Praying with Hands and Heart: A Response to “Mercy in the City”

Praying with Hands and Heart: A Response to “Mercy in the City” February 17, 2014

Kerry Weber’s Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned, and Keep Your Day Job is a delightful book. She chronicles her adventures as a young adult seeking to be faithful to God in the challenges of everyday life. There is no bombast or spiritual pyrotechnics in the book, just simple day to day faith, sometimes spot on, other times muddling through. Though Catholic in tradition, Weber’s book is catholic in spirit, that is, it provides a vision of everyday saintliness lived out by one who sees herself as being far from saintly. This is its strength and its inspiration.

John Lennon once noted that “life is what happens while you are making other plans.” This could be said about intentional spirituality. The intent to follow spiritual disciplines – in Kerry Weber’s case, to practice acts of mercy – already changes your life. You have a different perspective on life and see things you overlooked before entering the spiritual path. Every encounter, even going on a date or taking the subway, becomes an opportunity to see Christ in another person and be the voice, hands, feet, and spirit of Christ in your relationships. Once you set off on the path, your whole world changes – it becomes a theatre for holy adventures. Boredom is impossible for those who put themselves at God’s disposal, inviting God to guide their footsteps and open their senses to the needs of their neighbors.

Weber invites us to live with mindfulness or awareness of the God-moments that fill every day of our lives. And so, in Weber’s spirit, I invite you to consider your own intentionality throughout the day. You don’t have to set out to help someone cross the street, look a homeless person in the face, take time to play with a child, or reach out to a homebound person; these events will dot your day regardless of your intentionality. You can simply ask God as you wake up each day, “Keep my senses and heart open to your presence in persons in need. Give me the insight and energy to respond in a holy and loving way.” You might pray this prayer or a shorthand version throughout the day in words such as “Awaken me to love” or “Let me see Christ.”

Christ is not particular about the way he/she comes to you. Christ can awaken you to the needs of the weak and the strong, the poor and the rich, the sick and healthy, and the lonely and the overbooked. In our interdependent world, each of us is in need of both care and prayer. As a university chaplain at a prestigious university, early on I discovered students, whose parents gave them BMW’s and trips to exotic places, were often as vulnerable as students on scholarships. We are all the “least of these” from time to time. It is a matter of attentiveness to the deeper voices of life that opens us to the undercurrents of need, usually hidden from public view, by our “together” exteriors.

There is often a linguistic divide between the “religious” and the “spiritual but not religious.” The self-described spiritual but not religious often see little vitality in religious institutions and suspect that religious commitment is an impediment to the free movements of the spirit. Weber tells us that in mindfully living our days, we can be both “spiritual and religious.” We can recognize the fallibility of our religious institutions and ourselves and still journey forth open to God’s presence on every street corner, in the subway, or at a deli. This is prayer with our eyes open and this opens us to a world filled with pain, but also great wonder and beauty as the living God moves through each millisecond of our lives.

Check out the Patheos Book Club for more on Mercy in the City.

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