It's Ash Wednesday in the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The Hebrew word for mercy is Hesed. Perhaps better than translating HESED as mercy ("I could blow you away for what you did to me, but instead I'll have mercy on you," we might use the word kindness.
It's a hard world and there's more than a little to suggest that we're losing touch with each other; becoming strangers to kindness. A flight attendant told me that while he stands inside the door of the plane greeting people as they board, most people don't even look up at him, let alone return the greeting, but are lost in their technology.
Lent is called the Church's Springtime. And with the springtime comes warming. Human beings are programmed to give and receive emotional warmth - we don't do well without it. Indeed, when the life-story is told of so many criminals and murderers, we come to understand that human warmth was often lacking from the start.
Pietro Ferruci in his book, The Power of Kindness tells of a client who lived in a building with walls thin enough to hear what went on in the apartments on either side of hers. Every night, the parents of a new born would put the baby in to sleep while they retired to the living room to watch television. Unfailingly the baby screamed and cried in the deep anguish of loneliness with the parents failing to respond.
While the woman felt that confronting the parents might make things worse, she also realized that if she could hear the baby's crying that likely the baby would be able to hear her. And so every night when the screams and cries began, the woman would sing lullabies through the wall and talk to the unseen baby softly and tenderly, and the crying stopped. The warmth of sound can alleviate suffering! That's mercy!
Perhaps the best of what it means to be human gives us insight into what God is like. God is kindness. Jesus puts a human face to it: "Little Zacchaeus, come down out of the sycamore leaf-screen where you hide; I want to have dinner with you and your friends tonight." (Luke 19: 1-10)
This Lent: not to bother giving up things that leave us un-transformed, but rather to practice mercy-kindness.