“For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (King James Version)
“For I delight in loving-kindness, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings. (Darby Bible Translation)
When we begin the church season of Lent, many people identify what they want to give up in preparation for the birth of new life that Easter brings. The practice is steeped in the idea of sacrifice as procuring a connection to God. Hosea’s words offer a different approach.
Hosea proclaims God’s desire for us to cultivate loving-kindness and knowledge of God over sacrifices and burnt offerings. Imagine a practice or discipline of cultivating loving-kindness and getting to know God in all of our encounters (with self, other people, and the Divine Other we call God). Loving-kindness opens our heart to see the presence of God Within in all we are, say, do, and encounter.
We will have to make sacrifices to practice mercy and to experience knowledge of God. We’ll have to give up judgment, hatred, denigration, exclusivity, self-righteousness, superiority, inferiority, arrogance, passivity, confusion, zealousness, fear, and a host of other attitudes and feelings that separate us from aspects of our selves and others.
Our tendency is to try to get rid of these feelings by denial, self-recrimination, repression, or displacement (onto others). However, we have a better option. We can sacrifice problematic feelings automatically as we cultivate loving-kindness. By focusing on mercy and compassion, we say “no” to the opposites that show up to usurp their place. We get to choose, repeatedly, to practice loving-kindness and find God in whatever states of feeling, sensation, or emotion we are having.
A merciful attitude towards our self opens us to ask God Within to see the seed of the Divine Self in the other (that which is not us). Every encounter within our body-mind or in the outer environment is an opportunity to receive further knowledge of God.
God wants to be known by us. The crux of the Christian tradition is about personal relationship with God. To have a personal relationship is to know and to be known. The knowing comes from embodied experience that arises from our cellular consciousness.
In an attempt to make sense of our felt experience, intellectual understanding, concepts, or ideas arise. But the knowledge of God that arises from the felt experience is far greater than the intellect can convey. The mystics tell us this time and time again.
Mercy and loving-kindness radiate compassion. Compassion offers acceptance, not judgment; heart-felt kindness, not platitudes; authenticity, not false niceness. The Dalai Lama in The Compassionate Life (2003, p. 17) writes, “In the Buddhist tradition, compassion and love are seen as two aspects of the same thing. Compassion is the wish for another human being to be free from suffering; love is wanting them to have happiness. “
Our choice to practice mercy and loving-kindness leads us on the path for new life. As we hold a desire to be free from suffering and to have happiness, we open to the knowledge of God Within that can lead us on the path. The path is one of mercy towards self and others that opens us to know God.
I invite you to set a Lenten practice to cultivate loving-kindness and knowledge of God. Identify three actions (attitudes, thoughts, activities, etc.) you can take to develop compassion towards self and others. Write down the biggest obstacles (such as, resentments, fears, past history) to being merciful to yourself and others. Identify three ways of supporting yourself in reaching for compassion. Set daily sacred intention to act with support to reach for mercy and knowledge of God.