16 April 2009

Living Lent

Seems to me the folks who think Lent is all about deprivation and doing penance and gloom and doom and sackcloth and ashes and weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth are maybe overdoing it a bit. In fact, it seems to me they might have wandered off the path and got lost in the woods -- the Dark Side of spirituality.

And before you say it, I know Lent is over. It ended last Sunday with ringing bells and waving banners and -- in our congregation, at least -- the Grand Finale of the End of Lent: everyone, and I mean everyone, singing the Hallelujah Chorus. Seriously. We do it every year. The choir comes up to the balcony, and anyone else who wants to sing comes along, at least until there's no more room or we run out of battered, dog-eared scores, and we belt it out. Every time during the service someone says "alleluia," whether it's in a hymn or during the sermon or in the middle of a prayer, everyone who remembered to bring a bell with them rings that bell, and when we sing at the end, all the bells go crazy.

So cool. Otay, Spanky. Lent is over. Kind of.

Here's what I think: Lent is about thoughtfulness and deliberateness. Lent is about paying attention to the health of your soul, which is probably feeling somewhat neglected after a year of being ignored while slogging through this crazy life. And don't tell me you don't ignore your soul. I think the only people who don't are monks and nuns -- and maybe not even all of them.

Someone I deeply respected told me years ago that Lent was a time to take something on, not give something up. This guy was one of the most giving spirits I've ever encountered, but he found even more to give during Lent. We had this particular conversation when I came on him in the breakroom, eating a PBJ and reading Henri Nouwen's Life of the Beloved. I asked him what he was reading, and he told me -- and then he said, "I read it every year during Lent. It reminds me of who I am."

This year, a group of us decided to read a book after Lent, and after Easter -- a post-Lenten study, if you will. The book is called Living the Jesus Creed, and it's basically 50 daily readings -- seven weeks' worth -- focused on the Shema, what Christians often call "The Great Commandment." If you're Jewish, you'll know immediately what I'm talking about. If you're Christian, I hate to break it to you, but Jesus didn't think it up all by himself. When he told that young man the greatest commandment was to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might," he didn't just pull that out of a hat. Check out Deuteronomy 6:5.

Then go back and check out verse 4: "Hear, O Israel -- the Lord is One. The Lord thy God is One." That is a sermon all by itself, and one of these blogs, I'll hold forth on what the rabbi at Congregation Sha'arei Israel had to say about that.

The second part, the Gospel addendum, is of course "love thy neighbor as thyself," which most of us are still trying to figure out. Are we assuming "love" is defined as a self-preservation kind of thing? Are we saying we must end every conversation with "I love you," like the goofball in the Arby's commercial? What? Most of us have come back around to the former, I think -- it's safer that way. Means we don't have to be nice to the a--hole next door whose dog gets ours wound up by wandering up our driveway just for fun and whose kid rides his riding lawnmower around the yard at 10 p.m. We don't have to be friendly, we just have to not kill him, because that wouldn't be a loving thing to do.

But I digress. (I love saying that. It puts such polish on the old ADHD!) There's the book, which breaks down the whole commandment (New Testament version) and encourages us to focus on it every day, all day, whenever we think of it -- to make it a part of our lives.

There's also my own quest, which has been going on for years to one degree or another, but finally kicked into gear last year with the diagnosis that changed my whole view of who I am and why I do things the way I do. Once it was confirmed that I've been struggling with ADHD for probably close to five decades, I was able first to get a prescription that would sharpen the ability to focus and keep the synapses from firing off too willy-nilly. Second, once I saw what I'd been missing, I found a life coach who could help me figure out what to do with all that stuff.

So in the past four months, I've made commitments on a weekly basis. I've set goals for each day -- and I've had to learn what a reasonable expectation looks like, because I was previously the Queen of the Eternal To-Do List. You know, the kind where you start one morning with a really great list of 10 things you're going to do that day, and by the end of the day, you've finished four of them, bagged three as being either redundant or obsolete, and bumped the remaining three to the next day's list. Eventually, you have a list 40 items long, 20 of which have daily been bumped to "tomorrow" for months. This month, I've been on my own except for a monthly phone call to report my progress, and things are starting to click. For this month, I've made two hard and fast commitments: to write something every day, and to ride my bike outdoors every day the weather permits. Everything else is pretty general, and it's going to get done. It just doesn't have to be on a tight schedule. I've learned to break the work up into zones, if it's physical, or blocks, if it's more intellectual, and just do it for a few minutes at a time, and it gets done much more efficiently than I'd ever have expected.

The Pogo Stick of Thought has just jumped off the sidewalk again...

So here's the point. It's actually three commitments.
  1. I'm getting up early each morning for the next 49 days (we started today) to read a chapter of the book with Ed. I want to do this with someone, to keep myself on task and aware. Part of it's the accountability thing -- I have to finish the study if I'm sharing it. Part of it is the family thing -- Ed and I are the core of this family, and we need to share some core beliefs, or at least understand each other's interpretation of those beliefs.
  2. Getting up early gives me at least an hour more than I've had before to get ready for work and get out the door. This means I can leave in time to catch the bus. This means that, unless the weather is really ugly, I can ride. I can bike to the bus stop up the hill, take the bus to Crescent Hill, and bike the remaining 4-1/2 miles to work, and then I can bike home. By the end of the summer, I'd like to be able to do the whole 15 miles each way, but I don't have to, at least until I commit to doing it. Right now, it's a "like to."
  3. I am a writer. Yes, I write all day at the office. But I've committed to writing something each day that is important for me to write. That means either posting a blog entry, or working on a story, or doing an article or other project I've assigned myself.
Between now and the end of May, those are my commitments. That's my Living Lent. We went through the 40 days and 40 nights of the official season, and now I'm making a commitment to move forward with the same deliberateness, the same care, the same attention to the health of my soul and the realism of my expectations.

Not sure where it's going to get me, but I feel pretty positive about it.

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