“Always we begin again.” –St. Benedict
I just started my 41st semester of teaching. I love the “beginning again” that comes with the teaching profession. Two of my favorite things about teaching are discovering new ways to share the love of learning with students and the chance to start the next semester with a clean slate. Fresh ideas, new teaching strategies, another opportunity to grow, learn and improve—and hoping a little of that rubs off on my students. I want to make a difference and help students learn.
I think I’m still learning that I will never get it just right. I will never be perfect. But I love that I can be creative each day, trying new things, forgiving myself for what doesn’t work and starting over again the next day, week or semester.
It’s a good reminder for everyday life as well. So often in our relationships we carry the mistakes, hurts, expectations and fears into our next day; never really giving others, or ourselves, a chance to begin again.
What if we could truly give ourselves and others a clean slate? A fresh start?
What if we really could be merciful…compassionate, gentle, loving, understanding, kind, accepting, giving, patient, forgiving INSTEAD OF cold-hearted, impatient, irritated, withholding, reluctant, hard, thoughtless, self-centered, judgmental?
Being merciful means allowing ourselves and others the chance to begin again. How do we get there…to being more merciful?
Last year was a Jubilee Year of Mercy. Pope Francis believes we need a “revolution of tenderness”—between nations and in our personal relationships. “How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God,” he wrote. He believes it is time for the Church to show “her motherly face to a humanity that is wounded.” Even though the official Jubilee Year is over, the need for mercy will never end. We are not perfect; we need to forgive ourselves and others again and again.
What powerful images Pope Francis brings to this word we all too often use, but do not understand or practice: MERCY. A chance to begin again.
Last Christmas, I wanted to create a SoulCollage® card for my monk friends at Christ the King Priory that represented the season. I gathered images that seemed Christmas-y and tried to bring them into unity on a card. But it just wasn’t working; images that spoke of MERCY kept calling to me. I let the word, idea and images of mercy flow over me and into the creation. The process of creating was prayerful, inspired and joyful. The card and words that follow are the result:
A gesture, an embrace, a tender gaze
Lays bare every vein, wrinkle, pore and blade.
In the Light, transparent and humbled,
We are seen, truly seen.
Despite our failures and flights,
Doors of mercy open to
Eternal love made visible.
Pope Francis believes, “The most important thing in the life of every man and every woman is not that they should never fall along the way, the important thing is always to get back up.”
May we take this word and image, MERCY, into our new year and into our lives. The doors are always open for us to begin again. We are received just as the Prodigal Son was received, with open and forgiving arms. The image of the Prodigal Son, created by Rembrandt, communicates both motherly and fatherly qualities of a God who welcomes us all home. It conveys all of the qualities of mercy that we hope to receive and can strive to give: compassion, tenderness, love and acceptance.
In our thoughts, words and actions, towards ourselves and others, we have a new day to try again to give and receive the mercy that God has given us.
Each new day is a new day. Always we begin again.