Let me confess, first:
I gave up nothing for Lent.
I didn’t go to an Ash Wednesday service.
I skipped the daily readings for the first three days.
When it comes to the spiritual practice of Lent, mine is basically crap. Sad, but true. And truly sad; this grieves me.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…here’s what I did do.
I spent loads of time on Twitter, scrolling and reading what everyone was saying about the Parkland School shootings. I refreshed frequently to see what Donald Trump had tweeted.
I posted inane things on Instagram.
I didn’t feel good, so I slept. A nap on Saturday, a nap on Sunday…
I cooked. I made brownies and used two boxes so that I could 1) send some home with my eldest son (which didn’t happen), and 2) eat a bunch of the batter while the kids weren’t looking.
I ate a lot of brownie batter.
I watched the news. I watched the Olympics, until I got bored. I read two issues of TIME magazine. I finished a novel that my mom gave me from her library.
I ate, beginning with Ash Wednesday; on that day of self-denial and sacrifice, I ate an incredibly delicious dinner at a local fine dining restaurant, including a glass of wine and an entire dessert. I ate so much I got slightly ill.
I went to the movies – Black Panther is, indeed, outstanding.
I went out for Mexican food twice in one day, and then again the following evening. Dollar tacos; who can resist?
In short, y’all; nothing about the discipline and sacrifice of Lent has been a reality for me. I can honestly say that the school shooting in Florida took over the my head on the first day of Lent with a vengeance, creating a compulsion in me that I just couldn’t tame. I couldn’t process; I couldn’t manage my emotions. I wanted to scream and shout at the pain and injustice; when comments and comparisons and justifications started rolling out on social media – in many cases from people I know and care about – I wanted to go grab them by the collar and shake some sense into them. I felt anger. I felt despair and frustration.
I can make no sense of this.
But I want to act. I want to do something. I want something to be done.
But I’m paralyzed. I feel paralyzed.
So I lean hard into distraction and diversion, anything to avoid this thing I can’t make sense of, and it makes it worse. I want to make a proclamation – a declaration of My Perspective, or The Way We Ought To Think – but I have no words, and I’m afraid, and I have no desire to become part of the binary, maniacal screaming match that passes for discourse. But I have this welling up in my throat, all of this bile and pain and lack of understanding that is lodged between my head and my heart, and it hurts.
It’s painful. I’m part of a collective raw, open wound; you feel it, too. We are a country that is divided; our friends speak inflammatory words that deepen the divide. Children watched their teachers and classmates murdered in front of them them, and are now caught up in the politicization of pain – when they should be granted the freedom to be protected and cared for.
And my spiritual practices have been crap. They’ve not been helpful because they’ve been non-existent.
What’s a good Christian girl to do?*
I heard over the weekend this statement (I paraphrase): Internal work and contemplation are good and necessary, but left alone with ourselves for too long, our introspection turns to despair.
Aha; there is some resonance for me, for despair is an apt word for the flailing around inside my soul – or, put more accurately, the hiding of my heart behind inane activity and the bleating of social media. Left to my own devices, I despair.
I pray, but I despair.
And yet; even as I retrace the wandering of my soul in this first week of Lent, to find my failure looming large, I am reminded of these things:
- A meeting on Ash Wednesday that led to revelation, one that prompted me to sing and spin around in joy, alone in my office, at the wondrous power of the Presence that I cannot deny.
- That same delicious, rich dinner led to a lingering conversation that allowed openness, truth and honesty that was sacred, holy, and completely unexpected.
- Another meeting as the week ended started with a rush of words and nerves, ending in delicate grace and a deep sense of being in the right place, on the right journey – for both of us.
- All my kids – except the West Coast girl – made it home for dinner Friday night; we gathered around the table and there were smiles and joy and a great sense of glory in the adults that are my children.
- Time with my father, whose health declines even as he is still my daddy; lunch gathered around a table of his offspring and redeemed relationships that are miracles in themselves.
- Sunday, our gathering included prayer for the vulnerable, the weak, the lost, and the hurting, led by the raw, authentic emotion of a man who knows full well the redemptive, restorative power of God.
- Naps – they are good.
- Interactions with friends, coworkers, family; and intentional time seeking the Presence of God with a woman today that resulted in an understanding and insight so great that there were no words.
I am reminded of all these things, and in spite of how my humanity gloms onto dysfunctional coping mechanisms and bad habits, I am reminded again that there is something of the Sacred that lives right alongside the profane. A friend mentioned tonight that the tension – if we can bear it – is where God enters in. And it will likely always be this way, this side of eternity. We can’t escape this being human.
I’m going to stay in the tension, even as I try to make wiser choices about how to cope and who to listen to. I’m going to rest in the tension in spite of the fact that it offers no real solutions, no easy answers.
I’m going to rest in this, and cast my eyes towards the beautiful things that happen every day, and allow gratitude to push aside despair. When there is nothing else we can do, we simply do what we can, in front of us, in our immediate vicinity; at some point, the way will become clearer, and our steps will follow.
That is the extent of my spiritual practice for this first week of Lent; tomorrow, may I do as well or better.