Mercy and the Seven Cow Woman


This understanding of mercy by Stephen T Berg can open your eyes to a deeper truth of the “power” and need for mercy…

Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; (Psalm 119)

Mercy is the stuff of life. You can live for eleven days without the regenerative endowments of sleep, but you can’t live one moment without mercy.

We are all given life, sustained in life, held together, glued to this cosmic spinning rock, by the merciful gaze of God.

Our souls flourish through the mercy of others. We grow only in so far as we show mercy to others. Without mercy we perish, long before any life-giving properties offered by any vision. Without showing mercy, others die to us, and to themselves.

Why do we suppose Jesus enjoined us to forgive others so that we may be forgiven? (Why do we think that these words refer to a spiritual balance sheet? We compulsively spiritualize blocks of scripture and then trip over the deeper truth they hold. The truth often being anthropological rather than theological.) Do we suppose that the forgiveness command is given so that it will please God when it is obeyed? Or do we suppose reciprocal mercy is asked for so that we humans can live, and grow and experience full life? Which truly pleases God.

Our world runs down because we fail to give and receive mercy. Without mercy, in the daily rough and tumble, how are we to value or honour each other the way we all want to be valued and honoured?

Years ago, my friend Mary told this story–a story from a different time. I recall it as follows:

A handsome young man of great wealth decided to marry. He left his home and traveled to a neighbouring island to seek a bride. When he found his bride and made his choice known, the bride accepted. Tradition held that the young man must now make the bridge’s family a gift of cows. The gift was an assessment of the esteem with which he held his bride, the value of her character and passion, her intelligence and beauty, her charm and caring, her wisdom and spirit and inner joy. Bride’s from the island were often one or two or even three-cow women.

The young man in his search had met a shy woman who lacked confidence, and was thought by many to not have the qualities that such a fine visitor would seek in a prospective bride. But to the astonishment of all, the young man proposed to the shy girl, she accepted, and he offered seven cows for her hand. Seven cows! Such a gift was unheard of! He then left the island to tell his family and community he had found his bride. Both communities and families began to plan the wedding.

When he returned some months later, to the island home of his fiancé, she was different. Subtle changes had taken place. The bride’s father had changed his attitude about her and begun to treat her with respect. The community saw her in a new light. She was now honoured as a “seven cow” woman.

She responded to the gift by growing within. Touched by the young man’s expression of how he say her, honoured by his esteem for her, she felt fulfilled by the chance to honour his gifts and to give to him her heart and love. She would match his gifts with her own, and show her devotion for him. She grew in beauty and character, becoming gracious and caring to all who sought her who had once shunned her. She offered the gift of mercy to all she received, holding nothing against them, and encouraging them to grow beyond their old thoughts and limits and to relate in new ways toward one another, encouraging and supporting each other as they discovered the gifts and the presence of their paths in life.

Then the wedding day came and she married.

And she, in burgeoning response to this change in reception, straightened her back, lifted her eyes, and having regained her own latent beauty, became truly beautiful.

By Stephen T Berg

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