Lent. Again.

Spiritual Homework

Here we go again. Lent starts on Wednesday. And am I ready for this? As usual, no – not in the slightest. One of the nuns I follow on Twitter tweeted that she’s hoping Lent will help her to recommit to her New Years resolution. Brilliant, right?  I thought so. Except my New Years resolution was to stop making resolutions. Ha ha ha –  yeah – so that’s not much help to me for Lent, now is it?

The last couple of years, Lent has been weird. Actually, anything and everything related to church has been weird for quite awhile. I don’t fit anywhere and add to that I feel like I’ve lost Lent and Advent since I went back to school. Both fall mid-semester when there are exams, papers, and projects due and instead of reflecting on life and my relationship with God, either here or in my private journals, I’m focused on objective, well-sourced papers on religion and ethics. Now here I am, with two midterm papers and an exam over the next two weeks and thinking, Damn, I really don’t want to go through another Lent on autopilot. 

What to do about that is an interesting question. My inner honor student likes interesting questions, thus I have spent more time this weekend than seems wise reading my own writing and thinking that maybe something from years past would offer direction for this coming Lent. It’s always a strange feeling to read things that I wrote more than six months ago. After awhile, I feel like I’m reading something someone else wrote. I mean I remember these things but somehow I’d forgotten how deeply they affected me at the time. And maybe that’s why they seem so strange now, because I’ve changed and grown so gradually, it’s easy to lose track of where I started. Or more precisely who I was then and who I have become.

And what did I learn? I have a few recurring themes: guilt and confession, being too hard on myself, trust issues, learning surrender, separating God and church, and finding God in little things. And in the process I remembered that this long-running New Years resolution of mine didn’t come about because I’m too lazy to make or keep a resolution. It came about so that I would stop crucifying myself for being human and so that I would stop setting difficult and/or impossible goals to be reached by arbitrary dates. Little by little, I learned to stop. And little by little, I’ve learned to see myself with kinder eyes -as I can give myself the benefit of the doubt – on most days anyway.

So maybe this year, Lent will be a time to spend time with each of those themes I found. Maybe reading through my own writings asking God to let me see what God sees would be a good start. Maybe working from there try to understand what has changed and what has not, what needs to change and what needs to simply be let go of makes more sense than plowing ahead trying to spiritually ‘get somewhere’ by trying to give up Twitter (that would require an intervention) or chocolate (that would be ugly) or trying to unravel every last one of my church dating questions between now and Easter (that just ain’t happening).

Between the nine years of blog posts and the decade plus worth of journals in the box under my bed, this should be interesting. Lent – again. God help me.



Essence of Water

candleThere are a lot of days, especially since the start of the Spring 17 semester, that I get to the end of my day and wonder what the hell just happened. How is it bedtime already?! I’m running like a crazy woman trying to keep up with everything going on in the family and add homework and papers to that. Yikes!! Forget bedtime, how is the week over already?! But then there are days that suddenly bring a new sense of focus on where I am and what I’m doing. I feel like I’m finding answers to questions I barely knew I had. Those are days I want to hang on to tightly – and trust me when I say this – that doesn’t work. They just slip by that much faster, like trying to hold on to water with a fist.

Taking three classes, all on campus, sounded a little ambitious back in October when I chose my Spring classes. By the third week of February, when I look at the stack of reading I have to do, it starts sounding completely batshit crazy. It’s an odd combination to read fifty pages on spousal abuse and then read eighty pages of Zen philosophy and then write a paper analyzing Cartesian and Lockean theories in the film The Matrix.  And yet, I have never felt so at home and so alive as I do in this set of classes.

The first day, first fifteen minutes into Comparative Theology, my professor declared me the class unicorn – yes, religion majors are that rare, even on a Catholic campus. He was rather excited that I had been closely following the dialogue between Pope Francis and the ELCA and the events surrounding the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. We chatted about Luther and Bonhoeffer and their views on the Roman Catholic Church. He promises I will absolutely love the second half of the semester. Meanwhile, reading Zen Philosophy, Zen Practice has suddenly made some of the conversations in Alice In Wonderland make sense. I finally get what Absolem was rambling on about. Yeah, I know, not at all the point of Comparative Theology but hey, little things make me happy. And as it turns out all that time I spent over the last nine years reading Rohr and his explanations of non-dualism was time well spent.

Philosophy and theology are comfort zone classes for me, so even though both would be a lot of reading and paper writing, I was happy. But I was genuinely concerned about my third class. I was afraid that taking a sociology class focused entirely on family violence would dredge up a lot of old stuff. It’s been a couple years since anything has triggered a seriously bad reaction for me and as much as I’d like to keep it that way, I also don’t want to spend the rest of my life hiding from would-be triggers. That was a hard choice to make and one I am so glad I made. Unpleasant as most of the subject matter has been, it’s been like having someone walk into a dark room full of scary shadows and turn on a light.Turns out I still blamed myself for more stuff than I had realized. Also turns out some of the things I’d chalked up to my own weakness were entirely not my fault. Being able to talk about some of the reasons why women stay and were the system breaks down has been healing and empowering for me and it’s been important for the 15 soon-to-be social workers, teachers, nurses and cops to hear.

“A Zen master once said that water is of one essence, but if it is drunk by a cow, it becomes milk, while if it is drunk by a snake, it becomes poison.” – Thich Thien-An

The more I’m able to bring my painful past experiences into the light, the more I understand them. The more I understand them at their essence, the more I’m able to transform that pain into something healthy instead of into poison. So no matter how crazy this semester gets, I know I am exactly where I need to be and doing exactly what I need to be doing. Who knows, maybe by May I’ll be be able to stop trying to grab on to answers and be able to hold them lightly and even let them go.