Lent is my least favorite season of the Church year. Try as I might, despite the catholic ethos that I acquired as a student in a Southern Baptist Seminary, Clinical Pastoral Education and the military chaplaincy I have a hard time with it.
I think that part of the reason is I don’t think that I need to set aside a season of the year to acknowledge what a colossal screw up I am. Like George Constanza in Seinfeld I don’t need God, my mother or anyone else to remind me of my shortcomings. They are ever before me.
Despite that for years I tried to be the most observant observer of the outward traditions of the season. If we were to fast from meat on Fridays I would do it on Wednesdays too. As someone who came to the catholic side of life later in life I felt that I needed to out do those who had grown up that way. As a priest in a conservative Episcopal denomination with aspirations of eventually making the transition to Rome I did all that I could to take up the internal spiritual disciplines as well as the external forms of Catholicism. I did so good at it that I was banned from publishing by the Archbishop who headed our denomination’s communications department. The irony is that he is now a Priest in the Anglican Ordinate that is in communion with Rome. Go figure.
But that all came apart during and after my time in Iraq. Beset with chronic PTSD and moral injury faith itself became problematic. For all intents and purposes I existed as an agnostic who prayed that God still existed for nearly two years after I returned from Iraq. For me that fact that I returned to faith in any form was a miracle and when it did return I was told to find a new church home because now instead of being either too “Catholic” or “a Wounded Warrior Priest” I was now “too liberal.”
I would like to say that I am over it but obviously I am not, but I digress…
So this year Lent is again upon us. Tonight was Fat Tuesday, so I had a big burger, fries and a couple of beers for dinner at Gordon Biersch. Afterward I picked up some fresh Krispy Kreme hot glazed donuts on the way home and washed them down with another beer. For those of you that don’t know there is little better than beer and hot fresh donuts. I discovered that in my darkest hours after Iraq. I think I even have a post that I wrote back in 2009 called Beer and Donuts. I’m not going to look for it now and give you the link but you can put “Beer and Donuts” in the search box on the home page and I am sure you will find it.
In my journey I am coming to realize that holiness is not simply a matter of out Phariseeing the Pharisees, or matters of external observance. I am coming to believe that Jesus really nailed it when he said that to fulfill the law was to love God and love your neighbor.
So my Lenten observance will be of two aspects. For the first time since 2010 I am going to give up something physical, the hamburger.I am going to go without a hamburger of any kind until Easter. When I break my Lenten fast it will be with a hamburger, or should I say a very non-Kosher cheeseburger.
That may not seem like much, but please hear me out. For those that not know me when I eat a hamburger it is not simply to ingest something fast and filling, it is a ritual that is almost spiritual in its own right. You see I don’t eat crappy burgers. I eat fresh burgers of the best quality, cooked medium or medium rare. I prefer a toasted bun, fresh crisp lettuce, tomatoes and red onions and either Swiss or Gruyère cheese. I then need at least two to four ounces of dill pickles, a side of mayo, catchup and at least a half bottle of yellow mustard. It is a nearly religious ritual for me to enjoy a burger in this manner. After all a eating a hamburger should be a spiritual experience.
As far as the spiritual dimension I am going to try to be a bit more conscious of my prayer life, more importantly my prayer for others who are in distress. I figure that God will take care of my needs and that when I pray it would be better that I concern myself with people who are in real danger, real need, real distress. Those who are the least, the lost and the lonely. Likewise I will endeavor to be more positive in all of my interactions. I am going to try to take the words of the immortal Sergeant Oddball (Donald Sutherland) of Kelly’s Heroes seriously.
“Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?”
Tomorrow I will celebrate a simple Ash Wednesday liturgy at our small chapel and the scripture readings will come out of Matthew Chapter Six where Jesus begins “beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them…”
With that I will take my “Mario Mendoza Line ” self off line and begin working on yet another Gettysburg article.
Peace and blessings