Mindful for Lent


Ash Wednesday 2015

 couple on bench watiching sunset This morning I talked to my sister Mary. She has decided to keep a spiritual journey for the next forty days. She called and wanted to explore where our ‘spirituality’ came from. It was an interesting and often funny conversation about our early religious schooling (Catholic nuns!). The conversation then turned to the faith of our grandmother. As we talked I had to say that my own faith journey began because of our grandmother. She was deeply religious, a convert to Catholicism. She was also a very creative person. She loved music and to sing. She could play any song she heard on the piano – without sheet music. She loved cats and kept a sweet little kitchen garden under a small tree just outside her kitchen door. I recall how lovingly and carefully she attend each Spring to picking out the pansies or marigolds that she planted. She loved cats (seemed to favor her cats more than her grandchildren) and Brandy Alexander’s. She was also a wonderful baker. She had lived over the bakery with her first husband who as a baker. She always had some baked goodie when we went to visit. I guess like all families each of my siblings has a different view of who Anne was. (She was a very young grandmother. She had had my mother when she was fifteen years old, so we were not allowed to call her ‘grandma’. We were to call her Anne. My father, her son-in-law, preferred to call her by her given name, Myrt (short for Myrtle). There’s probably a story there too. For whatever reason my grandmother did not endear herself to all my siblings. She and I were very close however. I was her favorite. I think this hurt my sisters, especially Mary, when we were growing up. This did not foster a warm fuzzy feeling for our grandmother on their part. We could not recall what prompted little Mary one day to lock our grandmother in the small bathroom just off the living room and even though we laugh about it today, Mary was high tailing it out of the house when grandma was let out. The irony here also is that my sister Mary inherited more of Anne than any of the rest of us. She loves cats, has beautiful gardens, plays the piano better than any of the rest of us and is a great cook and baker.

Eventually we got around to the topic of Lent and spirituality. She asked me where the idea of giving something up for Lent had come from. She thinks the idea ludicrous, since after Lent what have you achieved in spiritual growth by not eating chocolate or drinking alcohol. All I could say is that it was the old way of the church. That penitential view of Lent. Thankfully things have changed.

By keeping her spiritual journal during Lent she wants to become more mindful. Giving up the hours on the computer or the mindless morning television shows. I do that too. Let those hours eat up my day. She’s addicted to Pinterest. I play too much solitaire. I think it keeps my mind sharp! Probably not doing much for my soul though.

Isn’t that what St. Paul was writing about in his letters? Staying mindful of who they were.

Perhaps this Lent you might want to keep a journal. Find something enlightening to read and write about it. Or just reflect on how you got where you are today. Your path to who you have become. Where is the sacred in that journey? What do I need to do or to be to become more mindful during each day? Thanks, Mary, my friend and sister.







Ash Wednesday

We have been too long in mea culpa.

The way my life has been going lately Lent is redundant. Some days there just isn’t enough chocolate to get me through the day. All the more reason to think not about giving something up, but to focus my attention elsewhere. It’s been my experience when I give something up that is all I think about and talk about for forty days. So each year I try to find something uplifting, inspiring that will keep me focused on the true purpose of this sacred season. To keep my eye on the real prize and purpose of the season of new life.  This year I thought perhaps I could achieve this by reading the letters of St. Paul in chronological order. In the order they were written they might reveal something about growth in Christ.  I can’t think of no one else who had the prize more in mind and can keep my attention focused there for the next forty days.

Lent’s purpose over the centuries was to dedicate a time to fast, pray and reflect one’s life and make some advance, however small, in our spiritual  development. We were taught the way to do this was by self-denial. However, more recently the focus has been less on self-denial, what to give up, and more about taking up a more positive practice in order to achieve this transformation. To build as St. Paul would say. And there is no one who can speak better to a faith-life transformation than St. Paul.

Over the centuries Paul has become a lighting rod for scholars and non-scholars alike. With fire in his belly, warrants in hand, Saul was on his way to bring some of the followers of Jesus to prosecution and prison. However, in a lightning flash of a moment this Hellenized Hebrew became, in his own words, a prisoner for Christ. On the Damascus Road Saul, the persecutor of the first followers of Jesus, would become his greatest Champion. This experience was life changing for Paul. Paul’s preaching and writing would become life changing for the world. Perhaps during these forty days set aside for prayer and reflection, reading and reflecting on the letters of Paul can be transformative for me as well.

 As I read through his first letter to the Thessalonians it occurred to me that Paul  has set out some good themes for traversing Lent.  About this passionate and firey orator there is much controversy. But I have always had a soft spot in my heart for him because of his passion, enthusiasm and the sheer force of his conviction that Yeshua of Nazareth was indeed the long-awaited messiah, the Christ. At the center of his love, and life and writing is Jesus. This Lent I felt that I might keep my focus on the person of Jesus reading all the letters of the thirteenth disciples in the order he wrote them.

We have been too long in mea culpa. And I believe that even in the often maligned and misunderstood apostle to the Gentiles, we can find a positive and uplifting approach to this sacred season. Paul’s resounding theme is to put on Christ. To be in Christ. And isn’t this the goal of not only Lent but of our entire lives?

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