The Terrible Mercy of God

I went for a walk the other day. It started beautifully. Two hawks spiraled in the sky: flirting, fighting, or fleeing. A neighbor stood precariously on a rooftop washing a window, asking her husband for help.

“Open the blinds, it will help me visually,” she says.

By the end of the walk my dog was covered in poison ivy and I was muttering curses beneath my breath. “Damn it all, damn the dog, damn this life.”

Meanwhile my child sat in his stroller, blissfully unaware, wondering silent at the interplay of the trees, the clouds, the light, the shadow.

“Open the blinds, it will help me visually.”

I want to see like him. Like a child. But in yet another sad week of American violence and American politics, I’ve seen too much. Seen too much to see again like a child sees. The blinds again are closed; how quickly I lose my vision.


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Baptistry, Florence 2016.

In persecution, people often look up. In medieval times, Christians loved to decorate their church ceilings with Last Judgement scenes, when Christ would rip off the top of the world and make everything okay again: the sinners would go to hell and the saints to their reward. Their art completed the broken world, it provided a prophetic vision of what they desperately wanted to see: a just, fair, ordered wholeness.

Without this vision, the world might appear chaotic, brutal, heartless.

Even worse, when it’s chaos and brutality are beamed into our minds relentlessly, the world might appear to be nothing but chaotic and brutal. The sick and the sensational swarm around us like a medieval painting of damnation.

Sinners to their punishment. San Brizio Chapel, Orvieto 2016.

The heart, confronted with such horror, can shrink away. And so we yearn for the great destruction to come.

But it doesn’t come, mercifully.

Babies are born. New life’s kicking feet arrives amid toe tags. New lives and new ideas form from nothingness, new adventures take shape and the journey begins anew.

In between the birth and death, the flashing forth of the I AM just beyond speech, just beyond sight. The ancient mysteries come to collect their due and are pickpocketed on their way out the door.

Because from the bowel dirty depths life pushes forward, irrevocably surges in seemingly random bursts amidst chaos and rubble and violence. And in those in-between moments, when the top of our world is shattered and somewhere between sunset and starlight we find ourselves a-gazing upon the terrible mercy of God.

Open the blinds, help me to see.

Clouds on Cherry Street. August 2016.