Mercy Tender

The ego uses words to get what it wants. The soul doesn’t use words. It surrounds words with space, and that’s silence.
— Richard Rohr

“If you could have more of anything other than money or time, what would it be?” 

She read me the prompt from the Desire Map and leaned forward, her lush-lashed and beautiful eyes encouraging me to speak true.

I knew the answer right away. What do I seek in all areas of life, from my cramped and cluttered (cozy! lived-in!) apartment, the clothes I’m always tugging around me, my relationships, both online and off? What do I desire—no, need—in order to unfold myself limb by limb into whole-body prayer? What do I crave most in order to breathe and dance and wander and give birth and lament and love as only a living soul can? 

I said the word deliberate and slow, like etching a declaration onto a wall of infinite grace.


I want space. In an ever-expansive, arms flying about me, hair in my eyes, love-falling, shy-spinning, heart-swirling, well-kissed-lips-laughing, look at all this room to move, endless possibilities kind of way. 


I’m having trouble falling back into my groove. 

I want so much. I want everything. 

I have so many things to say ... and then I have nothing.

I want to delete all my old words and find new ones scattered like purple and gray-toned seashells along the dark and wild shores of me. 

I want to light candles and read all day. Oh, the ravishing piles of books around me! I have Geneen Roth and Richard Rohr and John O’Donohue. A funny one called “I’m Spiritual, Dammit!” and an achingly-beautiful poetic homage to creativity and the body (research and reading for my beloved Inkstains and Alchemy). Denise Linn. Elizabeth Berg. And so many others calling me to retreat and tend to myself. To be a tend-er—one who tends to the nurture of my spirit and all the hidden places aching to be listened to. 

To be one who tends mercies. 

To be a mercy tender

I’m finishing up a life-altering book now called Breathing Room. It caught my attention because of these lines, which expressed what I have been recently talking about with a friend: “Bless your clutter.” My copy is more yellow than not since I pored over it with a highlighter and pen. It is exquisitely profound and just as gentle. 

Breathing room.





This season has sent me thrashing through a mass of dark thorns and I’m having difficulty untangling myself from the undergrowth. I’ve had to release projects. Say no or not yet. Leave people disappointed. There is nothing a recovering codependent struggles with more than the vulnerability of letting people down and watching relationships slowly shift into unrecognizable apparitions. Loss, longing, loneliness, love ... these are the bones life is made of.

And grace is here, in the silence around things.

“I am finding tender mercies in the brutality,” I said to a friend. More than ever I’ve craved the healing energies of maternal love and while all my plans to retreat to mama ocean or a lush forest have been thwarted, nevertheless I’ve found secret messages glimmering in haunted corners: 

Buying this plant because it reminded me of my mom, and later finding out it represents maternal tenderness ...

Watching the sun sink slow over Lake Travis ... 

Discovering a hidden love note tucked between the pages of a used book ... 

Love packages in the mail from sacred, shining souls, and finding irresistible light ...

A shy, peek-a-boo, full mother moon ...

A mystical night ...

And love from the sea from the sweetest artist ... handmade talismans infused with deep meaning and tenderness, along with some luscious local honey ...





I drove back from Austin through blinding rain and belly-sobs. 

It’s hard to be strong all the time, and there is grace in fragile, too. I can be held and healed when I say “I’m sorry, I just can’t ...” with a little prayer of thanks for those who can. I can give myself some breathing room. I can tend mercies through loss, and I can be gentle when I catch myself sinking into the unexpected dark of depression. I can hold compassion as I shift into the unknown that follows life-altering events. I can nourish my body with life. I can bless. Release. Receive. I can hold space for myself. I can surround myself with mercy.

“I’d cut my soul into a million different pieces just to form a constellation to light your way home. I’d write love poems to the parts of yourself you can’t stand. I’d stand in the shadows of your heart and tell you I’m not afraid of your dark.”
— Andrea Gibson

Grateful for the ones who are not afraid of my dark. You know who you are. You have my heart. All soft and tender and twisty. I am still working through the shadows of this year, and it feels so ungraceful at times. It’s hard to say no or not yet, and it’s hard to let others down, and it’s hard to not recognize myself. It’s hard to be vulnerable, to expose the soft parts of the heart. But we all have shadow stories, and we all know what it means to lose someone we love, and we all know the awkward unfolding of shifting relationships, the discomfort of answerless questions, and belly-sobs in the rain. I can say “I don’t know” and I can say “No” and I can allow silence, and maybe, just maybe, this is the way of love.

Hillary Rain