Last Wednesday, I went to Ash Wednesday service for the first time in my life. I am not sure why I have never gone before. In fact, my not going makes no sense given the fact that my favorite Christian season is Lent. You would think I had attended every Ash Wednesday service my entire adult life, but until this year, I celebrated my own private death without going to church. That’s what Ash Wednesday is, after all, a celebration of our death to self and our acknowledgment that we are nothing without the power of Christ.
I usually spend Lent contemplative and questioning, but this year I decided to put my questioning on a back burner and to really focus on my relationship with Christ. Not questioning is the hardest part of this, not questioning and merely experiencing. In truth, that last sentence of the first paragraph brings to mind questions, and I had to focus on not entertaining whether people can be something without the power of Christ. Of course they can be, I see people all around me who aren’t Christian who run humanitarian/charitable circles around people I know to be Christian. But, I am trying to put that line of reasoning out of my head, at least for this Lenten season, by focusing on the way Christ is working in my life and the way I see him working in others.
In this way, the way of experience and trying to draw closer to God through the incarnated Christ, I am focusing on a few things for this 40-day period of reflection. So the disciplines I am practicing are focused on the incarnate and not so much on the spirit this time, though I am adding in some reading and meditation.
First, I am fasting in a way that I haven’t fasted since seminary. I am eating a smoothie in the morning, then drinking tea and water for the rest of the day. Before you panic, let me just say that the smoothie contains apple juice, strawberries, blueberries, a banana, aloe, hemp seeds, maple syrup, and wheat germ. In all, it probably contains about 500-700 calories. Certainly, that isn’t enough to live on for an extended period of time, but Lent is only 40 days long. The tea I am drinking is specially formulated to provide well-being while fasting, too. In order to keep up with my running, I may have to add in some more food, but we’ll see how this goes.
Second, I am trying to work on some of my jealousy issues. I have never in my life wanted a baby so badly as I do right now, and it doesn’t seem to help this urge that many people I know are either having or adopting children. I spent spring break in Florida visiting Merideth and her new daughter Tillie. I spent about an hour yesterday with Izzy. I spent a few minutes reading about David and Andrea’s new baby Ezra. I even allowed myself a few moments to look at pictures of the new daughter of one of our students. And I spent quite a bit of time dwelling on my intense jealousy for Abbie’s joy, Merideth’s joy, Andrea’s joy, and even a young mother’s joy. Don’t think for a minute that my jealousy comes at the expense of my recognition of their blessings. Of course, I am thrilled for their blessings, but I also realize that my window for motherhood is quickly dwindling. So, I am focusing on asking for wisdom in navigating both my desire for a child and to find a way to be at peace and to be filled with joy for these friends whose lives are so blessed.
Third, I am praying. Prayer is definitely not a gift of mine. I had friends in seminary who pray a blue streak and every word that came from their mouths was an exquisite utterance of truth and beauty. They could quote scripture while praying, speak hymns while praying, weep and laugh while praying, and weave together poetry with their words while praying. While I am not foolish enough to be envious of their ability to pray, I am foolish enough to believe that I, too, can learn to pray that way. Articulate and artistic.
Fourth, I am reading. I have been working on The Joy of Living and An Altar in the World for spiritual development. Even though they are from two different faith perspectives, the words harmonize so resoundingly with each other that I can feel their timbre resonating within my soul. And it is a beautiful, fulfilling, teaching melody. I have already learned that I need to be less attached to worldly things, but to find the beauty in those things.
Hopefully, the next 40 days will be an exercise in fruitfulness and anticipation for the events of Maundy Thursday, Holy Friday, and Easter Sunday. Come, Lord Jesus, bring your profound and powerful grace.