As we know Lent is a time of penitence and fasting. My little goof ball brain has wrestled with this ever since coming into a Catholic tradition back in the mid-1990s. As someone who grew up pretty ecumenical and culturally Protestant it was a hard transition. Getting to a Anglican and then more Catholic theological viewpoint in seminary and the years following was easy. “Head stuff” and academics come easy to me. I live in that world and I love that world. Developing spiritual disciplines are harder, be they prayer, fasting, meditating on Scripture, or anything. Like I said, studying is easy for me. Likewise I think for a lot of folks who grew up or came to faith in the Evangelical Protestant tradition (regardless of the denominational brand) that things like Bible study, theology and other intellectual or program oriented activities come easier then things like fasting. They are deeply imbedded in the Evangelical tradition. It is not that fasting is not part of the Evangelical tradition, but it play a different role and for most it is not a routine part of spiritual life. In the churches I grew up in fasting or abstinance were both voluntary and for most not a part of church life. There are exceptions to this. Some churches take on 40 days of fasting programs, but these are usually just another part of the churches program for a particular time and not continued on a regular basis. So for me this did not come naturally and as a result I struggled with Lent and never looked forward to it. I’ve mentioned some of my struggles in previous posts so I won’t rehash them.
Yet, fasting and abstinence can be very beneficial in developing spiritual disciplines. I struggled and still do sometimes, when I focus what I am giving up, versus trying to use this is a means to develop and my own spiritual disciplines I fail miserably. It’s like New Year’s resolutions. I suck at them and this year decided not even to make one of those. To be honest I’m still working on these disciplines, I figure I will be doing so the rest of my life as old habits die hard.
My own journey in learning to “survive” Lent is to let go. If these things impede and frustrate me then I need to let go of them and focus on what will actually build me up spiritually. This year I decided to reduce the amount of time I spent watching all the talking heads on TV news and listening to the incessant drumbeat of talk radio. When I did this I noticed a radical shift, I was not long spun up about all the apocalyptic invective on both the right and the left. I began to be able to relax and actually let God’s grace begin to work in me, especially because of what I went through coming back from Iraq. It worked so well that I have expanded it in Lent, I’m not watching or listening to any of them. I have more time for spiritual disciplines, I am able to write again after not being able to for a year and I’m able to laugh. One thing that helped me was reading Andrew Greeley’s “Bishop Blackie Ryan” mystery novels. They are so full of the grace of God and numerous times have touched my very soul. Likewise it is easier for me to see people of all viewpoints as people who God loves and not enemies of me or the unnamed political party to which I may or may not belong. I think I am now a confirmed Indepublicratarian.
I think for me these two things are helping me this Lent. I’ve let go to to a lot of stuff, but I’ve gained more. For the first time since before Iraq the Daily Office and Mass are becoming spiritual experiences for me and not just being done out of duty and obedience. If I miss something or foul it up I figure that God probably still loves me anyway and if that is the case for me maybe I can reflect it in all my relationships, maybe even in my view of the Evil Dodgers.