The Quality of Mercy

 In Article

What has it to do with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine?

This reflection will read like a Catholic meditation and seem completely unrelated to Chinese medicine. While the former is true, the latter will prove to the contrary.

We begin with a double reference, namely of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington DC. He related the words of a priest’s intervention at the Synod on the Family October, 2015:

“The love of the Father when it encounters the human condition becomes the mercy of Christ.”


Here is how I interpret that sentence.

The Father is, in the triune belief of Catholic Christians, God the Father, the Great Mystery. This Father is particularly characterized and defined by love, which can sound rather grand and indeed, mysterious. Hard enough that we mere mortals, wrestle with that concept: What is love? What does it mean to love one another? What does loving another person entail? No, not the trivial “I love Sydney,” nor “I love the way the dress hangs on her body.” No, not the frivolous substitution of ‘love’ for ‘like,’ no matter the intensity of that preference. Rather, it is the love of one person connecting at a level with the other, to the point of desiring to journey in life, not as two, but as one, a coupling, a partnering, a companionship. However, the love of God the Father is infinitely deep and engaging to the point that it brings forth not just life but existence itself and suffuses all. Put simply, it is, according to this teaching, the ground of all existence. But as you can read by now, it also sounds rather gobbledygook. Hence, the second portion of the priest’s declaration: that this profound and profoundly engaging quality of God (or the divine, the universe, that which is Beyond, if you like) is best experienced and understood in his son, Jesus the Christ, aka the Word of God.

‘The Word of God’ can also be better understood as the Speech of God (think, “Let there be light, and there was light”). Speech is the physicalisation of thought – the word was made flesh. In theatre, for instance, the actors are the physicalisation or material manifestation primarily of the playwright’s imagination (of course, the entire crew, from the director down to the lighting person are part of that imagination too).

Therefore, love is most clearly seen and experienced in the quality of mercy, a mercy that is said to be constantly lived, expressed and personified in the person of Jesus towards the people he encountered. That is to say, you know love when you encounter mercy, and mercy is precisely that reaching out to the other from the depths of love within.

Jesus was a healer. Anyone who reads the gospels will notice that foremost dimension of his life. The healing was not simply getting rid of diseases. More importantly, it was a healing of the mind and spirit through, in the words of William Blake, mercy, pity, peace and love. “Your faith has healed you,” Jesus consistently tells his interlocutors.

Chinese medicine physicians are called to do likewise. The healing is not just of the organic dimension of the individual but also of the spirit. The foundational text of Chinese medicine made that clear, “First, heal the spirit. Secondly, heal the body-person” (Huangdi Neijing Suwen:25).

The eminent Tang dynastry physician, Sun Simiao (581-682), states that physicians must treat all patients as if they are their family, with no regard for social, economic, or political status. To do that, the physicians must cultivate themselves first:

Whenever eminent physicians treat an illness, they must quiet the spirit and settle the will, they must be free of wants and desires, and they must first develop a heart full of great compassion and empathy. They must pledge to devote themselves completely to relieving the suffering of all sentient beings. ”

— Sun Simiao, Bei Ji Qian Jin Yao Fang I.2


The quality of mercy must first be experienced by the one who wants to be merciful. Then will the resolve to relieve ‘the suffering of all sentient beings’ be meaningful and effective. That is the calling of Chinese medicine physicians. That is our aspiration. We cannot promise we can fulfil that all the time but we promise to try.

“The love of the Father when it encounters the human condition becomes the mercy of Christ.”

Recommended Posts

Start typing and press Enter to search

couple pregnancycolton haynes