Over Christmas I had the chance to have coffee with Kerry Weber, who is the Managing Editor at America Magazine. Kerry's a Columbia J-school grad who spent a year working as a special ed teacher on the Navajo Indian Reservation with the Mercy Volunteer Corps. And the photo above captures her perfectly -- joy and light.
Over coffee Kerry described how she had decided one Lent to try and live out the seven corporal works of mercy -- feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead. (It's a great idea, right? Why didn't we think of that!) And it was such a rich experience that she had written a short book about it, Mercy in the City.
So a couple weeks ago I picked up the book, and I discovered that Kerry is a great writer, with a wonderful sense of humor, an eye for detail. Here's a little gem from early on:
One cold winter night I bought a tunafish sandwich for dinner at CVS pharmacy. I was hungry and late for a meeting and was feeling sorry for myself for having to eat dinner at a place that also sells panty hose and cold medicine.I don't know if this is true the world over, but anyone who has lived in New York City has had exactly that experience!
But more than wit, what I love about the book is that Kerry grapples with the same questions that I know I do -- how do I find God in my life? And what does it mean to be a good person? So the quote above continues:
I passed a man curled up under blankets on the street. 'Got anything to eat?' he asked, clearly seeing that I did. I took out half of the sandwich and gave it to him. But as I walked away, doubts filled my head: Should I have given him the whole sandwich? Should I have bought another one just for him? Was he even hungry? It's not easy to determine the best ways to act with kindness and mercy.For me, the criteria for a good spiritual book are these:
- It must be short: God forgive me, but save us from the 7 Storey Mountains.
- It must be inviting: Tell me a story. Make me think. Make me laugh.
- And it must be wise: Ask a good question. Speak from an honest, relatable place. Share the truths that others have taught you.
Mercy in the City is that kind of spiritual book. If you want a Lenten partner for your own journey (or just ideas for that journey), I really recommend it.