Awhile back one of my teachers Deborah Rose Longo lead J.G. Bennett’s version of the seated Gurdjieff Exercise “Lord Have Mercy.” This version of the exercise was called “Gospodi Pomiluj” which is “Lord Have Mercy” in Russian. It was a profound exercise to work with at the time and has since had its reverberations in my life. I have often returned to it as a morning exercise as well as throughout the day as a practice of self-remembering.
Soon after Russia’s war on Ukraine began, I sensed a strong nudge to return to this exercise as a way of praying and tending to the collective nervous system. I along with many others have been working with this exercise the past several weeks and have found it to be an extraordinary practice. Recently Christine Adamczyk shared with me that she understood “Lord Have Mercy,”“Gospodi Pomiluj” to also mean “Lord Mercy us.” When I asked her where to find out more about this understanding she responded to me by saying,
My family were WWII refugees from Russia so Russian is my first language. I grew up in a Russian Baptist church surrounded by people who had all been displaced by the war, and this community was everyone’s family. Over and over they would tell the stories of how their lives had been torn apart by war and how they had ended up in America. Watching the videos and pictures from Ukraine has been like watching their stories played out on the screen, and knowing the personal catastrophic effects this has on people, it has been deeply crushing. And so I began listening to Ukrainian chant because it soothes my Russian soul. I was literally stunned when I realized that the phrase “господи помилуи” is “Lord have mercy” in English. “Mercy” being a verb in Russian changes the meaning so greatly I hadn’t realized it was the same phrase. This distinction goes far beyond a mere grammatical difference. I had heard this prayer in the context of the stories, and the plea was for Presence, not a change in circumstance. The instances where “mercy” is used as a noun in Russian, it’s translated into English as “grace,” carrying the implication of something being given. “Mercy” in the context of the prayer is not a thing, but a “place of beingness.“
This difference in translation and interpretation holds true for “I Am” as well. In Russian, among other associations (there really aren’t any synonyms in Russian since it’s a small vocabulary language, there are only what are called “associations”) it carries the meaning of “Ultimate Reality.” Contemplating that more, I understood why Gurdjieff linked “I Am” with the Lord Have Mercy exercise and it has been healing at a cellular level.
I have such deep gratitude… for opening up this way of being with the people who are suffering. I can’t tell you how deeply touching it is to hear that prayer being said in concert with all the voices that I can hear in my heart, both from my past and in the present, who are praying these very words.
All of this to say, I don’t have any written resources, I only have my experience.
Christine’s response struck a deep chord in me and began to put to words what many of us had tasted in working with the exercise. We also discovered the exercise became a way of engaging both collective cellular intercessory prayer as well as, at the risk of misinterpretation, a collective ritual for presencing, mourning, and digesting the collective grief, anger and sorrow. One of the reasons this exercise is so important is because we are speaking the language of the people whom many considered to be the enemy. Sensing the vibrations of the Russian words softens something inside. As Christine put it after working with the exercise in our circle,
I’ve been living with the question; exactly what does it mean to pray for your enemies? Asking for hell fire to rain down on Putin’s head felt justified… who bombs buildings clearly marked “CHILDREN”??….but what kind of nutrients are being sent out to the planet by holding that thought, by allowing myself to hate him, even briefly?
Yesterday, while repeating the phrase “Gospody pomylooy” during the exercise and sensing it flow through my limbs, Putin came to mind… and here was the startling answer to the question of how I am to pray for him and by extension, all enemies.
Asking, “Lord, mercy him”
To me, the common phrase “Lord have mercy on his soul” sounds and feels like a request for judicial clemency, that God “go easy on him on judgment day.“
But “Lord, mercy him”…to me implies a desire for God’s mercy to overwhelm him….right now…with all that that carries with it. And this I can pray with difficulty but also with integrity.
I feel this difference between “have mercy” (n) and “mercy” (v) deeply, in my body, and in my heart, so this is my post to hold, not some sort of universal principle.
It’s hard and frustrating to try and bridge the gap between a deep heart and body knowing and communicating it in words so I hope this makes some sense!
Yesterday, I also felt the truth of Thomas Hubl’s teachings on generational collective trauma. When I was reading this to our exercise group, my throat constricted, my eyes filled with tears, and my heart was pounding, completely catching me off guard! All those sensations could easily feel like anger, but when allowed to speak, they were communicating lament.
Collective trauma abounds but so does collective resilience, strength, and courage. I have noticed that when all three centers are actively engaging, blending, and experiencing the influence of the words “Gospodi Pomiluj” there is a participation in a collective remorse of conscience, a capacity to stand in front of the collective pain body and recognize that each of us have played a part in it, and that each of us can bear a part of it that we might as Gurdjieff encourages, “lighten as much as possible the sorrow of our Common Father.” When we speak in Russian we make space for the tension, the messiness, the affirming and denying forces at work, and we honor so many of Russian decent who feel helpless and heartbroken by the travesty.
We can continue to offer ourselves as conduits and generators of the resilience, strength, courage, and mercy participating in the shepherding of coherence in the collective nervous system. In that aim, with detachment from outcome, many of you have already joined me in a simple task. Let us continue this week to set a reminder or chime or use a sound that you often hear (wind chimes, a truck beeping as it backs up, a dog barking, etc) to signal you to pause for a moment. When you hear the chime wherever you are, even if you are in mid action, stop for 30 seconds to a minute to take stock of where you are: notice your body sensations, gestures, emotions and thoughts. Notice without: criticism or judgment, changing or altering or improving, or identifying. Remember it doesn’t have to take much time. Then take three conscious breaths breathing with the words “Lord Have Mercy” in Russian “Gospodi Pomiliuj.” Breath in silently the word “Gospodi” (Ghos-poh-dee) aware in your mind of “I” and aware of sensation in the center of your chest or solar plexus. Breath out silently the word “Pomiluj” (Pa-me-la-we) aware in your mind of “Am” and aware of sensation in the whole body. We will offer this as a collective prayer for our world, as a way of continuing to create sun in our whole self.
Heather Ruce, a member of the Wisdom Waypoints Board/Council, lives in San Diego, California with her husband Charlie. She works as a Wisdom Spiritual Director, working with individuals as well as facilitating groups and retreats focused on learning and practicing the Wisdom Tradition. To learn more about Heather, see her Postholder page here.
*Images: First – Angel of Mercy; Third – The Mercy Seat; Fourth – the icon of Our Lady of Kyiv, 1132