Growing up, Lent was never a meaningful time in my life despite being a Presbyterian-church-going family. And despite Lent being a Christian tradition, I don’t recall much discussion about it within the Lutheran church either. Basically, it’s been a food/drink challenge: forgo eating some sweet enticement or alcohol for the 6 weeks before Easter, at which time you again can act like a glutton. Sort of like a short duration New Year’s resolution that you might be able to actually attain because of a definite start/stop line. But no real focus on anything lasting; just a challenge on giving up some temptation. Why? Well, I’m not sure that’s ever been talked about in church, Christian though it may be – if anything, it might be a remembrance to Jesus’ fasting for 40 days in the desert and the sacrifices he gave before his resurrection celebrated at Easter. A remembrance to Jesus’ actions….not really focused on us at all – or at least not in my understanding within the church pews. Again, I remind you, it’s never really talked about specifically.
It wasn’t until last year – probably half way through Lent – that it occurred to me how much time I waste in empty activities that distract me from spiritual wholeness. Namely, my time on Facebook, but I could also point out my hours in front of the TV every evening watching reality TV. I could easily justify my Facebook time as a way of staying in contact with childhood friends and Canadian relatives as I’d never be able to do without. I could also argue that the 5-6 simultaneous games of Words with Friends keep my brain active and healthy. I could also pardon my delight in reality TV as nothing more than a genuine love for others’ successes, or finding value in the ongoing life lessons that outrageous behavior some reality shows offer. But really, who am I kidding? I’m the great escape artist when feeling boredom or stress or any other uncomfortable feeling. Despite being a person who is drawn to activities that promote spiritual awareness and wholeness more than most of my friends, I’m still preoccupied by long hours of meaningless activity during my day. Perhaps it’s a need for balance, because I do have this depth of intensity to my personality, there’s also a demand for decompression.
Yet, it’s this time away from this empty filler time or daily distractions that is so vital to solitude. To gain that awareness, understanding and closeness with your Higher Power, God, or deeper wiser self. Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift from the Sea suggests that simplicity = grace , not in the religious sense per se, but meaning”internal and external harmony”. She suggests that the gifts of a beach vacation, the simplicity demanded of beach living creates an unexpected treasure of solitude that we need to instill in our daily lives. In fact, that’s not a new theory – all the spiritual gurus, yogis, and religious leaders throughout the centuries would say the same thing. Simplicity, stillness = peace. And yet our western culture still pushes us to do, do, do. Time is money. “What do YOU do?” Time spent in stillness is not profitable. It’s considered wasted time so that we’re feeling guilty if we didn’t do anything productive during the day. I know that I feel my best when I’ve actually made a list (atypical for me) with the added bonus of managing to cross everything off by the end of the day. To do….nothing, possibly having whittled it away playing in my craft room, though quite enjoyable, makes me feel a bit of guilt for having done….”nothing”. And yet, there’s such a sense of peaceful solitude and pure joy that I can’t create while involved in anything on those reluctant lists.
The simplicity of an earlier time draws me. I remember an old episode of Oprah in which she and Gayle joined volunteers on a reality show that simulated Pioneer Life. While comical, I loved the demand for more communal living; for the family to help each other and spend more time together in shared, social activity. I felt that same draw when watching her recent interview of a Hassidic Jewish family that eschew all modern modes of technology on The Next Chapter. I can see how much our culture, in our ever widening circles of communication and connection has not served us in becoming closer……it’s made us more and more fragmented. And interestingly, though I stubbornly hold strong to the value of individuality and independence, as well as having the modern choices and opportunities that encourage the same, I can admit that it instigates feeling more…….alone.
I also love the idea of a vision quest or even a contemplative retreat. Certainly, the thought scares me at the same time….what would I do with all that time? Left alone to our own thoughts, without the distraction of TV, radio, friends, family, parental responsibility, what might enter our minds? I feel I know myself pretty well, but what might emerge? I’m so used to having every convenience on hand to ease my discomforts, what might I do if I had to sit with some emptiness, discomfort, or pain? Yet I long for some drawn out time away from all distractions to gain a deeper, higher understanding and awareness, somehow feeling that the pain would be worth the gain.
I believe that’s what Lent is about – that wee bit of forced simplicity that creates a tiny simulated bit of suffering to help me draw on the strength and wisdom of God. (At this point, I can only tackle a pull away from Facebook for 6 weeks, not reality TV, or the computer altogether!) Unfortunately, I think it’s the human condition that makes our ego feel we’re independently powerful and so we turn away from God when all is well. It takes a bit of suffering and quiet for our relationship to grow. For us to dig deeper. Look within. Seek. To help me remain cognizant of that growth, it’s my intention again this year to write daily about my spiritual struggles and insights.
This has so much more meaning to me than giving up some random delight in remembrance of Jesus’ last days in sacrifice to the human race. It brings me in fuller contact with the idea of the cocoon, weaving myself into a womb of solitude and reflection so that I can emerge at Easter with a deeper and more colorful, more God centered self. I have such gratitude for the wisdom I’ve been shown and guided towards to have this understanding….even as I shake in the wake of giving up my beloved Facebook for 6 weeks. Perhaps next year, I can work up to giving up TV at night! Ack!