Monday, February 19, 2007

lenten thoughts

Lent doesn't start until Ash Wednesday, of course, but my lovely seasonal black book has already started as of yesterday. Every little (insert liturgical color) book starts off with a page urging you to examine your goals for the special Church season. Then the rest of the book has daily six-minute meditations on appropriate scripture for the season, plus a page of tidbits and trivia.

In thinking about my goals for Lent, the usual suspects came to mind. Give up Starbucks! (With, as my boyfriend pointed out, the ulterior motive of saving money). Give up chocolate! (with the ulterior motive of eating more healthily, which I need to do anyway). Joey is very good about pointing out the shortcomings in my shortcuts. So tonight I sat still for a bit and thought about Lenten goals for real. Let me tell a short story first so my thoughts make more sense.

Last Sunday I worked my first recital for the music department. The audience filed past me into the auditorium, taking a program each. One was an old man wrapped in many layers of mismatched winter gear. I couldn't figure out from looking at him if he was homeless or just a little eccentric. Another worker told me that he'd been warned that this guy comes to most, if not all, recitals.

The performer had ordered two vases of flowers, one for the stage next to her and one for the back table near the entrance. The man kindly took a program from me and continued on, but drew up short at the sight of the flowers. "Real flowers!" he exclaimed, and proceeded to bury his face in them, breathing deeply. The joy on his face was heartwarming, even if I was a bit shocked by his behavior.

While thinking quietly tonight, I realized, I want that kind of joy. The joy at things as simple as a vase of flowers in the middle of winter. Not only do I want it for myself, but I want to be able to transmit it to others. I struggle a lot with finding ways to love certain people in my life, especially when overt gestures of love are harshly criticized. The key, I concluded, is prayer. Prayer for them can only help our relationships, and prayer can deepen my appreciation of little gifts and ultimately lead to joy.

I tend to sideline prayer. In a life in which everything is mentally scheduled, prayer just doesn't make it very often into my daily routine. It's hard to find a spare moment, especially when I have the energy to focus. I also struggle with feeling fulfilled in prayer, like I'm holding a conversation with someone who loves me, not just a wall. So maybe I don't try because I don't want to feel so inadequate. I don't want to face nagging doubts about whether God is really there. It's much easier not to try.

But as I've seen, I miss out on so much without a good relationship with God. So, my Lenten goal is to try. Not to feel better, not to necessarily find joy, but just to try.


  1. What else can we do but try? We'll never succeed if we don't give it a shot. My favorite confessor, Fr. Peterman (Fr. Peterpan is what the kids heard when they were tiny folks)always gave me the same penance. Maybe it was the same penance for everybody. Maybe, he was very uncreative. Or maybe, just maybe, he really understood the human condition. I vote for #2.

    Fr. P always said that we had to seek a person that we didn't like and build a relationship with that person (this was also the topic of many homilies.) He encouraged us to speak to the person, enquire about health first, and then move on to getting to know that person.

    It was a brilliant trick. The odious individual never really changed--what changed was how we viewed the person, and how, by getting to know them, we embraced love and charity (that agape you spoke of on V-Day).

    It's been my lenten sacrifice since 1987. The astounding part is that it seems every year there's a person I think is detestable in my life. The other astounding part is that there are 20 people out there that, while they aren't exactly my friends, they aren't on my list of people I'd rather endure chinese water torture than ride an elevator with.

    I hope we all find what we need this lent.

  2. That bit about the flowers is really beautiful and touched my heart. I think you have an excellent goal.

  3. Our high tech, tuned in, cyber, stress inducing fast paced world can often take us away from what is simple and real. I think that getting in touch with your inner "flower-smeller" and letting it enjoy what is, is a most excellent goal. Mine is something like that too.

    As for the prayer, shower praying! I'm telling you it's the best thing I've found for consistency and it's usually one of the first things I do it starts my day in a good direction.