The quality of Mercy

rain

Right now, three days from Christmas – (the largest festival on our Kiwi calendar) – the world outside is, well, lively. As if there are not enough usual things rocking the global boat at this time of year, it feels as if all hands are on deck, the seas are turbulent, and the sails full and straining to rush us to an unknown destination; one not really of our choosing. A lucky few (and I count myself one of them this year) are down in the galley chatting or picking at the meal on the captain’s table. We are all just coasting past the ‘political continent’ and found it erupting and earth-quaking, and no safe place to land. We’ve lost a few overboard in the last year; big names, huge losses. There’s bewildering numbers of people in crisis and it is hard to know how to come to terms with it all at a personal level.
And I know that at THAT level, the personal one, everyone has their own burdens and joys.
I wanted to write a blog that was positive and hopeful, whilst acknowledging that for many, if not most, life can be more difficult at this season particularly. It’s not all tinsel and pretty lights. When I sat down to write, I realised that what makes the difference to me and gives me hope, has to do with my own faith and experience. It would be impossible to encapsulate in a short blog post without cheapening it somehow. But there’s an aspect of it that I can confidently write about because it has been written about much more eloquently by a far greater writer than I.
These words send a shiver up my spine and return my turbulent heart to a place of peace:

‘The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
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.’

Which to me, means: one of the most godly attributes – that of receiving and forgiving another – is not forced and constrained, but is as freely dispensed as the very rain that waters everything it falls upon. Another quote comes to mind: “The rain it falleth every day upon the just and unjust fellow, but mostly on the just because the unjust has the just’s umbrella.” (I can’t help my sense of humour).

My toes curl up at the first quote because I am very aware of the many times I have been the one who most needed mercy, and without deserving it, received it. If you have never known the feeling of that grace in your life, then you haven’t been watching/listening. It has fallen upon us all at times, and not usually when we think we need it most, but unexpectedly and uncalled for. By its very nature it is freely and without measure given. Those who spend their time counting their losses and grievances, are the least likely to know that it exists.

The second half of that small quote (taken out of context of course) is also true. Having received uncalled for mercy, and acknowledging it has happened, it is easier for one to extend it to others. Or put another way, being more and more aware of the mercy under which I myself am living, I can increasingly open myself up to letting it flow through me to others. It has nothing to do with my worthiness, and everything to do with the quality of Mercy itself.
Since we are caught up in a season of giving and receiving, I can think of no better subject than that of Mercy to offer you. There is no sadder trait I can think of in another person than that they are holding grudges against people, often for years. A constant diet of bitterness and regret fails to bring relief. If, like me, you find yourself facing another human being who has caused you pain/frustration/annoyance/anger, and you can take a breath before reacting. If, then, you can see them as needing as much mercy as possible (and remember, it is unconstrained) and you turn from what you ‘justifiably’ would do, and offer mercy instead, then I know both of you will be better off. Just like it says in that fourth line:

‘It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.’

Well, bless you William! I do believe you were right. Here endeth the lesson for the day.

I’m going to close with a picture of the four of us watching early television in total escapist mode (which is also a cunning way of avoiding stress). How lively were our imaginations then, and what a rollercoaster we put our mother through. She knew a lot about mercy that one.

watchingtv

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Seasonal Family Traditions

I’m sure I am not the only one who is caught up in the motions of keeping the odd seasonal tradition alive. And I mean the ones our own family know and love. Whether you celebrate Christmas, or Hanukkah, Diwali or Chinese New Year, it’s hard to avoid choosing the things YOU love and making a regular thing out of them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about it as summer approaches for those of us who live in the southern hemisphere. All my life I’ve known about snowmen, and Santa coming in his sleigh, and snowbells, and ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’ – despite the fact that nothing could be less likely. It HAS given as a very broad view of Christmas though. We can enjoy the IDEA of those things, whilst basking in the sun on a hot summer day, by the beach. Best of both worlds really.

My family has always celebrated Christmas, and my earliest memories involve trips to Grandparents’ orchard, and my Grandmother’s no frills but plentiful feast, cooked hot and served at lunchtime. Dinner was always a chicken, with gravy, potatoes, peas, carrots, and stuffing. Dessert was always her homemade steamed plum pudding, with hidden sixpences in it to be discovered after plunging through custard and cream to the fruity cake within. Presents had already been unwrapped – usually outside on blankets if it was a sunny day, which it unvariably was.

alljeffriestogether

As we grew older, we continued the same tradition: stockings left by our beds for excited dismantling in the early hours. Presents unwrapped under the tree in the morning when all were up. Then a trip across to the grandparents for midday dinner.mumandchristmasgroup

(You’ll note the homemade ornaments adorning the Christmas tree, many of which survived to be pride of place in my parent’s tree decades later.)

As time has gone by there have been the usual comings and goings, additions and subtractions, but the core of the day has stayed the same. Naturally, as an adult, I’ve more than my share of work/friend Christmas parties to attend as the year draws to a close. Here in New Zealand, where we don’t have Thanksgiving, Christmas is a celebration that happens as the summer break begins, and work for many closes down between Christmas and New Year. This year I have attended the larger University Christmas Party, a huge multi-floored event, with band and seething masses of people in 80s outfits. Last night a small group of my good friends got together and had a barbecue, with the sun going down late and twinkling lights all around the garden. There are at least two more parties to go before the actual Day. For the last decade or so, we’ve met with a few extended family to have cold meat and salads outside on the verandah.

In the afternoon, we generally depart for our own homes or hang out just relaxing in the sun.

I’m going to miss my Mum this year. She was the reason for all the music in our lives growing up, and why I can still – just – play the cello, if only for Christmas carols.celloplayingforchristmas2007

That’s my sis and I playing with friends, at a Christmas party about 6 years ago.

Not sure what we’ll do this year – there being only four of us. (Sister and her two adult children, and me). It might be time to make a few new traditions. . . I’m open to that. Whatever we end up doing, I’m very grateful to have friends and family still, to enjoy the season with. It does make me very aware that for many, that is not so. Perhaps THAT is the old tradition that will go through a transition – looking outside of my own family to see how to spread the cheer. Anyway, wherever you are, and however you celebrate life this season, I wish you well, good health, and the comfort of good company.