Tile with an Image of a Prince on Horseback
Iran, 19th century
Metropolitan Museum of Art
When we say the words, “Lord have Mercy,” we say them according to our own understanding—that is, an understanding related mostly to what we think Mercy is. Because of the limitations of our understanding, we can only understand mercy as we understand mercy; not as the Lord understands it. As with all the other qualities of the Lord, which are unconditional in every aspect, they completely surpass our understanding, because we are conditional from the beginning; it is in our nature.
Mercy, according to Ibn Al Arabi, is a greater principle than the Wrath of God. Much is made, in the Old Testament, in the Koran, in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, of God's anger and his Wrath. Yet this element or aspect of God's manifestation is superseded by Mercy. Even in man, a microcosmic reflection of the Divine, we already know that Mercy is greater than anger—even on this level.
How much more so, then, on the level of the Divine, where the Lord magnifies everything into eternity?
Ah, you may say, this is too religious for me. Yet what isn't religious? Even the atheist seeks to connect with himself, and religion is the action of connection, of discovering a relationship. In any event, not only is this an absolute truth within the context of both structural and intuitive revelation regarding the cosmos, it has a practical value in our everyday life.
You'll notice, in the quote, that Al Arabi says all creatures come eventually to Felicity. The Buddha understood this question as well, knowing that all of creation eventually attains enlightenment. So there is no absolute position of hopelessness—and this is one of the flaws in the structural revelation that Dante received, causing him to place the foundation of his journey to heaven in Inferno, Hell, a place where no redemption was possible. Perhaps we can't blame him, given his Catholic upbringing. But in reality, no such place can exist; redemption, from a certain point of view, is not only inherent, but inevitable, and because the cosmos does not exist separate from itself, or within a single moment of time, one can understand—and I believe Al Arabi would have to agree—everything is already redeemed.
The difference is delineated between a consciousness of redemption, and the lack of it. Within consciousness, redemption has already become manifest; outside of consciousness, redemption is implied and extant, but never actually realized.
So what of the practical value?
Because our own lives are reflections of the eternal and the infinite, and because every single instance of manifestation is not only a perfect reflection of all that the Lord and the cosmos are, but also an actual instant of Being within the Being of God, we participate, through the manifestation of consciousness, in the action of redemption, and Mercy acts perpetually in us, on every level, just as it acts Everywhere and Eternally as a substantive (i.e., material) emanation of His Endlessness.
Yet we aren't merciful towards ourselves.
We are pejorative, judgmental, angry, unhappy, depressed: the list of adjectives is a long one. This attitude begins in us; and is then, because some uninformed part of us yet sees it (perhaps instinctively) as unacceptable, rejected and cast out on the world, because we can't bear to take responsibility for it ourselves—that would take inner efforts we don't understand how to make.
Here is our inner struggle, summarized. We have heard of Mercy; but we don't have any. To deliver ourselves unto the Lord would be to discover Mercy, but we don't know how to do that. And if we cannot learn how to be merciful towards ourselves, first, we think, why would the Lord be Merciful unto us? In the midst of our error and limitation, we're unable to comprehend.
To discover our own Mercy is to discover that fraction of the Lord's Mercy which begins and ends in us. God shared and apportioned a fraction of each of His qualities, or properties, to each part of His creation, and hence to each one of us, to act as a steward (Al Arabi refers to the steward as a vicegerent, or earthly representative of God) for his qualities.
If we are not merciful towards ourselves, if we do not practice the intelligent action of loving kindness, we do not fulfill our duties of stewardship. So we don't just have a wish or need to come into relation with ourselves; we have a responsibility to come into relation with ourselves, that is, we owe to a higher authority.
In a certain sense, to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's is not just about the money; everything that is ordinary in life belongs to Caesar. There are properties in man which belong solely to God, and must be rendered unto God. They begin with our own responsibility to ourselves. This implies the need not just for an idea about Mercy, or a wish for Mercy. It implies the need for an intention about Mercy, a consciousness of Mercy.
Mercy itself is not an accident; it is an intention, that is, an unconditional condition, a movement towards. In order for it to be intentional, for us, our consciousness of Mercy must become organic.
If we are going to use the words “Lord have Mercy,” it might be worth pondering these questions.
I respectfully hope you will take good care.