Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Resource for Lent: Mercy In the City

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.


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