The illustration often used when teaching such a small idea as receiving Eternal Life, or Mercy, or the multitudinous and cosmic gifts of God, is that a gift is received only when the one gifted actually takes it. In fact, it is so often used to describe how to receive the salvation of Jesus, that the illustration becomes at best a faded truism, having lost its real meaning, and at worst becomes a foolish and dangerous theology which completely misrepresents the most important idea of a gift. For whether a gift is received has almost nothing to do with taking or getting—anything. The point of a gift has to be that one already had it long before he took it, and that taking it or holding it is the least part of receiving it. So the old, faded and formulaic illustration on how a gift is received should be crumpled up and tossed out.
A gift can absolutely be fully given and fully held without it being fully received. This is exactly the sense in which every parent tells their child he is not living up to his potential. The gifts are there and they are his—but untapped; sitting wrapped within his skin, or maybe even unwrapped and held in his hands and even seen by the child, yet still unreceived. What the gift is, remaining opaque to the child himself.
Whether or not one receives a gift has nothing to do with the fact that it is his. Whether he receives it or not, only depends on whether he enjoys it or not. To enjoy a gift one must give the gift oneself, or, to make my meaning clear, give oneself to the gift. Giving, not getting, is the way one receives. When he starts to give the gift—give unto the gift, in a sense, give what the gift asks of him—is the moment he receives the gift. This is a more proper—no, not more proper—this is the only way that existence, life eternal, the miraculous gifts of God—work.
Mercy has already been given. It is man’s. Forgiveness was his from the beginning—from his Heavenly Father. The only way one may receive the divine gift of Mercy is by using the gift, giving himself over to it, becoming it and giving it away. To say it another way, the way God himself said it as He walked the streets of first century Jerusalem: "The only way one may enter the Kingdom of Heaven is to already be living in it."
It is this exact paradoxical meaning of receiving a gift--that a gift enjoyed is a gift used--that every poet, painter, pianist, and person knows intuitively. The purpose of the Birthday tradition of placing gifts in boxes and wrapping them with colorful paper is that gifts are a surprise. The point is precisely not to know what the gift is, but rather to open the box and say, “What is this? What do you do with it? Mercy? What is mercy? Life? What is life?” And the answer is something like, “That is for you to figure out. 'Ask and you shall receive.' Enjoy.” To really receive is to have joy—to enjoy. And on the day of our birth, our dining tables are piled with these gifts.
One may open a box and hold up the gift within and gaze into the Unknown that is his. Yet even after opening and having, there is no receiving unless there is enjoying. These are the same ideas: enjoying and receiving--and not enjoying and not receiving. The one who enjoys the gift, which is to say, the one who listens to what the gift says of its own spontaneous voice; listens to the song it sings and responds to the voice; receives it. Like a child. For the child, as opposed to the adult, knows exactly the meaning of a gift: how to receive; what to do, for example, with the gift of a tree. She needs no instruction from anyone else, rather the tree unwraps itself before her eyes and she runs to what is hers, what was always hers, embracing it, listening all the while as it says something like: “I am to climb. I am a tree, and a tree is for climbing.” And before there is time to think or reason or explain, she is already swinging from its branches, laughing with the laughter of its leaves.
In the same way, the gift of Mercy says something like: “I am Mercy. Come and listen to me, I desire to be used. I desire Mercy.“