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Lord, Have Mercy, Or Lordy Mercy

As I understand it, the Kyrie Eleison is an ancient prayer. In its simplest form, it means, “Lord, have mercy.” Sometimes set to music, it calls worshippers to prayer. Some would say that it’s used as a form of high church liturgy.

One of my grandmothers was a country lady. Her rural roots were often disclosed by her use of countrified language. For example, it wasn’t uncommon to hear her say, “Lordy mercy!” It was sometimes an interjection to express amazement or some other emotion. It was also a low church prayer in times of trouble or grief — not uncouth, but beautiful.

When we ask the Lord for mercy, in whatever form, it’s almost always in recognition of a wound that’s incredibly deep. It’s at a time when we think we can’t stand it —  something — any longer. I heard my grandmother say, “Lordy mercy” when her son, my uncle, died. I think it was the first time I realized that the death of one’s child, regardless of age, can be borne only by God’s mercy.

Not surprisingly, hymns and prayers in the Psalms include the plea: “Lord, have mercy.” (Psalms 41:4, 51:1, 56:1, 123:3) One of the most moving passages of scripture about mercy for Christians is found in Hebrews 4:14-16 (NIV): “[S]ince we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses…Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

We all experience punishing times of need or hurt. We can only plead, “Lord, have mercy,” or as my Nanny would’ve said, “Lordy mercy.”

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