This is a metaphor that for me, attempts to encapsulate the generosity of God’s all embracing Love and Life. So often this PRESENCE can be invisible until MERCY moves someone who notices into action as in the following story of the Starfish:
One day an old man was walking along the beach. It was low tide, and the sand was littered with thousands of stranded starfish that the water had carried in and then left behind. The man began walking very carefully so as not to step on any of the beautiful creatures. Since the animals still seemed to be alive, he considered picking some of them up and putting them back in the water,where they could resume their lives. The man knew the starfish would die if left on the beach’s dry sand but he reasoned that he could not possibly help all of them, so he chose to do nothing and continued walking.
Soon afterward, the man came upon a small child on the beach who was frantically throwing one starfish after another back into the sea. The old man stopped and asked the child, “What are you doing?” “I’m saving a starfish,” the child replied. “Why waste your time? There are so many you can’t save all of them so what does it matter?” argued the man. Without hesitation, the child picked up another starfish and tossed it back into the water … “It matters to this one,” the child explained.
Awareness, paying attention to the present moment with a loving attitude, noticing – these are at the core of what moves us to “make a difference”, to share Mercy. In my personal life, I am grateful for the opportunity that life has given me to become involved with holistic healing in the ministry of Pastoral Care with vulnerable people. During my years as a member of a multidisciplinary team at Providence Hospital, Mobile, Alabama, together we focused on respecting the dignity and equality of all persons, irrespective of culture or faith preference. Here my lived experience enabled me in becoming transformed in my understanding of our transcendent God of Mercy.
Having had many opportunities to offer emotional and spiritual support with tenderness, gentleness and respect has indeed been sharing the power of touch as Jesus did. In Luke 8:25 Jesus asked, “Who touched me?”… “Someone touched me”…”I know that power has gone out from me”…”Go now in peace”. Each time that I provide gentle therapeutic care in any form, I am mindful of who it is that is offering healing touch with another person through me. Mercy soothes and softens human suffering.
I recall with awe the experience of being present with a patient of the Baptist faith, a man who was deeply troubled by crippling fear. He was terrified of meeting these people on the other side when he transitioned over. With his permission, I walked him gently through a review of his life, asking God’s forgiveness and reassuring him that God’s loving mercy that was within him and all around him at that very moment. Shortly afterwards, he continued on his journey to God with dignity, peace, harmony and contentment in the presence of his loved ones. Moments like this are precious and leave a deep imprint on my heart of how gracious our God is in inviting us to reverence one another with compassion and love.
Now that I am in Castlebar and participating in offering holistic care at Cuan Chaitriona Care Centre, in a very different setting, I am aware of the great need for companioning persons who may be vulnerable, lonely, having questions with the meaning of life or finding it difficult to adjust to their growing fragility. Offering a listening heart, a gentle touch, a smile, spending quality time with the person who can no longer verbalise their need- this is Mercy. Holding that sacred space at the bedside of a dying person, oftentimes in silence, as gradually their spirit merges with the Divine, for me is an awesome and moving moment. Offering support and reassurance to families and loved ones is also a humbling gift.
Mercy is all-embracing. Mercy is taking a long loving look at what is real. For me, Reality is growing in understanding of the sacredness of all that exists and the Presence of the unconditional Love of our Divine One. Each gesture of Mercy makes a difference, maybe just to one person at a time and yet, so precious. As this year of Mercy draws to a close, I will share some words from Rich Mullins:
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
I cannot find it in my own
And He keeps His fire burning,
To melt this heart of stone.
Keeps me aching with a yearning,
Keeps me glad to have been caught.
In the ocean of deep healing,
That they call the love of God.
Eva Walsh rsm