Monday, April 30

When Lent Ends and We Wander

It's three weeks after Easter and something is amiss.

I have a restless spirit inside.  When we start to feel restless we give each other lots of advice like:  
  • Get outside -- We have new sod in the backyard (a three year dream), I've cleared and planted a little garden, and the basketball hoop, the sandbox and the bikes have been broken in for the season. 
  • Clear the calendar and refocus -- We've had two weekends with no obligations other than general house upkeep, taking bike rides and playing baseball together.  
  • Make sure to get date nights -- My husband and I have had two dates in three weeks.  Connection is happening here.
  • Shake up the school day -- The boys and I have had several field trips and hikes together.  And in school we've begun our last unit wherein ds asked to linger on Vikings... so we did.
  • Take time for yourself -- I've had two evenings with friends and actually spent two hours shopping this weekend which is unheard of in my world.
Then why the restlessness?  I looked at what's missing from my list and I've concluded that it's the second loss of Lent.   The first loss was felt during Lent; the sacrifice, the giving up.  The second is what I'm feeling afterward; the loss of the disciplines.  During Lent I fasted and read through prayers.  When Lent was over I stopped.  During Lent I led a Bible study through Romans.  We happened to finish before Easter.  The disciplines in my life have nearly ceased. 

What I'm feeling is not the restlessness of needing something new, but the ache of needing something ancient, something practiced.  In the middle of it I questioned if my Lenten fast was actually producing any spiritual product in me.  In its absence I now see what it did.   

In Exodus 24:7, the people of Israel respond to God's covenant, marked by the giving of the Ten Commandments, and in the Hebrew what they say is translated as, "we will do and we will hear."  The doing, the practice, would precede the hearing, the deeper understanding and life-propelling belief.  Maybe they didn't understand why keeping the Sabbath day set apart or how honoring the legacy of their families would benefit them at the start, but they agreed first of all to do -- to go through the motions and trust that God's pleasant relationship with them would be the result.

As a student of the spiritual disciplines I know this to be true.  How funny that I thought I'd take some time off from them.  The doing breaks down our ego that wants to preserve itself in perceived security and productivity.  The hearing can't happen when we're filled with other types of doing even when the agendas are of family, learning and ministry. 

The fast itself was not the goal; the open lines of dependence and attentiveness was.  The fast was not a means to an end; it was the viaduct of continual grace.  

We think that the doing is burdensome to us.  But missing the hearing bears a greater weight as I allow my mind and my spirit to wander in search of a regular place to land.  I can't hear unless I do.  I'm too crowded with good intentions.  And so I've begun my next season of discipline which will take me through the Ordinary Time.  And we'll just keep the doing going and trust that God's pleasant relationship will by my result.

Sunday, April 1

The Loss of Lent

I joked with my husband the other day --

In this final week of Lent, in which we've gone without meat for 40 days, I said that we could revisit the food that we liked the best.  Have a request week.  Lent: A Look Back.  We'd eat the meals that we'd most enjoyed.  It's interesting how they seemed to be meals most like those in ordinary time:  chili, fajitas, macaroni and cheese.  We'd even eat another meal of red beans and rice (as if we cannot have it after Easter).

This lenten experiment comes to a close in a week.  On that Easter day our community will throw a party and that party will involve a meat smoker named Moe.  It frightens me a little.  My culinary studies friend said, "Be careful going back to meat after going so long without.  It could take a month to add it back completely."  So, I'm afraid of that.  But I'm also afraid of what it will mean.  In one sense, I understand the joy of the occasion; a party is completely appropriate when one encounters a substitutionary atonement.  But in another sense, I think I've missed the point of the fast.

I've thought more about food in these past 40 days than I ever have.  I have not for one day mindlessly eaten anything.  I've planned and even pre-prepped every meal and found solace in my stocked vegetable bin and pantry of vegetable broth, olive oil and Parmesean cheese... the staples of our Spring.  I've thought less about God than perhaps a fasting pilgrim ought.  In all my activity I still felt the emptiness in our meals, and I sought to fill it.  I was left wanting.  I focused on all the things I could still have and tried to forget the loss I was supposed to be embracing.  All that I did in order to "get through" this loss feels, now, a little like denial.

This weekend, my husband was out of town.  This isn't the first time, of course.  But the moment he left I missed him.  He was still fairly close and yet he wasn't anywhere.  The loss crept in and I swept it away in the same manner I've coped through Lent.  I planned the days.  I filled the time and space with my boys, my to-do list, and with cooking videos late into the night.  I left a light on and slept next to the pile of the day's unfolded laundry.  At least something was there.  I filled that space too.

There's something dark about my aversion toward feeling loss.  Albert Haase calls this the false self that avoids pain, blame, criticism, disgrace and loss and he suggests that we "never flee from the present moment, even if it is painful, confusing, sorrowful, distressing or heartbreaking.  'Surrender to suffering as if it were a loving energy.'"*  This is distinctly what I have not done during Lent.  Each meal has been as intentional as the life of a blind friend of mine who sets everything where she knows she can find it.  If I plan it, I won't stumble.  If I can anticipate it, I'll succeed.

My success was more important than my grief, than my God.

How then will Moe's appear to me on Easter?  I'm afraid that I will look at it and succumb to guilt for not having missed the savior who died, only wanting to celebrate the redemption of life.  I did not sacrifice, I only substituted.  I missed the lenten idea.

Should I elongate the suffering until I feel it in my bones?  No.  When the bridegroom is present it isn't time for fasting.  True, we go with Christ into his suffering, but we equally walk with him into new life.  It remains to be seen whether I go to Moe with celebration or with the cleansing grief that comes when I realize that God himself has had mercy on me, a sinner.

*Coming Home To Your True Self:  Leaving the Emptiness of False Attractions by Albert Haase, O.F.M.