I don’t know much about Shakespeare’s religious faith or practice but he hit the nail on the head when it came to mercy! Here is an extract from the speech he gives to Portia in the Merchant of Venice. It’s one of the very few speeches I remember from my school days!
‘The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings.
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice’
For me, there are three main ideas here: first, mercy is not extraordinary! It is an ordinary way of relating to one another, part and parcel of our lives.
Secondly, the person to whom mercy is shown is blessed but equally, if not more, blessed is the person who shows mercy to others.
Thirdly, the person who shows mercy acts the way God does. When we are merciful, God shows himself to others in us.
How can we be merciful? It is easier to think of how we might be merciful if someone has wronged us greatly.But in the ordinary topsy-turvy of life, how does it work? Part of it has to do with joyfully, (and quietly) giving up some entitlement, not insisting on something to which I have some right, just letting go, so that another person may have something better in her life that day, something which frees him to know God’s love.
If I quietly let go, I too can be freer to experience God’s love and so, in the words of the Bard, I too am blessed.
The image is the Church of the Reconciliation in Berlin, at the Berlin Wall Documentation Centre.