Fast-Food Funeral Procession

The line lurched forward one vehicle at a time, halogen halos radiating from headlights. Although it was eleven o’clock at night, I could not help but think of the funeral processions I saw as a boy, cars coursing through town in the daytime with lights aglow.

As I sat in the drive-thru lane at Taco Bell that night in 2008, I began to think of that line of cars as a fast-food funeral procession. But who—or what—were all of us in that line mourning?

I had seen Morgan Spurlock’s film, Super Size Me, so I had come to think of all fast food restaurants as merchants of death. In denial, I frequented them anyway. Surely I would not be the one for whom the Taco Bell would toll, I reasoned.

The headlights of the car behind me glared in my rearview mirror, stabbing my retinas. I tilted the mirror, dimming the light, and soon found myself able to make out the backlit, black silhouette of the driver behind me.

That week at work had been blinding, too. I entered data all day, and although my errors always seemed insubstantial to me, my employer maintained spreadsheets listing them all—a practice that applied to my coworkers, too. By the time the spreadsheet made the rounds that week, reaching everyone in my department, I could see nothing but my blunders. [Read more...]

The Little Sisters of the Poor: Religious Conscience and Government Mandates

When you’re poor for your entire life, it’s possible to become somewhat inured to misery. If you keep your line of vision low, keep from looking too far to the right or left, and manage your expectations properly, then—through practice—it might even be possible to control the thoroughly natural desire to possess more.

“What you’ve never had, you never miss,” I’ve heard it said.

But I wonder about the likelihood of such a thing when the poor grow old. For at that time, the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune are sure to be felt more keenly. When the labor required merely to exist is no longer possible, sufferings are more acute, as the meager distractions that toil provides are gone as well. The aged poor have a unique plight, caged mentally and physically within a prison of need.

Like most inadequate Christians, I do a bit here and there to provide for them. For instance, there’s a nursing home nearby that’s run by an order of nuns, The Little Sisters of the Poor. [Read more...]

Praying the Divine Office with Flannery O’Connor

For over twenty-five years, my husband and I have prayed morning and evening prayer together. They are the hinges of our day, a metaphor I borrow from the introduction to the prayer book we use: The Liturgy of the Hours, also known in Catholic worship as the Divine Office.

Our pattern is to pray morning prayer right after breakfast (I don’t pray well on an empty stomach), then evening prayer right after dinner. Of course we sometimes have to break the pattern and skip the prayers: if one of us is traveling, or if we have to rush out to a doctor’s appointment after breakfast or an evening event after dinner. But the pattern is followed as much as practicable, and I can’t imagine our lives without it.

Starting and ending the day with praise of God helps put into perspective our current fussing. And there’s nothing so good for a marriage as saying the Lord’s Prayer together twice a day, with its focus on forgiveness.

The Divine Office is an ancient tradition in the Catholic church. I like following a time-honored pattern, and one that is also being followed by people around the world each day. Praying the liturgy of the hours makes me feel part of the body of Christ in a real way. [Read more...]

The Stations of the Cross on the A Train, Part Three

—Continued from Friday

My morning commute to work on the New York City subway during a heat wave made for some telling reflections on the first seven Stations of the Cross. Surely my trip home at day’s end won’t cast me in a better light.

VIII. 14th Street: The Women of Jerusalem Mourn for Our Lord

I’m back on the platform after the kind of day at work that evokes the first version of Joseph Brodsky’s “Lines for the Winter Recess,” a stark two-line couplet I heard him read when I was in college: “Sitting at my desk, / My life is grotesque.” [Read more...]

Stations of the Cross on the A Train, Part Two

In the first installment of this essay, I told of a project by a British artist that had recently come to my attention with perfect timing: a paper-cut booklet titled Stations of the King’s Cross that maps fourteen devotions to commemorate Christ’s Passion along the fourteen stops of the Circle Line on the London Underground—a circuit that fittingly ends at King’s Cross station.

Why perfect timing? Because it’s summer in New York City, this dreaded time of year when one’s travels in the infernal subway system shine a very bright light in that underground oven on just how much of a spiritual turkey you are. Or chicken. Or shrimp.

Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa to a slow, excruciating death and did not make a peep; I take the A train to work in a flailing economy and return kvetching to my wife that this time, this summer, my sweaty, smelly, cattle-car commute just may be the death of me. [Read more...]