

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in God’s justice,
Which is more than liberty.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failing
Have such kindly judgment given.

After being at the prison, I felt forlorn. The chaplain had called me out for something, then he had called out one of the men in our group for something, then the deputy warden had called the director of our program out for something…. There were legitimate reasons for all of these instances, but I was still left feeling sad and somewhat helpless.

There isn’t much compassion in a prison, if any. There are strict rules and a rigid hierarchy. If you or someone you are responsible for doesn’t act appropriately, you will hear about it. Explanation doesn’t matter. You were wrong. That’s it. Change your behavior or there will be serious if not dire consequences.

Practically speaking, this is the way it needs to be. Otherwise, there would be mayhem. There are options of course, other ways to institutionally respond to criminal behavior, but this is what we have created. This is prison culture in America. It’s the nature of the beast.

After leaving the prison, as I was sifting through my feelings, the song, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” came to me. It helped me rise above the sadness that I felt and restored my sense of purpose. It helped me to return to myself and the broad reality of God.

Upon reflection, this experience demonstrates why ministry is so important. Ministry in general and prison ministry in particular. If we didn’t go to share God’s love and mercy with these men who are incarcerated, they would probably get buried in the loneliness, powerlessness and hopelessness that is prison. If I didn’t go, I would probably get buried in the same. I need reminded of God’s love and mercy, so I don’t become too narrow in my life and living.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measures of the mind
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

If our love were but more simple,
We should take heed of God’s word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of our Lord.

Song text written by Frederick William Faber; quoted from Worship in Song: A Friends Hymnal.

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In the Heat of the Moment

Last week, as part of our Centering Prayer group, we talked about feelings, especially our most powerful feelings: Hate, rage, shame…. Sometimes the overwhelming power of these feelings separate us from ourselves, especially when they’ve arisen from abuse and neglect. They can also create the perception that we’re separate from God.

I wasn’t going to post about our last meeting, but this morning I remembered a poem I had written a few years ago. It seems to speak to our conversation. Here it is:


The Danger of Love

No human can walk naked on Pluto or the Sun.
No human can walk naked in Antarctica or in the Sahara.
No human can walk naked on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange or Ground Zero.

Who is this God that created Pluto and the Sun?
Who is this God that inhabits Antarctica and the Sahara?
Who is this God that aches on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and at Ground Zero?

Where is God in the cold that kills? In the heat that kills?
Is this a God of Neglect? A God of Anger?

God is One. God is Pathos.

God reveals Herself in Passion.
God is the Heart of Anguish. She is the Body of Pain.

God created a cold so cold it kills and a hot so hot it kills to remind us of the depth of God’s love.
Nothing is beyond God’s Power of Redemption.

There is no place on this earth, no place in this universe, that hasn’t known the heat of God’s Love.
There is no person on this earth, no body in the universe, that hasn’t felt the heat of God’s Passion.
This fire lies in our hearts.

No person… a mother who neglects her son, a father who assaults his daughter… is separate from God.
The heat of our passions don’t separate us from God; they point us to God.

Sin in not our feeling or even our violence.
Sin is numbness, the inability to discern heat.
The absence of passion.

God cannot heal those who choose not to feel.
God returns God to God when pathos knows Pathos.

Cut from the Same Cloth

man leaving-1Recently, I learned that one of the men in our Centering Prayer group is leaving. He will be released from prison before the next meeting of our group. I felt sad to see him go and told him so. I was surprised that he would be moving on so quickly, but I was not surprised that I was sad.

The first day that I visited the prison, he was one of the men who got my attention. As he talked about why he was participating in the program, he mentioned that he had previously followed a spiritual path that would be considered controversial, if not risky or even an anathema to most Christians. But I don’t think it was the controversial nature of what he was saying that got my attention. I think it was his earnestness. I could sense that he held a deep truth. He hadn’t had the opportunity to live it out, but I think he knew something that some people never learn… that love saves.

While he would not admit it, I deduced from the stories that he told me that he had the gift of generosity. He gave to others knowing that he wouldn’t get anything in return. He gave because he knew he couldn’t be the person that he wanted to be if he didn’t. He gave so that the people he loved would have a better life. He gave to them hoping that they would recognize that he loved them, but anticipating that they wouldn’t. He also gave because he trusted that God would reward him.

Sometimes our hearts are too big for our bodies. Sometimes our life experiences break our hearts and restrict our ability to live as we intend. From what I know of this man, he was not able to grow up with his parents nor in a loving home. He did not receive love when he had needed it. But that didn’t keep him from trying to give it away.

boltsIn some way, every man in the group is my brother. But this man felt even more like kin to me. We are all cut from the same cloth, but it seemed to me that we were cut from the same bolt of fabric.

While all of us are human and have experienced the pain associated with living in this world, some of us end up with more similar personalities. While I am not as generous as this man, we have come to orient to life in the same way. We’ve experienced in our early years that love is in short supply. But rather than turn greedy or mean, we’ve realized that love is precious and that the best way to make more is to give it away.