Recycled Lenten lessons

So far this Lent, I have already encountered the parts of me I don’t like.

As I try to stay dedicated to my Lenten practices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, I seem to keep catching a glance of myself in the mirror: I see that I am a sinner, I am weak, I am broken. Over and over again I face the truth: I must be totally dependent on God and God’s mercy.

I’ve been talking to God through prayer about this familiar cycle that I go through every Lent (and during ordinary time too.)

It shouldn’t be a surprise, really, that my struggles repeat because I’m consistently dealing with the same person: me.

And then I thought about some Lenten Messy Jesus Business posts from the past that remain meaningful to me. I’d like to share them with you!

Here are 5 of my favorite Messy Jesus Business posts about Lent:

1.) “This is HARD” by Jerica Arents, April 8, 2011,  is a reflection on how the inconvenient fasts from plastic, sugar and electricity ultimately brought her closer to her community.

2.) “The weirdness of witnessing,” February 28, 2012.  The season of Lent freed me to be real about how I don’t always like to be “out there” and share my faith for many reasons, but one is because when I sin then it can reflect badly on all Christians. Bonus: “What if I stumble?” (a song by DC Talk) is mixed in!

3.) “Lent: Divorcing our bad habits,” March 3, 2013.  A British indie pop band Autoheart has a really catchy song called “Lent” and it inspired me to think about which bad habits I might need to “divorce” in order to gain true freedom in Christ.

4.) “Becoming a new fruit and fertilizer by Amy Nee, March 21, 2013.  Amy writes how compost became her Lenten mantra as she worked to get back to the basics of her faith. Some wisdom from the 13th century mystic and poet, Rumi, is incorporated beautifully.

5.) “Ashy Remembering,” March 7, 2014, is a poem about distributing ashes on Ash Wednesday and remembering my own mortality and need to repent as I touch other human faces.

What Lenten reflections and prayers speak to you during your time fasting in the desert this year?

Photo credit: http://fccgreensboro.org/2014/through-the-desert-lent-2014/

French braiding my way to a holier Lent

Photo by Nicole Steele Wooldridge
Photo by Nicole Steele Wooldridge

I am trying to teach myself how to French braid hair. As the mother of two daughters, one of whom was able to donate 10+ inches of hair at age three (with pigtails to spare), I feel that mastering this skill now is a savvy investment in my future time management.

My first attempt at a French braid several months ago was pathetic. Upon seeing herself in the mirror, even my four-year-old felt the need to be gentle with my ego, reassuring me in a Daniel Tiger-inspired pep talk: “Well, it’s not the best … But keep tryin’!  You’ll get better!”

She was right, of course. After months of disastrous braiding attempts, I can now send my daughter to school with her hair in a style that is (if not quite red carpet-ready) at least identifiable as a French braid.

Photo by Nicole Steele Wooldridge
Photo by Nicole Steele Wooldridge

It occurred to me, while doing my daughter’s hair on Ash Wednesday, that a French braid is a pretty good metaphor for the Lenten spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

Throughout Lent we are meant to attend specifically to these three “strands” of holiness; weaving them together, bolstering each one as we proceed. They should be united in a tight, well-ordered plait. If we neglect any one of them—if, for example, we fast but do not pray—then our Lenten braid is lumpy and uneven.

My Lenten braids are always lumpy; at times, they are so disheveled as to be unidentifiable. I tend to begin Lent with lofty expectations of my imminent spiritual accomplishments, only to be disappointed by the reality of my own clumsiness. I usually have to “start over” at least once before the end of February.

But, just like French braiding, the more time I spend attempting to fast, pray, and give alms, the easier it is to do so … and the more natural it feels to integrate one into the other, weaving them together.

Though fasting is only one-third of the equation, it’s typically the “celebrity” pillar of Lent. In past years, I have taken the path that Pope Francis advocates: fasting from a specific uncharitable attitude or behavior. This year, though, I wanted to try to assume those fasts of the soul into a more traditional fast of the body: specifically, abstaining from alcohol.

As I politely decline a glass of wine with dinner, I am reminded to say a prayer of thanksgiving for all the necessities and luxuries I can enjoy this day, and—before bed—I donate the cost of a drink to charity. In researching the charity to which I wish to donate today, my mind and heart are opened to the multitude of crosses that others bear, and the multitude of ways in which I could train my fingers to better be the hands of Christ in easing their burdens.

I fumble; I fail; I begin again. The more I practice, the tighter the strands become.

By the end of Lent, I emerge with a braid: imperfect and unglamorous, but nonetheless beautiful in God’s eyes.

Nicole Steele Wooldridge writes from the Seattle, Washington area, where she is attempting to teach herself some basic middle-school skills. Next up: sewing on a button.

 

 

Lent is my restart button

Some days, I feel like I just want a restart button.

From: http://randalldsmith.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/restart-windows.png

At times, I even feel this way about my life.

And then, when I look at all the problems in the world, aware of how complicated and messy the issues of injustice really are, I frequently feel the same way.

I just want to press a button and let everything reboot, wake up all refreshed and renewed and ready to do things much better, to be more like we’re supposed to be.

That’s why I love this sacred season of Lent. I want to grow, I desire holiness, I pray for justice. I really do believe that things can be better and through God’s grace, we have something to do with it.

Back on Ash Wednesday there was a lot of chatter about what people were “giving up” for Lent. I didn’t chime in then, but now I’ll tell you some of what I’m up to.  A full Lenten experience is not just about “giving things up” but committing to any activities of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in order to, in a sense, restart our relationships with God and others.

In fact, I am finding that the actions I have been taking work much more gradually than it does when I push a restart button. People and social problems aren’t machines, after all. Forty days is probably a good amount of time for a proper restart.

  • In my classroom, my students and I have been praying with the CRS Lenten calendar and putting money in our rice bowl.
  • In my living community, the sisters and I are eating vegetarian then donating the money we would have spent on meat to the area warming center. We are holding Friday nights as a silent hermitage time for contemplation. Plus, a couple of us started volunteering at a free community dinner, which I think we’ll continue doing after Lent.
  • Personally, I am praying with the daily readings all through Lent.  And, I’m using a web-browser add-on called Waste No Time to stop me from using Facebook or Twitter for more than 10 minutes a day.
  • Lastly, today I’m leading a small group of youth in a CRS Food Fast retreat. Please say a prayer for the high school students who are fasting and will engage in service-learning and prayer activities after school.  All of our actions should help us be in solidarity with those who are really hungry in other parts of the world.

The restart process is not pain-free, of course, but it’s so worth it.  Basically, the activities of Lent are chipping away at the hardness in my heart and helping me learn some big lessons:

  • The acts of service and fasting have taught me that I am way too comfortable, not just materially, but also with my plans. I’ve realized that I have fallen into a bit of a rut of liking my routine to be a certain way.  Even though I have good intentions, I practically walk around every day with my focus on my to-do list with a giant “do not disturb” sign hanging from my face. How can I help build up the kingdom of God if I am not open, flexible and available? Am I awake to the work of God?
  • Speaking to being awake to the work of God, the activities of prayer have helped me gain a deeper desire for more intimacy with God.  I entered Lent looking forward to my Triduum because then I could have a little vacation. Now, I am hoping for a silent retreat over those days, almost isolated from civilization.
  • Lastly, I believe again that every little action has an impact. I realized that sometimes when I pray or do acts of charity I am tempted to become cynical about whether I am really making a difference. Now, because of some feedback received from others, I’m remembering that the littlest things do indeed matter; we just don’t always know how.  This interdependence among us reaches across the globe to our brothers and sisters who are desperate for the pennies that we throw away, too. Our choices to be in solidarity with them this Lent really improve their livelihood, thanks be to God. This video helps me understand that:

Ultimately, the Lenten restart button that I was hoping for has had an impact on me. I have gotten disturbed. I am changed. I am getting to be a bit better, we all are.

And, for this I am very thankful.

 

Refresh and restart

It’s been nearly a week since we started all this.

With ashes smeared upon our foreheads, we committed ourselves to new disciplines. Our motives are good: we have dreams and desires to refresh our relationship with Jesus. We’re in the desert to detoxify and prepare for the joy of that great Sunday, the holy day of Easter.

We’re trying to let God have with us what God will. We have a long way to go to really be ready. Our trying turns into trials. Over and over we keep encountering an important Lenten truth: we’re really not that great.

That lack of greatness is an uncomfortable consciousness. For some of us, it’s much easier than others. Some people are incredibly disciplined and are used to working on getting better. Their life is structured around the flow of “yes to this,” and “no to that.” It amazes me.

For others like me, the attempts of taking on Lenten disciplines are simply an experience of knowing again and again how undisciplined I really am. I keep messing up and forgetting. I keep wondering if I need to pick a new focus–all my attempts are just making me feel awful about how terrible I am at being disciplined.

You see, one of my intentions is to simply take a 10-minute afternoon walk and focus only on the beauty of creation during that time. How’s this been going? Well, it hasn’t. It’s awful. I pile on excuses about why I can’t make that pause or just completely forget about it. Overall, I keep realizing how much I need Jesus; how much I am clueless and lost and nothing without him.

The thing about Lent is that it is indeed a time when we must pray, fast and give alms so we can be more open to hearing Jesus’ messages. To start, it’s much easier to listen to Jesus if we are aware of how much we need to listen. Maybe that’s the whole point. I need to be humble, weak and feel sort of pathetic. I have to let go of my pride to really be dependent on God. Then, maybe I’ll be much better at letting Jesus satisfy my thirst.

In the meantime, I am so thankful that in my trials of renewing my relationship with Jesus I have this time to refresh and this space to restart.

The view is pretty good with Jesus.  Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
The view is pretty good with Jesus. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

in a cave, prepping for sunrise

I am a slow learner. I hear the sacred invitations of Lent and I still move toward the darkness.  My life is busy right now and I wonder if my time with God in the desert is caving in on itself.  Is it true that I need to understand darkness to be a child of the Light? Are all my examinations of the truth really helping me get ready for the sunrise? Or, am I making things harder for myself?

Together we’re in a Lenten desert where things aren’t too comfortable.  God seems to have turned up the heat and hallowed out cool caves of confusion for us to take refuge.  Our explorations of the caves of truth cause us to wonder.  Is there a reason why we want to examine the rock formations within the dark?  Can it also be our nature to stand and face the horizon, waiting to watch the glory of the sunrise?  As light emerges can we listen to the songs of creation getting ready for a New Day?

I ponder these scenes in my heart when I remember to pause during my busy days.  God is certainly using the local, natural beauty to ground me as I run around. I have to pay attention while I try to serve, teach, help and love.   Every day is full of the Truth that can bring me closer to God.  Truth can be rocky, heavy and hard.

This week daylight savings time has warped my routine some.  My alarm clock becomes part of my dreams and I tune it out but the singing birds stir me out of slumber.  Then, in a daze, I watch the sunrise over Lake Michigan and read psalms.  I bow, blow out candles and say the Eucharistic prayer that my sisters say in our adoration chapel every hour with me while I am away on mission:  “Sacrament most holy, Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine. Eucharistic heart of Jesus, furnace of Divine love, grant peace to the world.”

I gather my stuff and rush to work. On the way I encounter the needs of the world, hoping to bring the peace I pray for. Every child needs positive attention, every person needs to know that she is loved.  I can’t keep up with the demands of being a teacher, no matter how much sleep I sacrifice or prayers I pray.  It seems that I have to remain real. It’s more true to admit that I am doing my best but I would like to do better.  A stone of truth in the cave is named: I must be humble.

I read the news and check my email.  Awareness of injustices layer upon more demands.  The freshness of the signs of spring stir worries and unrest.  I am worried about the safety of the city, the garbage wrapping around fences and coating the land.  I get crabby and annoyed that other people are messing up the world, but I fail to look in the mirror.  Yet I am getting used to violent and cruel language. Along with other sufferings and wrong-doings, I tune things out instead of caring.  Another rocky truth in the cave is named: I could be more loving and passionate about injustice.

When evening arrives I am exhausted but still spinning in restlessness.  I realize I survived another day of mean misunderstandings and heavy work, but my guilt is stronger than gratitude.  I feel like I need to keep working as long as I can or I won’t be ready for tomorrow.  God stirs in my heart, asking me to sabbath. Come, rest in me.  I shrug off God’s desert invitations and turn instead to shame and sorrow;  I think I need to work harder.  A boulder of truth in the cave is named:  I need to trust in God.

I am glad that Lent is longer than a month because I seem to be a slow learner.  I am getting it though, little by little, and with each new awareness my relationship with God is being restored and renewed.  Eventually I’ll be able to leave the cool cave and re-encounter the heat of the furnace of Divine Love.  Eventually all this Lenten work will ready me for the best sunrise ever: the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the true Light of the world.

"thorns in the desert" by Julia Walsh FSPA

And this is the verdict,
that the light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light,
because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.  -John 3:19-20