Here's what started me thinking about Lent: I went to bed Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday, and I should have made pancakes, but that didn't happen...) full of good intentions. As usual. I am a veritable balloon of good intentions. A vast and complex garden of good intentions. Perhaps even a small moon orbiting in space, full of good intentions. I would--eat very little for breakfast, dining on weak and unadulterated tea. (I'm sure it says in the Bible somewhere that unadulterated tea is a spiritual practice.) I would have toasted English muffins with nothing on them. Huh, nothing? My mind reared up in disbelief. NOTHING? As in--no butter, no margerine, no jam, not even that wussy-puss stuff only flavored with fruit juice?
I lay back on my pillow, panting slightly, panic beginning to twinge in my toes. Ok. I can do this, I told myself sternly. Remember Jesus in the desert. Remember that not eating thing for 40 days and being tempted by the Great Dude of Tempters. Hah.
Such fine and sturdy thoughts seemed to have no effect on this incipient panic, which was all about, YOU MEAN I CAN'T HAVE WHAT I WANT WHEN I WANT IT???
Damn. I lurched forward onto further plans for Ash Wednesday, only slightly deranged in my thoughts. I would eat a small salad for lunch. (Small?" my mind twinged.) Yes, indeed, with no crumbled bleu cheese on it. Only a sprinkle of olive oil, vinegar, and maybe some salt and pepper. And no crisps or toast with it. My mind sighed. Clearly, I was in for a difficult time, and no resolutions, no prayers, no reminders of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem were going to have much of an effect.
So, why such a Lenten Wuss, you might ask yourself? Here's one thing, which is serious, and not to put off my readers, but having been sexually abused one summer at the age of 6, certain things were branded into my bones. Number one was, Don't let anyone try to make me do anything! For any reason at all! It's why losing weight is always such a loaded (sorry) proposition for me. It's what happens when writer friends of mine give me books they have written, with gentle hopes that I will actually read them, instead of putting them into a guilty and not-read pile in my study where they will shout reminders at me, all of which I will ignore. Anything, anything at all that smacks of having to do something is probably doomed to failure. I should know this about myself at the far age of 65.
So, here's a thought: I think I can get my mind and twitchy will around alms-giving and prayer. I can do that. Giving up food and fasting will have to go into the spiritual trash can. It ain't gonna happen. Makes me too crazy, and that is not a good spiritual practice for Lent.
Fr. James Martin, my favorite Jesuit priest, author of "The Jesuit's Guide to (Almost) Everything," talks about giving out for Lent instead of giving up. What thing(s) can I do which speak of God's abundant love and mercy? I'm working on this, but one thing I am doing is what I call my "Ministry of Kindly Chat." So many people work for us, laboring in Big Y, crouched uncomfortably over the floor, cleaning, stacking things, and just whizzing around making the place happen, that I make sure I speak to at least one person in the supermarket. Chat up the Fish Lady. Ask, "How DO you keep warm back there?" Talk about our kids leaving home. Speak to the lady kneeling on the tiles, wiping up someone else's mess. "Hey, I bet that's hard on your knees? How do you do it?" Just recognizing someone as a person with dignity and worth is a spiritual practice I think. I definitely think Mercy comes into this one. And it's something I can do which has a small impact on the world, but maybe alleviates some of the rush, the rudeness, the mindless cruelties of everyday life.
I'm in, Jesus. I'm in with "Kindly Chat" and am throwing out the fasting thing. Let me know about your Lenten Spiritual Practices, if you have them, and what seems to work for you.