Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 152

I love theatre and I’ve been fortunate to see a few plays in New York, Toronto, Niagara on the Lake, London, Chautauqua Institution, and at our own Erie Playhouse, of course. A couple of these plays were award-winning and a handful are labeled “classics.”

But do you know which play Old Monk holds most dear? The play was performed in an experimental theatre in a deteriorating building in a bad section of Erie. I have no idea who wrote it or what it was called. All I remember is that one of the characters was a homeless old woman. And in the scene that is forever burned in my heart she is talking about the Golden Arches of McDonalds. Yes, McDonalds.

In the play this haggard old woman is waxing eloquent on how the lit Golden Arches--in the midst of lonely nights and dangerous streets--resemble a mystical vision for street walkers. The light speaks to her of presence and care and comfort and compassion and safety—all of which she equates with the Divine. Yes, McDonalds equals a glimpse of the Divine!!

She talks about how the hamburger haven takes you in, no questions asked, and allows you to stay so long as you sip a cup of coffee and don’t cause trouble. She contrasts it to all the churches that line the streets in town. All churches are dark and the doors locked, she explains. Only McDonald’s is bathed in welcoming light.

I saw that play over 20 years ago and go back to that scene over again, especially when someone badmouths McDonalds. And someone did this week in my presence, so I retold the story.

I’m thinking that it impacted me the way Jesus’ parables and actions must have effected his audiences. To Old Monk’s ears, McDonalds’ is a contemporary Samaritan, woman taken in adultery, unclean tax collector. The story shocks—awakens—just like Jesus’ stories blew the minds of those accustomed to bad mouth the “unclean,” the “evil ones,” the “sinners” that we regard with self-righteous contempt. McDonalds is a lot holier than a church, folks, go figure and do likewise.

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A blog by Mary Lou Kownacki
A personal journal captures what’s in the heart. Most of my adult life I’ve recorded my notes, brief reflections, poems, reactions to daily events in a journal. It is an ongoing source of monastic formation; the rich and raw material of life that helps shape my Monastery of the Heart. About a year ago, Old Monk began to appear on my journal’s pages. Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, is the Monasteries of the Heart coordinator.

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