I saw a movie many years ago called “Tender Mercies.”
I don’t remember much about it except that Robert Duvall was in it and it took place somewhere in the Southwest. I recently googled it out of curiosity and learned that Duvall played a has-been country music star in the film and won an Academy Award for his performance.
But what stuck with me for all these decades was the title.
It haunted me because I think it speaks to what we yearn for so often in our human condition…tender mercies.
We want to be loved, we want to be understood, we want to be happy, we want our needs to be met, but in the dearth of any of those things, tender mercies can see us through.
Being the curious being that I am and searching for fodder for this column, I poked around a bit and learned that the title phrase of the movie comes from the Psalms — specifically, Psalms 145:9. I investigated a little more and discovered a variety of translations for that particular psalm.
The King James Bible translates it this way: “The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.”
Many other translations, however, use the word “compassion” instead of the word “mercies” or “tender mercies.” There’s nothing wrong with compassion. Merriam-Webster defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” And a quick thesaurus check of the term will call up words like empathy, concern, kindness, care, and consideration.
But compassion, benevolent as it is, seems to me somewhat sterile, somehow distant. Mercy seems to be a call to action. And tender mercy gives us the intent, invokes that gentleness of spirit that transforms an action into a transcendent moment. With tender mercies, we experience a softening of the heart, a catch in the throat, a transformation in both the giver and receiver.
With tender mercies, we experience the divine.
June is the traditional month for weddings, and my typical wish for couples who are joining together in matrimony is a life filled with love and joy. Now, having been seasoned by age and joy and yet a few sorrows and many disappointments, I have come to realize that joy has its counterpart in tender mercies.
When we are too discouraged to rejoice, we can still find solace in something as simple as a sunrise, a hummingbird, a wildflower…tender mercies in the natural world that surrounds us. If our hearts are open, we can find comfort in a smile, a gentle word, a thoughtful act…tender mercies offered by the people around us. And we can bring tender mercies to others, with a comforting word, a sympathetic ear, a forgiving heart.
The Beatles famously sang that “All you need is love.” I’ll agree with that.
And I submit that love in its strongest, yet gentlest form reveals itself in tender mercies.