Across the centuries, those who have sought a life of unceasing prayer, of singular focus on God, typically repeat a word or phrase to quiet outside distractions.
Orthodox Christians use some form of the Jesus Prayer. Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Kyrie, eleison. Lord, have mercy.
I have used this simple prayer for years as I get up in the morning, as I work through the day and as I attempt to calm my thoughts before my rest.
It was Dec. 31 at the World Peace Meditation, an interfaith gathering at Rime Buddhist Center, where more than 100 people gathered at 6 a.m. to pray for peace.
A Muslim call to prayer, a short sermon by the Rev. Wallace Hartsfield II, a rousing singalong by “Queen Mother” Maxine McFarlane, insightful comments by Alvin Brooks of the AdHoc Group Against Crime and hypnotic Hindu music were just a few of the morning’s highlights.
It was the personal prayer that affected me most, though. We were instructed to make a silent prayer for world peace. When a bell rang, signifying the end of the prayer, we were asked to write a single word on a white stone that had been provided. This word was to be our theme for the coming year.
Praying in that space made holy by the vision of love that we all held in common, a single word bubbled to the top of my consciousness. “Mercy.” Mercy received. Mercy given. This is how the beloved kingdom on Earth is created.
In the Lord’s Prayer we ask that we be forgiven just as we have forgiven others, implying that the mercy we receive is dependent on the mercy we show others.
John of the Cross said, “Where there is no love, put love — and you will find love.”
Love comes first and it comes last. I rely on God’s eternal and endless mercy to forgive me, to give me the benefit of the doubt, to encourage and challenge, and to catch me when I miss the mark.
In turn I am expected to instruct, counsel, forgive, comfort and pray for others. We are not asked to judge but to love.
The corporal acts of mercy are concrete examples of how we are meant to treat one another. By feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and welcoming the prisoner back into society, we help strengthen the bonds between us.
The act of writing the word on that stone helped bring together the spiritual and the physical, the heart and the mind. Now when I say the Jesus Prayer I feel it in a more global sense, from a much deeper place. The mercy that I require and the mercy that I extend to others become one.
The Rev. Hartsfield that morning said that before we can have peace we must have equality. That is surely true, but before we can have equality we must have mercy.
Brandon Pomeroy, one of The Star’s Faith Walk columnists, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.