“the quality of mercy”

I was having a discussion with some friends who I don’t see very often. They live in California, the other side of the U.S. from where I live, pretty much. We share the same esoteric tradition, and we were talking about how we came to this tradition.

For me, it was a journey of many years and would take a long time to talk about. Of course when talking with friends there is time to do these things. One of the things that came up was the concept of Mercy.

I came out of fundamentalist Christianity. I put myself in fundamentalist Christianity when I was about 19 years old and got more involved in it until I ended up in Charismatic Christianity, which is that brand of Christianity that believes in healing by laying on of hands, speaking in tongues, prophecy, being “slain in the spirit,” (that is, going out of the body and having visions) and such like. All good things, right? Right. Except that it came with a nasty dose of homophobia, sexism, and hard right-wing politics.

And Hell was ever present. Mercy was only talked in terms of the mercy that God would grant you if you “accepted Jesus,” because otherwise, there was no question of mercy; you would go to Hell when you died, and be burned in the Lake of Fire with the Beast and the Devil at the end of the world. The only mercy that was granted to you was if you submitted to the patriarchal “God” (or more accurately, demiurge) on his throne, acknowledging the “fact” that you were the scum of the earth, loaded with sin, and deserved nothing but destruction were it not for the death of Jesus on the cross.

However. Eventually I cracked under the weight of Hell. Because my question was: how could a good God knowingly create a universe where He knew his creations would suffer for eternity? Because if the Christian God is omniscient and omnipotent, then he created the universe in the full knowledge that Satan would fall, and that Hell would be created. This meant that God had foreknowledge, and planned, for some of his creatures to be tortured for eternity and extinguished from existence; He knew it would happen, allowed it, and approved it. Which made this “God” far more of a monster than any Devil. Cosmic genocide on a scale that makes Pol Pot or Saddam Hussein look relatively innocent. They could only torture you to death; God, however, would torture you for aeons.

This God I could not live with, and so I left fundamentalist Christianity. I could either go mad trying to worship this “God,” or save my sanity and go to Hell, and I chose my sanity. At the point I left, it was no longer possible for me to worship or love the Christian god without going absolutely and literally insane, because He was antithetically opposed to who I was, and I could no longer try to “make” myself be what I could not be – a “good Christian” by the definition of the fundamentalist Christian code.

So I left all that behind. I pulled away and abandoned it all. Of all my Christian friends, only one ever tried to talk to me about why I left; the rest never bothered. So much for brotherhood in Christ. Of course, perhaps I was so obviously going nuts that they felt like they didn’t want to be infected. Or perhaps I was showing my disenchantment more than I knew, and they didn’t want to be bothered.

In any case, Jehovah and I broke up; it was over, and it was a nasty split.

I drifted for a long time until I got a tap on the shoulder from Goddess. I won’t go into detail about that right now because then this would get very long and I would go past my point. When she tapped me, I began trying to figure out an appropriate Goddess, or form of Goddess, to worship, and through sheer luck (as if there was such a thing!)¬† I began burning incense and praying to Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy in the Buddhist tradition.

Through this worship I began to feel the quality of Mercy in full. Not the submissive cry of “Mercy!” that the slave makes to his slavemaster when the master takes up the whip to beat him senseless, but Mercy as a genuine attribute of the Divine. (These days I would perhaps think about relating this to Chesed or Tiphareth on the Tree of Life, but I digress.)

I began to see, and feel, that the Goddess Kuan Yin granted Mercy as a pure quality to anyone who called on her, without expectation of repayment. The Christian God granted his limited mercy only on the condition that you submitted to him utterly, with the knowledge that this mercy could be terminated at any time if you transgressed.

The Goddess Kuan Yin granted her Mercy without stint and without any mercenary agenda. Mercy was who She was and what She embodied, and she granted it to those who asked. “Nor do I demand aught of sacrifice,” she says in both the Book of the Law and the Charge of the Goddess (which are not unrelated, but that is a different story).

This Mercy changed my life. I learned that on this spiritual path of Paganism, Mercy was granted unconditionally. I was not an evil soul whose every decision was bound to be wrong, and whose ultimate destination was Hell if I disagreed with the demiurgic “God.” I was a child of the Goddess, beloved of Her.

At that point in my life when I was deeply wounded from fundamentalist Christianity, that Mercy was very real and very powerful and very healing. I think that is one of the qualities that Neopaganism can boast of, in spite of the negatives that many point out; it is healing for those who came from the clutches of a cruel Demiurge and his false church of humiliation and shame.

Mercy gets short shrift these days, but I think that there is much to be said for it as a quality. We all have received undeserved Mercy at some point in our lives. I know that I have, and I am and remain grateful for it.

So thinking on these things, tonight I will burn incense in front of my statue of Kuan Yin again, even though I have moved on to different understandings and a different path from the Neopaganism I started with, in gratitude to Her and in thankfulness for that Mercy.

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