‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’
2nd February 2022
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy’.
(Gospel of Matthew Chapter 5, verse 7)
HOM: Managing Impulsivity.
It was in a recent visit to Lyme Regis in Dorset that I first became aware of Thomas Coram. Born in 1668 he was sent to sea at the age of eleven, and never received a proper education. In 1694 he was settled in what is now Dighton, Massachusetts where he lived for ten years, founding a shipyard there and becoming a wealthy man.
On returning to London at the age of 36 he became known for his public spirit and he became especially concerned about the welfare of infants often left dying on the streets of London. Such was his concern that he began to agitate for the foundation of a foundling hospital, that would take in abandoned and orphaned children, so that they could be properly cared for. It took him seventeen years to raise the funds and receive the necessary support, but at last he received a charter from King George II and the Foundling Hospital was established in 1739.
The story of Thomas Coram deserves to be better known because he showed a spirit of mercy towards those who received little merciful treatment at that time. It may seem extraordinary to us today that such children were not receiving the care they deserved and also that it was a man of little education from a small coastal town, who was so driven to bring about changes in care of the orphaned. Yet around the world children continue to need such support and this week is World Orphan Week, in which people are called to respond to the suffering of tens of millions of orphaned and abandoned children in the world today. In fact UNICEF estimates that there are 153 million children world wide who are orphaned or displaced due to war, illness, natural disasters and poverty.
Thomas Coram was a man who showed mercy to the children he encountered on the streets of London and was therefore blessed and a blessing to those he helped. The Hebrew word for mercy is chesedh, and there is no easy equivalent in the English language. It means, in the words of the biblical commentator William Barclay, ‘the ability to get right inside the other persons skin until we can see things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel things with his feelings’. And this is what many people may not even try to do. Most people are so concerned with their own feelings that they are not much concerned with the feelings of anyone else. Not so for Thomas Coram. When he saw the children on the street, he did not recoil or judge as all too many did in that age, he felt their pain and identified with it. He was not detached or disinterested in their suffering and had to respond.
William Barclay goes on to write, ‘It is only those who show this mercy who will receive it. This is true on the human side, for it is a great truth of life that in other people we see the reflection of ourselves. If we are detached and disinterested in them, they will be detached and disinterested in us. If they see we care, their hearts will respond in caring. It is supremely true on the divine side, for he who shows this mercy has become nothing less than like God’.