gravel paths, stone path-markers, blazing sun, shadow: a labyrinth at 3pm
standing in the labyrinth at Ghost Ranch, a PC(USA) retreat center in New Mexico

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner

A new friend happens to be preparing for Greek Orthodox catechesis. She was showing me her prayer-bracelet, a black cord of 33 knots and a bead. She prays the circlet three times, saving the bead for the last circle, and uses “the Jesus prayer.”

She recited it, skitter-skatter, while she was explaining the bracelet. But not the same way in a row.

Ever-interested in quirks of language, I asked whether there was a difference (for her) between praying it “I” or “you,” or whether her tradition preferred one to the other.

She said the standard prayer is “I.”
But she said she feels guilty when she prays “I,” that she’s selfishly focused on her own gain.

That’s one way.

Another is that it’s important to face up to oneself, no hedges or hiding, and bring that frankness to God.

Another, coming as I do from a wide experience in women’s-world, is that mercy for oneself matters. That it is not more virtuous to shower mercy on others and never shower it on oneself… it spurns God’s gift, unmerited and unearnable as it is.

Lord, have mercy on us, sinners.

My friend feels more comfortable here, where God’s gifts are poured over everyone, not hoarded for herself.

Which I suppose is one way…
but whoever said that by asking for oneself, no one else could receive?

That describes God’s mercy as coming from a tin cup, quickly emptied. Yet even she would automatically say that God’s mercy is a fathoms-deep well, one where if you drop a penny into it you’ll never hear it strike bottom. Thousands of cups might dip into that well, and the level of available mercy would not lower a drop.

Another way, also from women’s-world, is that asking for the group enables one to deflect, to shelter in the group rather than stand alarmingly bare.

But are we not supposed to be bare before our God?

And yet another way, mentioned by a guy involved in our conversation, is the risk of an implicit, hidden arrogance–when I say “us,” but quietly I mean “you all,” because I don’t need that mercy as much as the rest of you. I’m OK the way I am.

I am not OK the way I am. But I am blessed and loved and drowned in God’s mercy the way I am.

My new friend compromises, and ‘tells’ her bracelet first with “I,” next with “us,” and thirdly with the name of someone in particular need, before she arrives at the blue bead and the particular blessing-asks it signals.

Walking into the labyrinth today, I started with Psalm 13:3a, “Look upon me and answer me, O LORD my God,”

but with my footfalls I soon shifted:

LORD have mercy on me, a sinner.

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