Tuesday, February 22, 2005

in lent

Lent is not an isolated experience. It's not about me, only. Or you. It's about us. Our journey together and our relationship with God. It is not about giving up things, per se, but about focusing, framing, narrowing our attention, rather than ignoring, forgetting, acting as if life is just showing up each day till we die.

Elizabeth O'Conner once echoed thoughts of Ignatius when she wrote that disciplines are helpful tools, not ends in themselves. When they are no longer helpful, she advised, then we should discard them. O'Conner believed in intentional disciplines as essential to meditation and prayer and ultimate action. She and the Church of the Savior folk in DC embraced a tension between the journey inward and the journey outward, the inner spiritual life, to be present in our lives, and the outer call to mission, to be present in the world.

Lent could be a mess for us, making us frustrated that our intentions don't take us very far, making us angry that our usual problems continue to overwhelm us.

In her book Iconography (Indiana University Press), Susan Neville writes about her Lenten discipline of writing each day, tugging at the details of her life, her family, her mother, her work. It started when an Orthodox nun, the teacher of her icon making class she had entered on a whim, noticed her frustration at the process of making an icon. Go write each day, she told her. Trust the process. Neville was not a particularly devout person. How could this work? Each day, each time she started her daily meditative essays, she worked out a small bit of faith. The result was masterful book, and a changed life in ways small and wide.

As modern folk, we have cut ourselves off from patterns, from rhthyms. Freed from weather and season, living in an electrical and digital world, we are 24/7 actors. We can do anything. Lent, returning each year for its weeks of quiet, are an opportunity to work out, in the letter writer's words in Philippians, our salvation in fear and trembling (awe and seriousness?), with humility and an honest sense of our own limitations.


avril said...

i always look forward to your commentary on the high holidays of the church and love the way they can tie neatly into your other passion: gardening. I agree that as modern people we have cut ourselves off from rhythms and patterns and I believe this cessation of respect for the way the natural world works (a world we are inherently part of as natural creatures) leads to frustration and sadness for us. Having grown up in the Episcopal Church (although a sporadic attendee now), I find nearly as much comfort and solace in the soothing rhythms of annual holidays and masses as I do in the perennial calendar of the garden.

Don said...

Thanks, Avril. There is something to be said about the liturgical calendar keeping us on track as well as being a marker for where we are in the year. I am not so sure that gardening and the other things I write about always work out well as companions, but that is the luxury of having a little blog. You can write about anything if you like.