By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 13 July 2013 in The Madera Tribune
"Grant misery to me, my Lord and my God," my mother prayed repeatedly Thursday morning. She meant "mercy." But her dark malapropism didn't alarm me. She has moderate Alzheimer's disease, and her reasoning and memory suffers from its creeping blight.
She has better and worse days. I remember one incident when I, my dad, and other family members took her to her favorite eatery, Lola and Rico's Restaurant at 12889 Highway 145, a few months ago. She spotted her youngest grandson, Zachary. Mistaking him for myself as a child, she called out "Johnny" over and over until -- prompted by my brother -- Zachary came. "How are you feeling, Johnny?" she asked.
How fitting that her question would be that. Though I can seem stoic, I have always been an emotional person and in younger years confided in her often. Now I felt a disorienting but happy sense of deja vu as if I were glimpsing my own past from afar in a sort of out-of-body experience.
I imagine that every mother still sees the child in her grown offspring. But my mom sees me best in other children now -- yet loves me all the same.
She generally has a more difficult time when the sun has set, so the longer days of summer are kinder to her. My father, siblings, and sisters-in-law know this best, as they help far more than I in the evenings. Any who desire marriage should see such examples.
My father has grown closer to God, I think, along this spousal journey of heroic love. Without God, family, others, and the refuge of the farm upon which my parents live, I don't know how he would cope.
The Jewish prophet Yirmiyahu of 6th century BC once wrote, "O LORD, I know that the way of a man is not his; neither is it in a man who walks to direct his steps." (Jeremiah 10:23)
Years ago, I jotted that Scripture down along with others. It was a reminder to myself to surrender to God's wishes. Looking it up, I'm not surprised I didn't record the next verse: "Correct me, O LORD, but yet with moderation and not in fury, lest you bring me to nothing." (10:24)
In this 21st century AD, how often do we pray to be chastised?
Well, technically, my mother prayed for "misery." As she spoke them, her words reminded me of the Latin word "misericordia," which means "mercy" and has the roots of "misereri" ("to pity") and "cor" ("heart"). Yet the Latin word "miseria" means "poverty." Romance languages, such as Spanish, continue to use "miseria" and "misericordia" thusly.
Our words reflect our thoughts, so why have so many considered mercy and poverty to be neighbors? Pondering this I recall the story of the widow's mite.
While Jesus and his followers were at the Temple of Jerusalem, they did what many of us still do in public places -- people watching. They saw many wealthy persons throw large donations of money into its treasury. The bags of coins must have produced a satisfying crunch, and if they were loose you can just imagine the clatter.
Then a widow came and threw in two "mites" -- to be exact, two "lepta." The Greek word "lepton" means "small" and described the tiniest coin in the Roman province of Judea. Like U.S. pennies used to be, lepta were made of copper and weren't worth much.
Jesus commented: "Amen, I say to you, this poor widow has cast in more than all they who have cast into the treasury. For all they did cast in (was) of their abundance, but she -- in her want -- cast in all she had, even her whole living." (Mark 12:43-44)
His words turn my thoughts upside down. If mercy and poverty are linked, I had thought, surely it would be because we should pity the poor. But that is not what we see here. Instead, it is the poor woman who gave of herself beyond the point of comfort and security and is praised for generosity.
Those of us who are Christian claim God showed us the greatest mercy in his suffering, death, and resurrection. Does this not suggest that being merciful may, even should, be uncomfortable?
Nobel Peace Prize winner Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India, once said: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. Jesus said, 'As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.' The Father's love, the Son's love, and our love is but a giving until it hurts."