Swimming in the Mercy: The experience of hope

Lynn Bauman’s paraphrase of Psalm 103:11 warms my heart:

As the heavens reach beyond earth and time,
we swim in mercy as in an endless sea.

I need to hang on to that deeply hopeful picture. May that deep, biblical truth ascend as old Christian memes lose their strength. I am longing for the descent of sayings like:

“Only God can turn a mess into a message, a test into a testimony, a trial into a triumph, a victim into a victory.”

And

“I know God has a plan. I pray for direction to follow it, patience to wait on it, and knowledge to know when it comes.”

I don’t think these proverbs are evil and I could say that they have generally proven true in my life, unlike for many other people I know. What I object to is that they reduce hope to something that must be proven. They beg skepticism: “What if the mess does not become a message?” and “We got divorced and it still hurts.” and “I lost my leg in Iraq and I am impoverished as a result.” What’s more, I personally object to the idea that God has a minute “plan” as if she were making sure we get to his preferred outcome: the right job, the safe neighborhood, the healthy family that all “prove” our blessed state. Even more, I dread the denial I am called to perfect in response to terrible outcomes that must be “part of  God’s plan” for me while Kim Kardashian gets rich.

My commitment to wait on the Lord is not the source of my hope. My passionate acts of goodness and faith do not necessarily result in hope. I can’t really manufacture hope. The Lord is my hope.

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
    for my hope is from him. —
Psalm 62:5

I am not the source of my hope, and that’s why I dare not apply my meager sense of what outcome I need in order to have it.  Yet, at the same time, the source of hope is deep within me and flows to me with unrestrained abundance; it is so abundant it would be more accurate to say I am deeply within it. I am like the proverbial little fish who just heard a rumor and swam up to his mother and asked, “Mama, what is water? I have to have it!” We are immersed in the water of hope. We don’t miss it because it is something to which we hope we will arrive someday, we miss it because it is so close, more intimate than our own being.

As the heavens reach beyond earth and time,
we swim in mercy as in an endless sea.

Cynthia Bourgeault in her book Mystical Hope, describes the “embodying fullness” as “the Mercy.” Mercy is the water in which we swim. Mercy is what we know of God and the light by which we know it.

I adopted “mercy” as my main prayer when I got used to the Jesus prayer: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” As I was riding my bike through town, avoiding car doors, potholes and pedestrians, I realized one day that the curses rising up in me, adding to my frustration and sense of alienation, could be replaced with a one-word prayer that turned me toward my center, toward a realization that I was in the water, still swimming. Now I am likely to face a distressing or even hope-draining moment with “Mercy.”

Bourgeault explains “the Mercy” so beautifully. “When we think of mercy, we should be thinking first and foremost of a bond, an infallible link of love that holds the created and uncreated realms together. The mercy of God does not come and go, granted to some and refused to others. Why? Because it is unconditional – always there, underlying everything. It is literally the force that holds everything in existence, the gravitational field in which we live and move and have our being.” Just like that young fish looking for water, we “’swim in mercy as in an endless sea.’ Mercy is God’s innermost being turned outward to sustain the visible and created world in unbreakable love.” We see that so clearly as Jesus turns himself out on the cross and God turns creation inside out to return him to life.

The interpreters of the work of Christ keep looking for words to describe what they experience. Paul says:

Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. — Romans 5:5

The basic work of the Christian ends up being a quest for the “water.” Instead of living in a world run by scientific principles waiting to be proven again, or worse, a nobody-in-charge universe run by whoever manages to get into power, we become aware that we are “inside a warm-hearted and purposive intelligence, a coherence” of which we are part of the expression. It is the world of the Mercy. Instead of God as a distant “other” we are restored to God as our “source and substance, the ground of our own arising, the foundation of our hope.” I want to talk more about how we might experience this reality, since, for me, once experienced, it is undeniable. But for now, I will leave you in hope, realizing that the energy you exercise striving for some outcome you hope for could be well used for turning in to hope and swimming for joy in the Mercy.

Other posts on Mystical Hope:
Previous: Mystical hope in a deteriorating world
Next: Anxious and tired: Prayer that turns us toward hope
There is hope: But you’ll need to die to enjoy it
Hope: The quality of aliveness right under our noses

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About Rod White

Pastor for Circle of Hope, http://circleofhope.net , grandparent, church planter, peacemaker, comrade, spiritual director, psychotherapist, silence lover

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